Conspiracy theories on COVID 19: Legislators, Scientists, and Journalists all joined the Caravan
Conspiracy theories are not new for virus epidemics. There have been conspiracy theories on HIV-AIDS, Polio Vaccines, Ebola Virus, and several other diseases as well. However, what makes the 2019 Novel Coronavirus different from others is – social media and the involvement of highly educated people in creating, backing and propagating conspiracy theories.Siddheshwar Shukla | Updated: 24-02-2020 09:22 IST | Created: 20-02-2020 00:28 IST
In this age of high-end information technology, it is increasingly becoming difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction. This is because of their articulation, creative presentative and very fast dissemination through internet-enabled media and social media. However, the conspiracy theories moving around 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID 19) have one more advantage – the people holding high offices have also joined the caravan. They include legislators, scientists, researchers, journalists, diplomatics, and seasoned critics, etc. Despite the official statements neglecting the conspiracy theories, the market of conspiracies is high on internet-enabled media and social media.
Here we present some of the most viral conspiracy theories which are being circulated by established media publications and also viral on social media.
COVID 19 is a Chinese bioweapon against the USA
US senator Tom Cotton has become the poster boy of this conspiracy theory. However, scientists have rejected his claim of the Chinese government's hand in creating the virus as a bioweapon; for lack of evidence but a good chunk of the population in the US still believes in the theory. "We don't have evidence that this disease originated there," the senator said to the New York Times. "But because of China's duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all," he added. The Americans and all those who have developed animosity against China due to any reason such as trade war, human rights violations in Hong Kong, Green House Gas (GHG) Emission, etc have a lot to believe in the conspiracy theory of Cotton named as Fringe Theory of Coronavirus origin.
In a media report, Cotton was quoted as saying the virus was a Chinese 'war weapon run amok'. However, Cotton issued a clarification blaming the media person for distorting his statement. "I simply said we couldn't rule out any possibility yet for the virus' origin, including a laboratory accident," said Cotton in a tweet on February 19.
.@nytimes "reporter" @jotted lied when she said that I claimed the Wuhan coronavirus was a "Chinese bioweapon run amok" (her words, not mine). I simply said we couldn't rule out any possibility yet for the virus' origin, including a laboratory accident.https://t.co/e0N9uMCPZg— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) February 18, 2020
The established media houses such as the Washington Post, Daily Mail, and others have also carried news and views pieces to suggest that the virus was created by China as part of its bioweapon. The known critics of China, who consider the dragon as dangerous for the USA as erstwhile USSR, strongly believe that the virus was engineered in Wuhan as a bioweapon. The market of conspiracy theories is so high in the US that Stephan K. Bannon, former chief strategist of President Donald Trump and Chinese fugitive billionaire Guo Wengui, has pledged to raise US$ 100 million to fund an independent investigation into the issue.
Wuhan Coronavirus is the US creation against China
This theory exists on another pole of the conspiracy theory. The takers of this theory are spread from Russia to the Middle East.
Channel One, a national Television Channel of Russia is allegedly propagating this conspiracy theory. The channel launched a series of news on Wuhan Coronavirus. In such a news analysis, the channel claimed that since Corona means the crown (Russian and Latin) and linked it with Donald Trump.
Besides, the think tanks in the Arab region strongly believe that Wuhan Coronavirus is part of biological warfare by the US against China. An Iraqi analyst Sabah Al-Akili has given interviews directly blaming the US for the epidemic. The authors from Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arab also believed the handiwork of the US behind COVID 19.
Wuhan Coronavirus Leaked from Laboratory
This theory does not directly blame China for the epidemic but to an accident. The poster boy of this conspiracy theory of Mr. Dany Shoham, a former Israeli military intelligence officer.
Wuhan city of China, which has been the place of origin and epicenter of the COVID 19 epidemics, houses several laboratories on virology among which the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is of the highest importance. The conspiracy theory of leakage of COVID 19 from WIV came much before the outbreak was declared health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO). In a report published in the Washington Post on January 26, Dany Shoham, a former Israeli military intelligence officer who claims to have studied Chinese biological warfare, said the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been linked to 'Beijing's covert bio-weapons program. The views on this theory range from an experiment that went wrong to intentionally created a bioweapon of homicide. It is also believed that the institute was experimenting on the bats which attacked an employee. This lead to the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus. However, China claims that the virus originated in a fish market.
Novel Coronavirus was predicted in 1981 Novel of Dean Koontz
The experts of American author Dean Koontz's novel 'The Eyes of Darkness' published in the 1980s is viral on social media to derive the theory of conspiracy against China. In the novel, Koontz talks about 'Wuhan 400' which has striking similarities with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. The news was first carried in Fox News of the US and fast spread throughout the world.
The experts of the book are so convincing that Indian Parliamentarian Mr. Manish Tewari tweeted about it.
Is Coranavirus a biological Weapon developed by the Chinese called Wuhan -400? This book was published in 1981. Do read the excerpt. pic.twitter.com/Qdep1rczBe— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) February 16, 2020
However, it is very difficult to reach on any conclusion merely based on coincidence in a novel. Those trust in the theory emphasize that the outbreak was meticulously planned. However, the COVID 19 (nCoV) also has some striking similarities with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) CoV which caused an epidemic in China in 2003. Besides, the other CoVs such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) CoV and Ebola virus also have similarities with COVID 19. Ebola had caused 11,323 death between 2013-16 which is less than nCoV.
Francis Boyle's and other experts backing the conspiracy theory
Dr. Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law who had drafted the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act 1989 of the US has also reportedly backed the conspiracy theory. In an interview to 'Geopolitics and Empire', he has reportedly claimed that Wuhan Coronavirus is an offensive biological warfare weapon and that the WHO was aware of it.
Furthermore, a research paper authored by a group of Indian researchers also claimed that the virus may have been deliberately engineered by using HIV virus. However, the publisher was criticized for publishing the paper online (pre-print version) before the peer review. Prof. Eric Feigl Ding, a health economist at Harvard University and Shi Zhengli, a Chinse virologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology criticized the paper and the publisher. Subsequently, the paper was withdrawn on February 2. Zhengli was in the team that traced the origin of nCoV in the bats.
This conspiracy theory is linked with the bat origin of the Wuhan CoV. A study 12 scientists of India, China, USA, Singapore was conducted on Filovirus in Nagaland. The Filovirus has striking similarities with COVID 19.
In the study conducted in 2017, 85 persons of Nagaland were picked up. The study found the presence of filovirus reactive antibodies in humans and bat populations in North East India. This study was published on October 31, 2019, in the 'PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases Journal' on October 31, which was founded by the Bill and Milinda Gates Foundation. The participation of a WIV scientist in the team is also being seen as evidence behind this conspiracy theory. Besides, Bill Gates is also blamed to be involved in the conspiracy. Surprisingly, Indian government agencies were not aware of the research. Now, the Government of India has ordered an inquiry on how the experiments on humans and bats were conducted without permission.
Wuhan Coronavirus was stolen from Canada Laboratory
It is being alleged in media and also on social media that a Chinese couple scientist working at Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory (NML), Winnipeg had stolen the virus. Their mishandling of the virus at Wuhan's WIV led to leakage and the outbreak of the disease. However, in a fact check by AFP, the claim of theft was denied by the Canadian police.
Bat Soup Origin
This is merely a piece of fake news but is being projected as a conspiracy theory. A video went viral in which a beautiful Chinese woman is relishing cooked bat soup and saying, "it tastes like chicken meat'. The social media was abuzz with this video with description blaming bat eating for the spread of 2019 nCoV. Although some researchers claim the bat origin of COVID 19 while others believe it originated in seafood market.
As the news went viral, the woman Ms. Mengyun Wang provided the details. She also apologized for the comment. Wang is a blogger and the video was shot in 2016 during her trip to Palau, an archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean. She is host to a popular travel show. Besides, bat soup is not so popular dish in mainland China.
Economic Conspiracy Theory: COVID 19 killing only 60 plus people
This theory indicates that China is deliberately killing the aging population who has become non-productive for the economy. In a news analysis published by CNBC, it was suggested that about 80 percent of people who died from the virus in China were over the age of 60, and 75 percent had pre-existing conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, according to a recent report from China's National Health Commission. The analysis suggests that China is using the Wuhan virus to get rid of the ailing and non-productive aged population who have become a burden on the economy.
Conspiracy Theory of Profit
Though a developing theory, the conspiracy theory profit for Wuhan Coronavirus epidemic is largely based on hangover of the trade war between the US and China. As China is facing tough times probably worse than the trade war, the sympathizers of China believe that its handiwork of some US-supported Multinational Company (MNC).
The population of Wuhan is about 11 million, but the region is completely shut down. The names of some MNCs are being dropped on social media for this economic crisis such as Tesla, Siemens, Hyundai, Cartier, and Marriott. It is also being said that China's WIV wanted to develop a vaccine of Ebola for a huge profit and rammed into a new crisis or experimenting with a new vaccine for the global market. However, China has not claimed to have made any vaccine so far.
The Bottom Line
The origin of the COVID 19 could be ascertained only after the conclusion of scientific investigations. However, the origin of conspiracy theories, misinformation, and fake news may be getting strength from curbs imposed by China on media and social media. These curbs are apparently providing fodder to conspiracy theories. There is an increasing need for China to come before the world with credible information to combat the misinformation being spread on social media. Besides, there is a greater need among the global community to fight the COVID 19 menace unitedly to save humans from the tiny virus.
(Disclaimer: The conspiracy theories presented above are mere compilation. Devdiscourse does not endorse any theory of conspiracy described above. The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)
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- Tom Cotton
- Stephan K. Bannon
- Guo Wengui
- Wuhan Coronavirus
- Leaked from Laboratory
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- Dany Shoham
- Wuhan Institute of Virology
- World Health Organization
- Novel of Dean Koontz
- The Eyes of Darkness
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