Influencer James Potok apologises for coronavirus prank on plane

7 February 2020, 17:40 | Updated: 7 February 2020, 17:53

James Potok said he had coronavirus
James Potok said he had coronavirus. Picture: @potokphilippe via Instagram, POTOK Philippe via YouTube
Jazmin Duribe

By Jazmin Duribe

James Potok said he had coronavirus while on a flight from Canada to Jamaica.

An Instagram influencer has apologised for pulling a coronavirus prank while mid-flight, forcing the plane to return to the airport and resulting in his arrest.

Coronavirus is a new respiratory illness that has not previously been seen in humans. The virus started in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, and so far 639 people have died from it, including the doctor who first alerted people about it, Dr Li Wenliang. The illness is spread from person-to-person and has sprung up in a number of other countries, including the US and UK, so it's safe to say that the public are on edge.

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Potok Philippe, born James Potok, was on board the WestJet 2702 flight from Toronto, Canada, to Jamaica when he apparently announced he had contracted coronavirus following a trip to China. In video footage captured onboard the flight, James is seen wearing blue protective gloves and a face mask.

Cabin crew then made the decision to turn back to Toronto Pearson International Airport – despite being just 30 minutes from their destination – where James was escorted off the plane and arrested.

In a YouTube video titled, "Corona Virus Prank Apology", James apologised for his part in the hoax and said that he didn't actually say he had the virus.

"I was headed to Jamaica to film another music video that I am very proud of," he explained. "Unfortunately, in order to start this video I reached for an attention-grabbing word that would get the attention of the people behind me in the very back seats of the plane. Hunan, China, came to mind and I jokingly said, 'I just visited there – I don't feel well.' The stewardess came to me and asked me to put on masks and gloves and follow her to another seat. I told her I was just kidding and that I had never been to China but they told me it was too late and they had to follow their protocol.

Watch the video here.

"I was sequestered at the back of the plane and the pilot said, 'There has been a coronavirus hoax and we are going back to Toronto.' This is when I realised I had triggered a chaotic situation."

James went on to explain that the punchline was actually meant to be that he was sick from eating Chinese food in Toronto (???). It wasn't his intention to insulate that he had coronavirus. He added: "This was blown out of proportion and I am here to apologise for any issues and all problems that I caused […] This was never my intent to harbour fear or create a panic on the plane. Looking back at what I said, I am extremely disappointed in myself. Moving forward I am going to be very careful of the things that I say."

Before signing off, he continued: "At no time on the plane did I say I had coronavirus, I simply stated that I had visited Hunan province, it was supposed to be about the Chinese food we have here in Toronto and I think it went over people's heads." (Note: the virus started in Wuhan, Hubei province, not Hunan.)

James Potok Instagram
James Potok Instagram. Picture: @potokphilippe via Instagram

The aspiring rapper actually told a different story Toronto's City News. He told the publication that he did say he had the virus. Apparently, he announced: "I just came back from Hunan province, the capital of the coronavirus… I'm not feeling too well. Thank you." He also said that he intended to "go viral" and the prank was "good for publicity".

Although James, who has 37,000 Instagram followers, has apologised he now has "#VirusBoy" and "#WuhanClan" in his Instagram bio. Meanwhile, he has been charged with mischief and he will appear at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton on 9 March.