Mouldy mall pictures are from Malaysia, not Pakistan

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Claim: A viral message forwarded on Whatsapp shared pictures allegedly from a Pakistani mall and warned potential mall-goers that the mould in the pictures could cause serious respiratory infections.
Fact: The pictures are from a Malaysian store called Metrojaya in Kuala Lampur, not a Pakistani mall. The pictures were originally posted to Facebook by the store-owner on 10 May 2020.

On 13 May 2020 Soch Fact Check was sent a suspicious Whatsapp forward message for verification. The message read: “All central AC system shut in the malls. It’s caused the mould on leather goods. Imagine when malls open the fungus in the ducts will fly free in closed atmosphere of malls….. entering our respiratory system….. leading to major infections. Don’t visit malls for months even after lockdown is lifted. Our weather is hot and humid and it does favour a lot of fungi flourish.” Seven pictures of mouldy goods in a clothing store were shared with the message. 

Whatsapp message received by Soch Fact Check, 13 May 2020

This claim has crossed platforms and is being shared by Pakistani Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp users, at times reaching hundreds of likes and retweets. 

The images and message provided no identifying details regarding where and when the pictures were taken. Although the message does not specifically state that the pictures are from Pakistan, the message attached heavily implies it is a public service message relevant to the receiver. Therefore, someone receiving the message in Pakistan may easily assume it is referring to local malls.

A Google reverse image search revealed that the image is actually from Malaysia, not Pakistan. We obtained multiple results for the images dating back to 10 May 2020, which matches the date of the timestamps on the images. The first post containing the pictures was identified by news websites to have been made on 10 May 2020 by a Facebook user connected to the store owner Nex Nezeum. 

Originally, the photographer had denied that the images are from Metrojaya store in the image comments, while mentioning the store is unhappy about the images being circulated.. Further investigation on the photographers Facebook placed the shop in Kuala Lampur. The official Facebook page of the business shared a statement regarding the video on 11 May 2020, verifying the video and announcing the store would reopen in 3 days after a thorough cleaning, of which they posted evidence, in the form of pictures, to their Facebook page. They explained that the images were not meant to be publicly posted by Nexeum, instead were only for internal communication. 

 

Statement from Metrojaya, 11 May 2020

 

Cleaning at the shop, 11 May 2020

Regarding the secondary claim in the message, that the fungus would cause severe respiratory infections months after the infestation has been cleared out. Soch spoke to doctors to verify this claim. According to Dr Faisal Mahmud, the quantum of risk for consumers being exposed to fungal respiratory infections is less likely. Exposure to the mold infestation in the pictures could be detrimental to health because of allergic reactions. If the shop was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected it is not possible the risk of contracting respiratory illness would persist for months.

Summary: The Whatsapp forward message in question depicts a Malaysian store not a Pakistani one, and it is not possible to become sick from a fungal infection if it has been cleaned out.

 

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