University of Auckland beefs up security after concerning COVID-19 social media post, but 'no evidence threat is real'

There is no evidence to suggest the threat is real.
There is no evidence to suggest the threat is real. Photo credit: Getty / File.

The University of Auckland (UoA) is beefing up security at exams after someone posted on social media threatening to spread COVID-19. 

There's no evidence the threat is real, but police are aware of the post, which was shared online early on Tuesday morning. 

It was written by an anonymous individual claiming to have become unwell after visiting a restaurant attended by a confirmed case.

While they say they haven't yet been tested for COVID-19, they set out their desire to become a "superspreader" by attending university exams, a bar, and a church. The UoA isn't specified in the post, but it was shared in a UoA online group.

The post also had homophobic and racist content.

There is no evidence to suggest the threat is real and it was written on a forum known to host hoax threats in the past. 

However, the University of Auckland has confirmed to Newshub it is investigating.

In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson said the university began investigating the post on Tuesday evening and had been in contact with police "who are also investigating it".

"We understand that other universities were also contacted regarding this threat".

It confirmed that examinations are "continuing as normal" and that all "necessary precautions are being taken to ensure student and staff safety".

"We have communicated with students and advised them of this. We want to reassure all students and staff that the University is taking this issue seriously, however we think the risk is very low, and there is no evidence to suggest the threat is real," the statement said.

"We are confident that our existing examination protocols are effective, including physical distancing and provision of face masks for those who want them. Exam invigilators will be alert to anything unusual, and we are also providing additional security staff for all exams, as well as additional face masks."

The university said it was "unfortunate" that someone would attempt to disrupt examinations in such a way. 

"While staying vigilant about the safety of our students, the University believes it is important that we do not over-react to what is an unspecified and anonymous post of social media."

Police said on Wednesday morning that they were aware of the "information posted on an online forum" and "we are currently assessing this information".

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the ministry supported the university and police "as being the appropriate agencies to look into this incident".

"They will be best placed to find out what’s happened and determine what further actions are required.

"Anyone concerned and wanting information about COVID-19 should contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453."

Rainbow activist Aych McArdle told Newshub the post was "incredibly concerning" and called on "health authorities [to] take this threat extremely seriously." 

"My hope [is] that the authorities investigate this immediately."

McArdle said it was "targeted harassment" against a particular minority community.

"This just gives us flashbacks to every other time rainbow communities, both throughout history and in our own lives, have been victims of targeted violence and discrimination."