A Canadian man who announced he was infected with the new coronavirus during a WestJet flight from Toronto to Jamaica on Monday says he was trying to make a viral video, according to a new report from Canada’s Global News. The plane turned around after the man, identified as 28-year-old James Potok, stood up and told other passengers that he was sick. Potok was evaluated and eventually arrested after the plane landed.
Potok, who calls himself an “artist,” told other passengers on the plane that he had recently been to China and was now feeling very ill. Potok also appeared to be wearing a facemask, according to video captured from the incident. Potok’s announcement was relayed to the flight crew, who decided it was best to turn the plane and its 243 passengers around and return to Pearson Airport in Canada, according to the Peel Regional Police.
“I stood up and said, ‘Can I have everybody’s attention? I just got back from Hunan province,’” Potok told the Global News. “I had my camera with me. I was looking to get a viral video. I was looking to get it up on all the social media platforms.”
Despite falsely claiming he had visited Hunan province, the real epicentre of the outbreak is in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. Potok appeared to be confused about the actual geography of the current outbreak which has killed at least 494 people worldwide, with sickened at least 24,607 more, mostly in China.
Potok told Global News that he’d previously made at least one other video on his flights to Jamaica (Potok says he flies there from Canada five times a year) that wasn’t very controversial. Potok claimed he once stood up and promoted Lil Wayne’s new album without incident.
“I figured it would invoke some kind of reaction,” Potok said of his most recent stunt. “Not on the plane. More people seeing on social media going ‘Wow, this kid’s got some balls, this kid is crazy, or whatever it is.’”
Global News asked why he wanted to go viral and it seems like Potok simply wanted self-promotion at any cost.
“I’m an artist. Any publicity for myself is good publicity,” he said, adding that he’s “extremely apologetic” because he ruined so many people’s trip to Jamaica.
“Once I found out that they were turning the plane around is when I felt the remorse. I felt guilty,” Potok told the CBC.
Potok has been charged with mischief and “breach of recognisance” and is scheduled to appear in court on March 9. It’s not yet clear if he’ll face any jail time for his idiotic stunt. Potok has not posted anything related to the coronavirus prank on his Instagram account, which has been set to private.