Misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic..Mechanical Ventilation of Conspiracy theories have appeared both in social media and in mainstream news outlets, and are heavily influenced by geopolitics.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in conspiracy theories and misinformation about the scale of the pandemic and the origin, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. False information, including intentional disinformation, has been spread through social media, text messages, and mass media, including the tabloid media, conservative media, state media of countries such as China, Russia, Iran, and Turkmenistan. It has also been spread by state-backed covert operations to generate panic and sow distrust in other countries.
Misinformation has been propagated by celebrities, politicians (including heads of state in countries such as the United States, Iran, and Brazil), and other prominent public figures. Commercial scams have claimed to offer at-home tests, supposed preventives, and "miracle" cures. Politicians and leaders of some countries have promoted purported cures, while some religious groups said that the faith of their followers and God will protect them from the virus. Others have claimed the virus is a lab-developed bio-weapon that was accidentally leaked, or deliberately designed to target a country, or one with a patented vaccine, a population control scheme, the result of a spy operation, or linked to 5G networks.
The World Health Organization has declared an "infodemic" of incorrect information about the virus, which poses risks to global health.
Types and origin and effect
On January 30, the BBC reported about the increasing spread of conspiracy theories and false health advice in relation to COVID-19. Notable examples at the time included false health advice shared on social media and private chats, as well as conspiracy theories such as the origin in bat soup and the outbreak being planned with the participation of the Pirbright Institute. On January 31, The Guardian listed seven instances of misinformation, adding the conspiracy theories about bioweapons and the link to 5G technology, and including varied false health advice.
In an attempt to speed up research sharing, many researches have turned to preprint servers such as arXiv, bioRxiv, medRxiv or SSRN. Papers can be uploaded to these servers without peer review or any other editorial process that ensures research quality. Some of these papers have contributed to the spread of conspiracy theories. The most notable case was a preprint paper uploaded to bioRxiv which claimed that the virus contained HIV "insertions". Following the controversy, the paper was withdrawn.
According to a study published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, most misinformation related to COVID-19 involves "various forms of reconfiguration, where existing and often true information is spun, twisted, recontextualised, or reworked". While less misinformation "was completely fabricated". The study found no deep fakes in the studied sample. The study also found that "top-down misinformation from politicians, celebrities, and other prominent public figures", while accounting for a minority of the samples, captured a majority of the social media engagement. According to their classification, the largest category of misinformation (39%) includes "misleading or false claims about the actions or policies of public authorities, including government and international bodies like the WHO or the UN".
A natural experiment correlated coronavirus misinformation with increased infection and death; of two similar television news shows on the same network, one took coronavirus seriously about a month earlier than the other. People and groups exposed to the slow-response news show had higher infection and death rates.
The misinformations have been used by politicians, interest groups, and state actors in many countries to scapegoat other countries for the mishandling of the domestic responses, as well as furthering political, financial agenda.
Further information: Impact of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic on journalism
File:ITU - AI for Good Webinar Series - COVID-19 Misinformation and Disinformation during COVID-19.webm
International Telecommunication Union
On February 2, the World Health Organization (WHO) described a "massive infodemic", citing an over-abundance of reported information, accurate and false, about the virus that "makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it". The WHO stated that the high demand for timely and trustworthy information has incentivised the creation of a direct WHO 24/7 myth-busting hotline where its communication and social media teams have been monitoring and responding to misinformation through its website and social media pages. The WHO specifically debunked several claims as false, including the claim that a person can tell if they have the virus or not simply by holding their breath; the claim that drinking large amounts of water will protect against the virus; and the claim that gargling salt water prevents infection.
In early February, Facebook, Twitter and Google said they were working with WHO to address "misinformation". In a blogpost, Facebook stated they would remove content flagged by global health organizations and local authorities that violate its content policy on misinformation leading to "physical harm". Facebook is also giving free advertising to WHO. Nonetheless, a week after Trump's speculation that sunlight could kill the virus, the New York Times found "780 Facebook groups, 290 Facebook pages, nine Instagram accounts and thousands of tweets pushing UV light therapies," content which those companies declined to remove from their platforms.
At the end of February, Amazon removed more than a million products claimed to cure or protect against coronavirus, and removed tens of thousands of listings for health products whose prices were "significantly higher than recent prices offered on or off Amazon", although numerous items were "still being sold at unusually high prices" as of February 28.
Millions of instances of COVID-19 misinformation have occurred across a number of online platforms. Other fake news researchers noted certain rumors started in China; many of them later spread to Korea and the United States, prompting several universities in Korea to start the multilingual Facts Before Rumors campaign to separate common claims seen online.
The media has praised Wikipedia's coverage of COVID-19 and its combating the inclusion of misinformation through efforts led by the Wiki Project Med Foundation and the English-language Wikipedia's WikiProject Medicine, among other groups.
Many local newspapers have been severely affected by losses in advertising revenues from coronavirus; journalists have been laid off, and some have closed altogether.
Many newspapers with paywalls lowered them for some or all their coronavirus coverage. Many scientific publishers made scientific papers related to the outbreak open access.
The Turkish Interior Ministry has been arresting social media users whose posts were "targeting officials and spreading panic and fear by suggesting the virus had spread widely in Turkey and that officials had taken insufficient measures". Iran's military said 3600 people have been arrested for "spreading rumors" about coronavirus in the country. In Cambodia, some individuals who expressed concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have been arrested on fake news charges. Algerian lawmakers passed a law criminalising "fake news" deemed harmful to "public order and state security". In the Philippines, China, India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, South Africa, Somalia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Malaysia and Hong Kong, people have been arrested for allegedly spreading false information about the coronavirus pandemic. The United Arab Emirates have introduced criminal penalties for the spread of misinformation and rumours related to the outbreak.
Conspiracy theories have appeared both in social media and in mainstream news outlets, and are heavily influenced by geopolitics.
Virologist and immunologist Vincent R. Racaniello said that "accident theories – and the lab-made theories before them – reflect a lack of understanding of the genetic make-up of Sars-CoV-2."
A number of allegations have emerged supposing a link between the virus and Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV); among these is that the virus was an accidental leakage from WIV. In 2017, U.S. molecular biologist Richard H. Ebright expressed caution when the WIV was expanded to become mainland China's first biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory, noting previous escapes of the SARS virus at other Chinese laboratories. While Ebright refuted several conspiracy theories regarding the WIV (e.g., bioweapons research, or that the virus was engineered), he told BBC China this did not represent the possibility that the virus can be "completely ruled out" from entering the population due to a laboratory accident. Various researchers contacted by NPR concluded there was "virtually no chance" (in NPR's words) that the pandemic virus had accidentally escaped from a laboratory. Disinformation researcher Nina Jankowicz from Wilson Center indicates the lab leakage claim entered mainstream media in United States during April, propagated by pro-Trump news outlet.
On February 14, 2020, Chinese scientists explored the possibility of accidental leakage and published speculations on scientific social networking website ResearchGate. The paper was neither peer-reviewed nor presented any evidence for its claims. On March 5, the author of paper told Wall Street Journal in an interview why he decided to withdrew the paper by the end of February, stating: "the speculation about the possible origins in the post was based on published papers and media, and was not supported by direct proofs." Several newspapers have referenced the paper. Scientific American reported that Shi Zhengli, the lead researcher at WIV, started investigation on mishandling of experimental materials in the lab records, especially during disposal. She also tried to cross-check the novel coronavirus genome with the genetic information of other bat coronaviruses her team had collected. The result showed none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves.
In February, it was alleged that the first person infected may have been a researcher at the institute named Huang Yanling. Rumours circulated on Chinese social media that the researcher had become infected and died, prompting a denial from WIV, saying she was a graduate student enrolled in the Institute until 2015 and is not the patient zero. In April, the conspiracy theory started to circulate around on Youtube and got picked up by conservative media, National Review.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that one of the WIV's lead researchers, Shi Zhengli, was the particular focus of personal attacks in Chinese social media alleging that her work on bat-based viruses was the source of the virus; this led Shi to post: "I swear with my life, [the virus] has nothing to do with the lab". When asked by the SCMP to comment on the attacks, Shi responded: "My time must be spent on more important matters". Caixin reported Shi made further public statements against "perceived tinfoil-hat theories about the new virus's source", quoting her as saying: "The novel 2019 coronavirus is nature punishing the human race for keeping uncivilized living habits. I, Shi Zhengli, swear on my life that it has nothing to do with our laboratory". Immunologist Vincent Racaniello stated that virus leaking theory "reflect a lack of understanding of the genetic make-up of Sars-CoV-2 and its relationship to the bat virus". He says the bat virus researched in the institution "would not have been able to infect humans—the human Sars-CoV-2 has additional changes that allows it to infect humans."
On April 14, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, in response to questions about the virus being manufactured in a lab, said "... it's inconclusive, although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But we don't know for certain." On that same day, Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin detailed a leaked cable of a 2018 trip made to the WIV by scientists from the U.S. Embassy. The article was referenced and cited by conservative media to push the lab leakage theory. Rogin's article went on to say that "What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab's work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic." Rogin's article pointed out there was no evidence that the coronavirus was engineered, "But that is not the same as saying it didn't come from the lab, which spent years testing bat coronaviruses in animals." The article went on to quote Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, "I don't think it's a conspiracy theory. I think it's a legitimate question that needs to be investigated and answered. To understand exactly how this originated is critical knowledge for preventing this from happening in the future." Washington Post's article and subsequent broadcasts drew criticism from virologist Angela Rasmussen of Columbia University, which she states "It's irresponsible for political reporters like Rogin [to] uncritically regurgitate a secret 'cable' without asking a single virologist or ecologist or making any attempt to understand the scientific context." Rasmussen later compared biosafety procedure concerns to "having the health inspector come to your restaurant. It could just be, ‘Oh, you need to keep your chemical showers better stocked.’ It doesn’t suggest, however, that there are tremendous problems.”
Days later, multiple media outlets confirmed that U.S. intelligence officials were investigating the possibility that the virus started in the WIV. On April 23, Vox presented disputed arguments on lab leakage claims from several scientists. Scientists suggested that virus samples cultured in the lab have significant amount of difference compare to SARS-CoV-2. The virus institution sampled RaTG13 in Yunnan, the closest known relative of the novel coronavirus with 96% shared genome. Edward Holmes, SARS-CoV-2 researcher at the University of Sydney, explained 4% of difference "is equivalent to an average of 50 years (and at least 20 years) of evolutionary change." Virologist Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, which studies emerging infectious diseases, noted the estimation that 1–7 million people in Southeast Asia who live or work in proximity to bats are infected each year with bat coronaviruses. In the interview with Vox, he comments, "There are probably half a dozen people that do work in those labs. So let's compare 1 million to 7 million people a year to half a dozen people; it's just not logical."
On April 30, The New York Times reported the Trump administration demanded intelligence agencies to find evidence linking WIV with the origin of SARS-Cov-2. Secretary of State and former Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A) director Mike Pompeo was reportedly leading the push on finding information regarding the virus origin. Analysts were concerned that pressure from senior officials could distort assessments from the intelligence community. Anthony Ruggiero, the head of the National Security Council which responsible for tracking weapons of mass destruction, expressed frustration during a video conference that C.I.A. was unable to form conclusive answer on the origin of the virus. According to current and former government officials, as of April 30, C.I.A has yet to gather any information beyond circumstantial evidence to bolster the lab theory. US intelligence officers suggested that Chinese officials tried to conceal the severity of the outbreak in early days, but no evidence had shown China attempted to cover up a lab accident. One day later, Trump claimed he has evidence of the lab theory, but offers no further details on it. Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, claimed the SARS-CoV-2 virus "likely" came from a Wuhan virology testing laboratory, based on "circumstantial evidence". He was quoted as saying, "I have no definitive way of proving this thesis."
On April 30, 2020, the U.S. intelligence and scientific communities issued a public statement dismissing the idea that the virus was not natural, while the investigation of the lab accident theory was ongoing. The White House suggested an alternative explanation, along with a seemingly contradictory message, that the virus was man-made. In an interview with ABC News, Secretary of State Pompeo said he has no reason to disbelieve the intelligence community that the virus was natural. However, this contradicted the comment he made earlier in the same interview, in which he said "the best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point." On May 4, Australian tabloid The Daily Telegraph claimed a reportedly leaked dossier from Five Eyes, which alleged the probable outbreak was from the Wuhan lab. Fox News and national security commentators in the US quickly followed up The Telegraph story, rising the tension within international intelligence community. Australian government, which is part of the Five Eyes nations, determined the leaked dossier was not a Five Eyes document, but a compilation of open-source materials that contained no information generated by intelligence gathering. German intelligence community denied the claim of the leaked dossier, instead supported the probability of a natural cause. Australian government sees the promotion of the lab theory from the United States counterproductive to Australia’s push for a more broad international-supported independent inquiry into the virus origins. Senior officials in Australian government speculated the dossier was leaked by US embassy in Canberra to promote a narrative in Australia media that diverged from the mainstream belief of Australia.
Beijing rejected the White House's claim, calling the claim "part of an election year strategy by President Donald Trump’s Republican Party". Hua Chunying, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, urged Mike Pompeo to present evidence for his claim. "Mr. Pompeo cannot present any evidence because he does not have any," Hua told a journalist during a regular briefing, "This matter should be handled by scientists and professionals instead of politicians out of their domestic political needs." The Chinese ambassador, in an opinion published in the Washington Post, called on the White House to end the "blame game" over the coronavirus. As of May 5, assessments and internal sources from the Five Eyes nations indicated that the coronavirus outbreak was the result of a laboratory accident was "highly unlikely", since the human infection was "highly likely" a result of natural human and animal interaction. However, to reach such a conclusion with total certainty would still require greater cooperation and transparency from the Chinese side.
Anti-Israeli and antisemitic
Further information: Antisemitic canard
Iran's Press TV asserted that "Zionist elements developed a deadlier strain of coronavirus against Iran". Similarly, various Arab media outlets accused Israel and the United States of creating and spreading COVID-19, avian flu, and SARS. Users on social media offered a variety of theories, including the supposition that Jews had manufactured COVID-19 to precipitate a global stock market collapse and thereby profit via insider trading, while a guest on Turkish television posited a more ambitious scenario in which Jews and Zionists had created COVID-19, avian flu, and Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever to "design the world, seize countries, [and] neuter the world's population".
Israeli attempts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine prompted mixed reactions. Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi denied initial reports that he had ruled that a Zionist-made vaccine would be halal, and one Press TV journalist tweeted that "I'd rather take my chances with the virus than consume an Israeli vaccine". A columnist for the Turkish Yeni Akit asserted that such a vaccine could be a ruse to carry out mass sterilization.
An alert by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the possible threat of far-right extremists intentionally spreading the coronavirus mentioned blame being assigned to Jews and Jewish leaders for causing the pandemic and several statewide shutdowns.
Further information: 2020 Tablighi Jamaat coronavirus hotspot in Delhi
In India, Muslims have been blamed for spreading infection following the emergence of cases linked to a Tablighi Jamaat religious gathering. There are reports of vilification of Muslims on social media and attacks on individuals in India. Claims have been made Muslims are selling food contaminated with coronavirus and that a mosque in Patna was sheltering people from Italy and Iran. These claims were shown to be false. In the UK, there are reports of far-right groups blaming Muslims for the coronavirus outbreak and falsely claiming that mosques remained open after the national ban on large gatherings.
It has been repeatedly claimed that the virus was deliberately created by humans.
Nature Medicine published an article arguing against the conspiracy theory that the virus was created artificially. The high-affinity binding of its peplomers to human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) was shown to be "most likely the result of natural selection on a human or human-like ACE2 that permits another optimal binding solution to arise". In case of genetic manipulation, one of the several reverse-genetic systems for betacoronaviruses would probably have been used, while the genetic data irrefutably showed that the virus is not derived from a previously used virus template. The overall molecular structure of the virus was found to be distinct from the known coronaviruses and most closely resembles that of viruses of bats and pangolins that were little studied and never known to harm humans.
In February 2020, the Financial Times quoted virus expert and global co-lead coronavirus investigator Trevor Bedford: "There is no evidence whatsoever of genetic engineering that we can find", and "The evidence we have is that the mutations [in the virus] are completely consistent with natural evolution". Bedford further explained, "The most likely scenario, based on genetic analysis, was that the virus was transmitted by a bat to another mammal between 20–70 years ago. This intermediary animal—not yet identified—passed it on to its first human host in the city of Wuhan in late November or early December 2019".
On February 19, 2020, The Lancet published a letter of a group of scientists condemning "conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin".
Chinese biological weapon
Amidst a rise in Sinophobia, there have been conspiracy theories reported on India's social networks that the virus is "a bioweapon that went rogue" and also fake videos alleging that Chinese authorities are killing citizens to prevent its spread.
According to the Kyiv Post, two common conspiracy theories online in Ukraine are that American author Dean Koontz predicted the pandemic in his 1981 novel The Eyes of Darkness, and that the coronavirus is a bioweapon leaked from a secret lab in Wuhan.
Tobias Ellwood said, "It would be irresponsible to suggest the source of this outbreak was an error in a Chinese military biological weapons programme ... But without greater Chinese transparency we cannot entirely completely sure."
In February, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee of the UK House of Commons, publicly questioned the role of the Chinese Army's Wuhan Institute for Biological Products and called for the "greater transparency over the origins of the coronavirus".[non-primary source needed] The Daily Mail reported in early April 2020 that a member of COBRA (an ad-hoc government committee tasked with advising on crises) has stated while government intelligence does not dispute that the virus has a zoonotic origin, it also does not discount the idea of a leak from a Wuhan laboratory, saying "Perhaps it is no coincidence that there is that laboratory in Wuhan"; the Asia Times reported the story as if it were factual, perhaps unaware of the reputation of the Daily Mail.
Further information: Cyberwarfare in the United States and Propaganda in the United States
In January 2020, BBC News published an article about coronavirus misinformation, citing two January 24 articles from The Washington Times that said the virus was part of a Chinese biological weapons program, based at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). The Washington Post later published an article debunking the conspiracy theory, citing U.S. experts who explained why the WIV was unsuitable for bioweapon research, that most countries had abandoned bioweapons as fruitless, and that there was no evidence the virus was genetically engineered.
On January 29, financial news website and blog ZeroHedge suggested without evidence that a scientist at the WIV created the COVID-19 strain responsible for the coronavirus outbreak. Zerohedge listed the full contact details of the scientist supposedly responsible, a practice known as doxing, by including the scientist's name, photo, and phone number, suggesting to readers that they "pay [the Chinese scientist] a visit" if they wanted to know "what really caused the coronavirus pandemic". Twitter later permanently suspended the blog's account for violating its platform-manipulation policy.
Logo of the fictional Umbrella Corporation, which some internet rumours linked to the pandemic. The corporation was invented for the Resident Evil game series.
In January 2020, Buzzfeed News reported on an internet meme of a link between the logo of the WIV and "Umbrella Corporation", the agency that created the virus responsible for a zombie apocalypse in the Resident Evil franchise. Posts online noted that "Racoon [sic]" (the main city in Resident Evil) was an anagram of "Corona". Snopes noted that the logo was not from the WIV, but a company named Shanghai Ruilan Bao Hu San Biotech Ltd (located some 500 miles (800 km) away in Shanghai), and that the correct name of the city in Resident Evil was "Raccoon City".
In February 2020, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) suggested the virus may have originated in a Chinese bioweapon laboratory. Francis Boyle, a law professor, also expressed support for the bioweapon theory suggesting it was the result of unintended leaks. Cotton elaborated on Twitter that his opinion was only one of "at least four hypotheses". Multiple medical experts have indicated there is no evidence for these claims. Conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh said on The Rush Limbaugh Show—the most popular radio show in the U.S.—that the virus was probably "a ChiCom laboratory experiment" and the Chinese government was using the virus and the media hysteria surrounding it to bring down Donald Trump.
On February 6, the White House asked scientists and medical researchers to rapidly investigate the origins of the virus both to address the current spread and "to inform future outbreak preparation and better understand animal/human and environmental transmission aspects of coronaviruses". American magazine Foreign Policy said Xi Jinping's "political agenda may turn out to be a root cause of the epidemic" and that his Belt and Road Initiative has "made it possible for a local disease to become a global menace".
The Inverse reported that "Christopher Bouzy, the founder of Bot Sentinel, conducted a Twitter analysis for Inverse and found [online] bots and trollbots are making an array of false claims. These bots are claiming China intentionally created the virus, that it's a biological weapon, that Democrats are overstating the threat to hurt Donald Trump and more. While we can't confirm the origin of these bots, they are decidedly pro-Trump."
Conservative commentator Josh Bernstein claimed that the Democratic Party and the "medical deep state" were collaborating with the Chinese government to create and release the coronavirus to bring down Donald Trump. Bernstein went on to suggest those responsible should be locked in a room with infected coronavirus patients as punishment.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, promoted a conspiracy theory on Fox News that North Korea and China conspired together to create the coronavirus. He also said people were overreacting to the coronavirus outbreak and that Democrats were trying to use the situation to harm President Trump.
Hospital ship attack
The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) deployed to the Port of Los Angeles to provide backup medical services for the region. On March 31, 2020, a Pacific Harbor Line freight train was deliberately derailed by its onboard engineer in an attempt to crash into the ship, but the attack was unsuccessful and no one was injured. According to U.S. federal prosecutors, the train's engineer "[...] was suspicious of the Mercy, believing it had an alternate purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover".
Population control scheme
See also: List of conspiracy theories § RFID chips
According to the BBC, Jordan Sather, a conspiracy theory YouTuber supporting the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory and the anti-vax movement, has falsely claimed the outbreak was a population control scheme created by Pirbright Institute in England and by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. This belief is held mostly by right-wing libertarians, NWO conspiracy theorists, and Christian Fundamentalists.
Some people have alleged that the coronavirus was stolen from a Canadian virus research lab by Chinese scientists. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said that conspiracy theory had "no factual basis". The stories seem to have been derived from a July 2019 news article stating that some Chinese researchers had their security access to a Canadian Level 4 virology facility revoked in a federal police investigation; Canadian officials described this as an administrative matter and "there is absolutely no risk to the Canadian public."
This article was published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC); responding to the conspiracy theories, the CBC later stated that "CBC reporting never claimed the two scientists were spies, or that they brought any version of the coronavirus to the lab in Wuhan". While pathogen samples were transferred from the lab in Winnipeg, Canada to Beijing, China, on March 31, 2019, neither of the samples was a coronavirus, the Public Health Agency of Canada says the shipment conformed to all federal policies, and there has not been any statement that the researchers under investigation were responsible for sending the shipment. The current location of the researchers under investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is not being released.
In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, a senior research associate and expert in biological warfare with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, referring to a NATO press conference, identified suspicions of espionage as the reason behind the expulsions from the lab, but made no suggestion that coronavirus was taken from the Canadian lab or that it is the result of bioweapons defense research in China.
U.S. biological weapon
According to Washington DC-based nonprofit Middle East Media Research Institute, numerous writers in the Arabic press have promoted the conspiracy theory that COVID-19, as well as SARS and the swine flu virus, were deliberately created and spread to sell vaccines against these diseases, and it is "part of an economic and psychological war waged by the U.S. against China with the aim of weakening it and presenting it as a backward country and a source of diseases". Iraqi political analyst Sabah Al-Akili on Al-Etejah TV, Saudi daily Al-Watan writer Sa'ud Al-Shehry, Syrian daily Al-Thawra columnist Hussein Saqer, and Egyptian journalist Ahmad Rif'at on Egyptian news website Vetogate, were some examples given by MEMRI as propagators of the U.S. biowarfare conspiracy theory in the Arabic world.
Further information: Cyberwarfare by China, Propaganda in China, and Chinese information operations and information warfare
The Xinhua News Agency is among the news outlets that have published false information about COVID-19's origins.
According to London-based The Economist, plenty of conspiracy theories exist on China's internet about COVID-19 being the CIA's creation to keep China down. NBC News however has noted that there have also been debunking efforts of U.S.-related conspiracy theories posted online, with a WeChat search of "Coronavirus is from the U.S." reported to mostly yield articles explaining why such claims are unreasonable. According to an investigation by ProPublica, such conspiracy theories and disinformation have been propagated under the direction of China News Service, the country's second largest government-owned media outlet controlled by the United Front Work Department. Global Times and Xinhua News Agency have similarly been implicated in propagating disinformation related to COVID-19's origins.
Multiple conspiracy articles in Chinese from the SARS era resurfaced during the outbreak with altered details, claiming SARS is biological warfare. Some said BGI Group from China sold genetic information of the Chinese people to the U.S., which then specifically targeted the genome of Chinese individuals.
On January 26, Chinese military enthusiast website Xilu published an article, claimed how the U.S. artificially combined the virus to "precisely target Chinese people". The article was removed in early February. The article was further distorted on social media in Taiwan, which claimed "Top Chinese military website admitted novel coronavirus was Chinese-made bio-weapons". Taiwan Fact-check center debunked the original article and its divergence, suggesting the original Xilu article distorted the conclusion from a legitimate research on Chinese scientific magazine Science China Life Sciences, which never mentioned the virus was engineered. The fact-check center explained Xilu is a military enthusiastic tabloid established by a private company, thus it doesn't represent the voice of Chinese military.
Some articles on popular sites in China have also cast suspicion on U.S. military athletes participating in the Wuhan 2019 Military World Games, which lasted until the end of October 2019, and have suggested they deployed the virus. They claim the inattentive attitude and disproportionately below-average results of American athletes in the games indicate they might have been there for other purposes and they might actually be bio-warfare operatives. Such posts stated that their place of residence during their stay in Wuhan was also close to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the first known cluster of cases occurred.
In March 2020, this conspiracy theory was endorsed by Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. On March 13, the U.S. government summoned Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai to Washington over the coronavirus conspiracy theory. Over the next month, conspiracy theorists narrowed their focus to one U.S. Army Reservist, a woman who participated in the games in Wuhan as a cyclist, claiming she is "patient zero". According to a CNN report, these theories have been spread by George Webb, who has nearly 100,000 followers on YouTube, and have been amplified by a report by CPC-owned newspaper Global Times.
Further information: Propaganda in Iran
Reza Malekzadeh, deputy health minister, rejected bioterrorism theories.
According to Radio Farda, Iranian cleric Seyyed Mohammad Saeedi accused U.S. President Donald Trump of targeting Qom with coronavirus "to damage its culture and honor". Saeedi claimed that Trump is fulfilling his promise to hit Iranian cultural sites, if Iranians took revenge for the airstrike that killed of Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani.
Iranian TV personality Ali Akbar Raefipour claimed the coronavirus was part of a "hybrid warfare" programme waged by the United States on Iran and China. Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, head of Iranian Civil Defense Organization, claimed the coronavirus is likely a biological attack on China and Iran with economic goals.
Hossein Salami, the head of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), claimed the coronavirus outbreak in Iran may be due to a U.S. "biological attack". Several Iranian politicians, including Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Rasoul Falahati, Alireza Panahian, Abolfazl Hasanbeigi and Gholamali Jafarzadeh Imanabadi, also made similar remarks. Iranian Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made similar suggestions.
Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to the United Nations on March 9, claiming that "it is clear to the world that the mutated coronavirus was produced in lab" and that COVID-19 is "a new weapon for establishing and/or maintaining political and economic upper hand in the global arena".
The late Ayatollah Hashem Bathaie Golpayegani claimed that "America is the source of coronavirus, because America went head to head with China and realised it cannot keep up with it economically or militarily."
Reza Malekzadeh, Iran's deputy health minister and former Minister of Health, rejected claims that the virus was a biological weapon, pointing out that the U.S. would be suffering heavily from it. He said Iran was hard-hit because its close ties to China and reluctance to cut air ties introduced the virus, and because early cases had been mistaken for influenza.
In the Philippine Senate, Tito Sotto has promoted his belief that COVID-19 is a bioweapon.
A Filipino Senator, Tito Sotto, played a bioweapon conspiracy video in a February 2020 Senate hearing, suggesting the coronavirus is biowarfare waged against China.
Further information: Cyberwarfare by Russia and Propaganda in the Russian Federation
On February 22, U.S. officials alleged that Russia is behind an ongoing disinformation campaign, using thousands of social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to deliberately promote unfounded conspiracy theories, claiming the virus is a biological weapon manufactured by the CIA and the U.S. is waging economic war on China using the virus. The acting assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, Philip Reeker, said "Russia's intent is to sow discord and undermine U.S. institutions and alliances from within" and "by spreading disinformation about coronavirus, Russian malign actors are once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting from the global health response." Russia denies the allegation, saying "this is a deliberately false story".
According to U.S.-based The National Interest magazine, although official Russian channels had been muted on pushing the U.S. biowarfare conspiracy theory, other Russian media elements do not share the Kremlin's restraint. Zvezda, a news outlet funded by the Russian Defense Ministry, published an article titled "Coronavirus: American biological warfare against Russia and China", claiming that the virus is intended to damage the Chinese economy, weakening its hand in the next round of trade negotiations. Ultra-nationalist politician and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, claimed on a Moscow radio station that the virus was an experiment by the Pentagon and pharmaceutical companies. Politician Igor Nikulin made rounds on Russian television and news media, arguing that Wuhan was chosen for the attack because the presence of a BSL-4 virus lab provided a cover story for the Pentagon and CIA about a Chinese bio-experiment leak. An EU-document claims 80 attempts by Russian media to spread disinformation related to the epidemic.
According to the East StratCom Task Force, the Sputnik news agency was active publishing stories speculating that the virus could've been invented in Latvia, that it was used by Communist Party of China to curb protests in Hong Kong, that it was introduced intentionally to reduce the number of elder people in Italy, that it was targeted against the Yellow Vests movement, and making many other speculations. Sputnik branches in countries including Armenia, Belarus, Spain, and in the Middle East came up with versions of these stories.
Constituent Assembly member Elvis Méndez declared that the coronavirus was a "bacteriological sickness created in '89, in '90 and historically" and that it was a sickness "inoculated by the gringos". Méndez theorized that the virus was a weapon against Latin America and China and that its purpose was "to demoralize the person, to weaken to install their system".
It has been wrongly claimed that anyone infected with COVID-19 will have the virus in their bodies for life. While there is no curative treatment, infected individuals can recover from the disease, eliminating the virus from their bodies; getting supportive medical care early can help.
COVID-19 xenophobic blaming by ethnicity and religion
Main article: List of incidents of xenophobia and racism related to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic
File:IOM - Fighting Stigma and Discrimination against Migrants during COVID-19.webm
UN video warns that misinformation against groups may lower testing rates and increase transmission.
COVID-19-related xenophobic attacks have been made against people the attacker blamed for COVID-19 on the basis of their ethnicity. People who are considered to look Chinese have been subjected to COVID-19-related verbal and physical attacks in many other countries, often by people accusing them of transmitting the virus. Within China, there has been discrimination (such as evictions and non-service in shops) against people from anywhere closer to Wuhan (where the pandemic started) and against anyone perceived as being non-Chinese (especially those considered African), as the Chinese government has blamed continuing cases on re-introductions of the virus from abroad (90% of reintroduced cases were by Chinese passport-holders). Neighbouring countries have also discriminated against people seen as Westerners. People have also simply blamed other local groups along the lines of pre-existing social tensions and divisions, sometimes citing reporting of COVID-19 cases within that group. For instance, Muslims have been widely blamed, shunned, and discriminated against in India (including some violent attacks), amid unfounded claims that Muslims are deliberately spreading COVID-19, and a Muslim event at which the disease did spread has received far more public attention than many similar events run by other groups and the government. White supremacist groups have blamed COVID-19 on non-whites and advocated deliberately infecting minorities they dislike, such as Jews.
5G towers have been burned by people wrongly blaming them for COVID-19.
Openreach engineers appealed on anti-5G Facebook groups, saying they aren't involved in mobile networks, and workplace abuse is making it difficult for them to maintain phonelines and broadband.
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In February 2020 BBC News reported that conspiracy theorists on social media groups alleged a link between coronavirus and 5G mobile networks, claiming that Wuhan and Diamond Princess outbreaks were directly caused by electromagnetic fields and by the introduction of 5G and wireless technologies. Some conspiracy theorists also alleged that the coronavirus outbreak was a cover-up for a 5G-related illness. In March 2020, Thomas Cowan, a holistic medical practitioner who trained as a physician and operates on probation with Medical Board of California, alleged that coronavirus is caused by 5G, based on the claims that African countries were not affected significantly by the pandemic and Africa was not a 5G region. Cowan also falsely alleged that the viruses were wastes from cells that are poisoned by electromagnetic fields and historical viral pandemics coincided with the major developments in radio technology. The video of his claims went viral and was recirculated by celebrities including Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, and singer Keri Hilson. The claims may also have been recirculated by an alleged "coordinated disinformation campaign", similar to campaigns used by the Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The claims were criticized on social media and debunked by Reuters, USA Today, Full Fact and American Public Health Association executive director Georges C. Benjamin.
Professor Steve Powis, national medical director of NHS England, described theories linking 5G mobile phone networks to COVID-19 as the "worst kind of fake news". Viruses cannot be transmitted by radio waves. COVID-19 has spread and continues to spread in many countries that do not have 5G networks.
After telecommunications masts in several parts of the United Kingdom were the subject of arson attacks, British Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the theory that COVID-19 virus may be spread by 5G wireless communication is "just nonsense, dangerous nonsense as well". Vodafone announced that two Vodafone masts and two it shares with O2 had been targeted.
By Monday April 6, 2020 at least 20 mobile phone masts in the UK had been vandalised since the previous Thursday. Because of slow rollout of 5G in the UK, many of the damaged masts had only 3G and 4G equipment. Mobile phone and home broadband operators estimated there were at least 30 incidents of confronting engineers maintaining equipment in the week up to April 6. There have been eleven incidents of attempted arson at mobile phone masts in the Netherlands, including one case where "Fuck 5G" was written, as well as in Ireland and Cyprus. Facebook has deleted multiple messages encouraging attacks on 5G equipment.
Engineers working for Openreach posted pleas on anti-5G Facebook groups asking to be spared abuse as they are not involved with maintaining mobile networks. Mobile UK said the incidents were affecting attempts to maintain networks that support home working and provide critical connections to vulnerable customers, emergency services and hospitals. A widely circulated video shows people working for broadband company Community Fibre being abused by a woman who accuses them of installing 5G as part of a plan to kill the population.
YouTube announced that it would reduce the amount of content claiming links between 5G and coronavirus. Videos that are conspiratorial about 5G that do not mention coronavirus would not be removed, though they might be considered "borderline content", removed from search recommendations and losing advertising revenue. The discredited claims had been circulated by British conspiracy theorist David Icke in videos (subsequently removed) on YouTube and Vimeo, and an interview by London Live TV network, prompting calls for action by Ofcom.
On April 13, 2020, Gardaí were investigating fires at 5G masts in County Donegal, Ireland. Gardaí and fire services had attended the fires the previous night in an attempt to put them out. Although Gardaí were awaiting results of tests they were treating the fires as deliberate.
There were 20 suspected arson attacks on phone masts in the UK over the Easter 2020 weekend. These included an incident in Dagenham where three men were arrested on suspicion of arson, a fire in Huddersfield that affected a mast used by emergency services and a fire in a mast that provides mobile connectivity to the NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham.
Ofcom issued guidance to ITV following comments by Eamonn Holmes after comments made by Holmes about 5G and coronavirus on This Morning. Ofcom said the comments were "ambiguous" and "ill-judged" and they "risked undermining viewers' trust in advice from public authorities and scientific evidence". Ofcom also local channel London Live in breach of standards for an interview it had with David Icke who it said had " expressed views which had the potential to cause significant harm to viewers in London during the pandemic".
Some telecoms engineers have reported threats of violence, including threats to stab and murder them, by individuals who believe them to be working on 5G networks. West Midlands Police said the crimes in question are being taken very seriously.
On April 24, 2020 The Guardian revealed that an evangelical pastor from Luton had provided the male voice on a recording blaming 5G for deaths caused by coronavirus. Jonathon James claimed to have formerly headed the largest business-unit at Vodafone, but insiders at the company said that he was hired for a sales position in 2014 when 5G was not a priority for the company and that 5G would not have been part of his job. He left the company after less than a year.
It has been claimed that mosquitoes transmit coronavirus. There is no evidence that this is true; coronavirus spreads through small droplets of saliva and mucus.
A warning claiming to be from the Australia Department of Health said coronavirus spreads through petrol pumps and that everyone should wear gloves when filling up petrol in their cars.
There were claims that wearing shoes at one's home was the reason behind the spread of the coronavirus in Italy.
Resistance/susceptibility based on ethnicity
There have been claims that specific ethnicities are more or less vulnerable to COVID-19. COVID-19 is a new zoonotic disease, so no population has yet had the time to develop population immunity.[medical citation needed]
Beginning on February 11, reports, quickly spread via Facebook, implied that a Cameroonian student in China had been completely cured of the virus due to his African genetics. While a student was successfully treated, other media sources have noted that no evidence implies Africans are more resistant to the virus and labeled such claims as false information. Kenyan Secretary of Health Mutahi Kagwe explicitly refuted rumors that "those with black skin cannot get coronavirus", while announcing Kenya's first case on March 13. This myth was cited as a contributing factor in the disproportionately high rates of infection and death observed among African Americans.
There have been claims of "Indian immunity": that the people of India have more immunity to the COVID-19 virus due to living conditions in India. This idea was deemed "absolute drivel" by Anand Krishnan, professor at the Centre for Community Medicine of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). He said there was no population immunity to the COVID-19 virus yet, as it is new, and it is not even clear whether people who have recovered from COVID-19 will have lasting immunity, as this happens with some viruses but not with others.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed the virus was genetically targeted at Iranians by the U.S., and this is why it is seriously affecting Iran. He did not offer any evidence.
A number of religious groups have claimed protection due to their faith, some refusing to stop large religious gatherings. In Israel, some Ultra-Orthodox Jews initially refused to close synagogues and religious seminaries and disregarded government restrictions because "The Torah protects and saves", which resulted in an 8 times faster rate of infection among some groups. The Tablighi Jamaat movement organised mass gatherings in Malaysia, India, and Pakistan whose participants believed that God will protect them resulted the biggest rise in COVID-19 cases in a number of countries. In Iran, the head of Fatima Masumeh Shrine encouraged pilgrims to visit the shrine despite calls to close the shrine, saying that they "consider this holy shrine to be a place of healing." In South Korea the River of Grace Community Church in Gyeonggi Province spread the virus after spraying salt water into their members' mouths in the belief that it would kill the virus, while the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu where a church leader claimed that no Shincheonji worshipers had caught the virus in February while hundreds died in Wuhan later caused in the biggest spread of the virus in the country.
In Somalia, myths have spread claiming Muslims are immune to the virus.
Unproven protective and aggravating factors
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Claims that vegetarians are immune to coronavirus spread online in India, causing "#NoMeat_NoCoronaVirus" to trend on Twitter.[better source needed] Eating meat does not have an effect on COVID-19 spread, except for people near where animals are slaughtered, said Anand Krishnan. Fisheries, Dairying and Animal Husbandry Minister Giriraj Singh said the rumour had significantly affected industry, with the price of a chicken falling to a third of pre-pandemic levels. He also described efforts to improve the hygiene of the meat supply chain.
Efficacy of hand sanitiser, "antibacterial" soaps
Washing in soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to clean hands. Second-best is a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
Claims that hand sanitiser is merely "antibacterial not antiviral", and therefore ineffective against COVID-19, have spread widely on Twitter and other social networks. While the effectiveness of sanitiser depends on the specific ingredients, most hand sanitiser sold commercially inactivates SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. Hand sanitizer is recommended against COVID-19, though unlike soap, it is not effective against all types of germs. Washing in soap and water for at least 20 seconds is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as the best way to clean hands in most situations. However, if soap and water are not available, a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol can be used instead, unless hands are visibly dirty or greasy. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration both recommend plain soap; there is no evidence that "antibacterial soaps" are any better, and limited evidence that they might be worse long-term.
Alcohol (ethanol and poisonous methanol)
Contrary to some reports, drinking alcohol does not protect against COVID-19, and can increase health risks (short term and long term). Drinking alcohol is ethanol; other alcohols, such as methanol, which causes methanol poisoning, are acutely poisonous, and may be present in badly-prepared alcoholic beverages.
Iran has reported incidents of methanol poisoning, caused by the false belief that drinking alcohol would cure or protect against coronavirus; alcohol is banned in Iran, and bootleg alcohol may contain methanol. According to Iranian media in March 2020, nearly 300 people have died and more than a thousand have become ill due to methanol poisoning, while Associated Press gave figures of around 480 deaths with 2,850 others affected. The number of deaths due to methanol poisoning in Iran reached over 700 by April. Iranian social media had circulated a story from British tabloids that a British man and others had been cured of coronavirus with whiskey and honey, which combined with the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers as disinfectants, led to the false belief that drinking high-proof alcohol can kill the virus.
Similar incidents have occurred in Turkey, with 30 Turkmenistan citizens dying from methanol poisoning related to coronavirus cure claims.
In Kenya, the Governor of Nairobi Mike Sonko has come under scrutiny for including small bottles of the cognac Hennessy in care packages, falsely claiming that alcohol serves as "throat sanitizer" and that, from research, it is believed that "alcohol plays a major role in killing the coronavirus."
Cocaine does not protect against COVID-19. Several viral tweets purporting that snorting cocaine would sterilize one's nostrils of the coronavirus spread around Europe and Africa. In response, the French Ministry of Health released a public service announcement debunking this claim, saying "No, cocaine does NOT protect against COVID-19. It is an addictive drug that causes serious side effects and is harmful to people's health." The World Health Organisation also debunked the claim.
A tweet from French health minister Olivier Véran, a bulletin from the French health ministry, and a small speculative study in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine raised concerns about ibuprofen worsening COVID-19, which spread extensively on social media. The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization recommended COVID-19 patients keep taking ibuprofen as directed, citing lack of convincing evidence of any danger.
In some Asian countries, it has been claimed that one should stay at home on particular days when helicopters spray disinfectant over homes for killing off COVID-19; no such spraying is taking place.
Cruise ships safety from infection
Main article: COVID-19 pandemic on cruise ships
Claims by cruise-ship operators notwithstanding, there are many cases of coronaviruses in hot climates; some countries in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf are severely affected.
In March 2020, the Miami New Times reported that managers at Norwegian Cruise Line had prepared a set of responses intended to convince wary customers to book cruises, including "blatantly false" claims that the coronavirus "can only survive in cold temperatures, so the Caribbean is a fantastic choice for your next cruise", that "[s]cientists and medical professionals have confirmed that the warm weather of the spring will be the end of the [c]oronavirus", and that the virus "cannot live in the amazingly warm and tropical temperatures that your cruise will be sailing to".
Flu is seasonal (becoming less frequent in the summer) in some countries, but not in others. While it is possible that the COVID-19 coronavirus will also show some seasonality, it is not yet known.[medical citation needed] The COVID-19 coronavirus spread along international air travel routes, including to tropical locations. Outbreaks on cruise ships, where an older population lives in close quarters, frequently touching surfaces which others have touched, were common.
It seems that COVID-19 can be transmitted in all climates. It has seriously affected many warm-climate countries. For instance, Dubai, with an year-round average daily high of 28.0 Celsius (82.3°F) and the airport said to have the world's most international traffic, has had thousands of cases.
It was reported that multiple social media posts have promoted a conspiracy theory claiming the virus was known and that a vaccine was already available. PolitiFact and FactCheck.org noted that no vaccine currently exists for COVID-19. The patents cited by various social media posts reference existing patents for genetic sequences and vaccines for other strains of coronavirus such as the SARS coronavirus. The WHO reported as of February 5, 2020, that amid news reports of "breakthrough" drugs being discovered to treat people infected with the virus, there were no known effective treatments; this included antibiotics and herbal remedies not being useful. Scientists are working to develop a vaccine, but as of March 18, 2020, no vaccine candidates have completed Phase II clinical trials.
Name of the disease
Social media posts and internet memes claimed that COVID-19 means "Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease 19", or similar, as supposedly the "19th virus to come out of China". In fact, the WHO named the disease as follows: CO stands for corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for when the outbreak was first identified (31 December 2019).
Some media outlets, including Daily Mail and RT, as well as individuals, disseminated a video showing a Chinese woman eating a bat, falsely suggesting it was filmed in Wuhan and connecting it to the outbreak. However, the widely circulated video contains unrelated footage of a Chinese travel vlogger, Wang Mengyun, eating bat soup in the island country of Palau in 2016. Wang posted an apology on Weibo, in which she said she had been abused and threatened, and that she had only wanted to showcase Palauan cuisine. The spread of misinformation about bat consumption has been characterized by xenophobic and racist sentiment toward Asians. In contrast, scientists suggest the virus originated in bats and migrated into an intermediary host animal before infecting people.