A Hong Kong banker was forced to apologize for a social media stunt in which he appeared (or pretended, in his own telling) to deliberately wipe his spit on the pole of an MTR train amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
The stunt and apology came as the city announced a 16 new COVID-19 infections this afternoon, setting a record for the highest number of new cases for the second time in as many days, and bringing the number of total recorded cases in the city to 208.
Social media — and traditional media for that matter — were awash in images of hedge fund manager Joel Werner appearing to surreptitiously (and, if we’re being honest, a little creepily) sneak a finger under his face mask and into his mouth, and then ever-so-gently wipe it on the train’s pole.
— cjayc (@cjaychau2) March 18, 2020
Predictably, given the waves of coronavirus-induced fear washing over the city, the video was widely shared, and lambasted, prompting Werner to issue an apology via Facebook in which he characterized the video as a “parody,” and assured the public that he had sanitized the pole afterwards.
“I made light of the COVID-19 situation in a parody video that was only intended for a handful of friends,” Werner said in a public Facebook post. “But I now realise that I shouldn’t have done that. A global pandemic is no laughing matter.”
In an interview with the SCMP, Werner also said that he had not actually put his finger in his mouth, and added that he was “terrified” by the response to video (which should just about approximate how many people feel about rapidly-spreading diseases in a city that still bears the scars of the SARS outbreak of 2003.)
The SCMP also shared the lesser-seen video of Werner smearing the pole with sanitizing gel.
The man in the viral video insists he did not actually lick his finger as this second video shows him disinfecting the same MTR handrail.
Video: Joel Werner pic.twitter.com/3VGo5DvXfy
— SCMP Hong Kong (@SCMPHongKong) March 18, 2020
Werner said he’d made the video and shared it with some friends to illustrate how easily fake news is shared after being inspired by another widely circulated video purporting to substantiate wild claims.
The MTR Corp, meanwhile, condemned the action, and said it had contacted police about the matter, adding that it regularly disinfects trains throughout the day and when they arrive in the depot overnight.
Werner said he had contacted the police about the matter, and had been told they weren’t pursuing the case.