CORONAVIRUS has killed more than 1,000 people in China, fuelling conspiracy theories of unleashed bioweapons and lab experiments gone wrong – but what do experts have to say about these coronavirus theories?
The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) epidemic has infected more than 43,000 people globally, most of whom are in China. As efforts mount to halt the spread of infections, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against the spread of misinformation and baseless conspiracies.
WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Saturday “trolls and conspiracy theories” are undermining the recovery effort.
He said: “People must have access to accurate information to protect themselves and others.”
Since the coronavirus first emerged in China’s Wuhan City in December last year, conspiracy theorists have flocked to social media to spread false rumours about the outbreak.
One Twitter user wrote: “Controversial Opinion: China is covering up the Coronavirus. It is much worse than the media thinks. China isn’t a third world country, and certainly has well educated medical staff and doctors. It’s a coverup for an accidentally leaked biological weapon.”
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Another person said: “#coronavirus If there is knowledge about the outbreak and the information is not share with the rest of the world, it will eventually be discover and then the only conclusions will be that it was a bio weapon used against them!”
Farouk Ontario also said on Twitter: “So the Chinese gov was synthesising #coronavirus as a biological weapon, but it breached, they tried to contain it but they failed, they know what they built, hence the aggressive measures against population. The world must now help China or we’ll going to die soon!”
Even the Russian media have toyed with coronavirus conspiracies when a national TV network, Channel One, suggested the US played a role in the viral epidemic.
But is there any evidence to support the outlandish coronavirus claims? No, according to health experts.
Dr David Jacobs, the co-founder of the Coalition of Ontario Doctors in Canada, tweeted: “Please stop with the conspiracy theories!
We’re also battling the trolls and conspiracy theories
“The #coronavirus was NOT made in a lab. It is NOT a biological weapon.
“Coronaviruses are common and account for up to 20 percent of colds every year.
“The particularly nasty ones like SARS and MERS originate in bats and cross infect humans.”
Professor Richard Ebright, an expert in chemical biology at Rutgers University, said: “Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus.”
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The conspiracy theories were also dismissed by Dr Andrzejem Horban, an infectious disease expert from the Provincial Infectious Hospital in Warsaw, Poland.
He said: “The virus does not meet the criteria of a biological weapon. A virus used as a bioweapon should kill between 20 and 30 percent of those infected.”
The coronavirus has a very low mortality rate between one and two percent.
The majority of coronavirus patients who have died were middle-aged or elderly and already suffering from pre-existing conditions.
Doctors have also been pretty successful in fighting the disease, with more than 4,000 people recovered from infection as of Tuesday morning (February 11).
On Saturday, the WHO’s Director General said: “At the WHO we’re not just battling the virus, we’re also battling the trolls and conspiracy theories that undermine our response.
“As a Guardian headline says today, ‘Misinformation on the coronavirus might be the most contagious thing about it’.”
The health expert added misinformation around the novel coronavirus only serves to spread fear and confusion to the general public.
Last week, Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai, similarly warned against spreading misinformation after Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton suggested the coronavirus was a bioengineered threat.
The ambassador said: “It’s very harmful, it’s very dangerous to stir up suspicion, rumours and spread them among the people.
“For one thing, this will create panic. Another thing is that it will fan up racial discrimination, xenophobia, all these things that will really harm our joint efforts to combat the virus.”