Conspiracy theories have been spreading faster than the new coronavirus. Generally, though, they fall under two categories: (1) the virus is a bioweapon engineered by Chinese, who accidentally leaked it; or (2) it was created by Americans who deliberately released it.
One theory was spread by Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, whose motto is “Real. Trusted. News.” His story was based almost entirely on an Israeli biological warfare expert, one Dany Shoham. It pointed out that the epicentre of the outbreak was just 32km from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which houses China’s only P4-Level Biosafety Laboratory, the highest-level classification of labs that study the deadliest viruses on earth.
This theory is taken further by Tyler Durden of the right-wing news blog Zero Hedge. He has identified a mainland Chinese researcher at the Wuhan Institute only because he is a “pioneer of global bat immune system research” and that his CV makes him well-qualified to create a bioweapon like the new coronavirus. Twitter has suspended the blog’s account following the publication of the scientist’s personal details.
On a less outlandish note, the US government-funded Radio Free Asia has just rebroadcast a 2015 report about the Wuhan institute being China’s most advanced virus research lab.
Back in Hong Kong, blue-ribbon YouTube influencer, Jonathan Ho Chi-kwong, who has 210,000 subscribers, has been claiming for weeks that the virus was released by Washington as part of a multi-pronged war against China. After all, practically all the deaths have been Chinese on the mainland.
Experts have pointed out that as a bioweapon, the new virus is pretty useless. It appears to kill just 2 per cent of victims and each patient spreads it to an average of only 2.2 people.
However, writing in the web journal, New Eastern Outlook, Peter Koenig, a former World Bank employee, has an answer, which is that the new virus is a beta version. “2019-nCoV may just be a trial,” he wrote. “Imagine a stronger mutation of a coronavirus implanted into the Chinese population, say with a mortality rate of 10% to 20% or higher – it could cause real havoc.”
Conspiracy theories are parasitic narratives feeding on the anxieties and fears of the age, which in ours are global pandemics and repercussions from the increasingly nasty rivalry between China and the US.
It’s hard to predict when deadly viruses will emerge, but conspiracy theories about them are all too predictable.