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No, Putin is not using lions in Russia’s coronavirus lockdown

This photo used in a viral hoax shows a lion in Johannesburg, South Africa, in April 2016.
This photo used in a viral hoax shows a lion in Johannesburg, South Africa, in April 2016. Caters News Agency via Nasir Chinioti/Twitter

Russian President Vladimir Putin has done some wild things over the years, but he has definitely not unleashed hundreds of lions and tigers to keep his citizens indoors during a coronavirus lockdown.

Social media users have been buzzing about the bizarre — and fake — notion all weekend after several people shared an old photo with a made-up new headline about Russia.

READ MORE: ‘Just stupid’: No, cocaine and bleach won’t kill the novel coronavirus

The viral hoax appears to be circulating most rapidly in India, where there are considerably more lions and tigers than there are in Russia. Several social media posts compare India’s current two-week lockdown to Russia, where they suggest that Putin is taking a more iron-fisted approach.

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“Vladimir Putin has dropped 800 tigers and lions all over the country to push people to stay home,” Twitter user Nasir Chinioti wrote on Sunday, in a tweet that’s been liked and shared tens of thousands of times. The tweet includes a photo of Putin and another of a lion standing in a parking lot at night.

A tweet is shown spreading a false rumour about lions roaming the streets in Russia.
A tweet is shown spreading a false rumour about lions roaming the streets in Russia. Nasir Chinioti/Twitter

Chinioti describes himself as a comedian in his Twitter profile, and he told one user that the photos were just a “joke.”

Global News has traced the photo back to a Daily Mail story from April 2016. The lion in the photo is pictured in Johannesburg, South Africa — not St. Petersburg or any other city in Russia.

Nevertheless, the photo has sparked a deluge of rumours online, and a flood of fact-checking stories from many India-based news outlets.

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Many of the fake tweets appear to have used a website to add a “breaking news” frame to the image.

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Fears of COVID-19 have sparked many new hoaxes and fake news stories, including several about animals and many others about false cures or preventive measures.

“[I don’t know] what’s more dangerous,” one South Asian-American Twitter user wrote. “Coronavirus or aunties and uncles spreading #WhatsAppWirus (sic) with all the fake… news and “garlic water cures for COVID-19.”
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“I’m sorry, but this is obviously fake because 800 lions and tigers is not nearly enough to cover all of Russia,” another user wrote.

“You’d need like 80,000, easily.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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