Sars-CoV-2 is a virus, a piece of genetic material contained within a lipid envelope. It has no desires or ambitions, nor does it care who it infects or whether it kills its host – it simply exists to self-replicate. For humans, this can be a frightening truth. We like to imagine that everything happens for a reason. The idea that tens of thousands can die, simply because one molecule was randomly modified in exactly the right way, is hard to come to terms with. It reminds us that we have little control over nature, that we are at the mercy of a chaotic universe.
Many conspiracy theories are born from this desire for control. Some people (in some cases, a lot of people) would rather believe that the coronavirus pandemic is the result of human intent, even if that intent is malevolent. The attachment to this idea is so strong that even when a theory is debunked, new theories will simply be created to fill in the gaps. It is for this reason that conspiracy theories can be so entertaining to investigate. Here are our picks for the top 5 coronavirus related conspiracy theories.
One of the first theories that emerged back in January was that COVID-19 is part of a biological weapons program, developed by the CIA, by a secret lab in Wuhan, or really anyone in between depending on who you ask. Rush Limbaugh, who hosts the most listened to radio show in the US, claimed that China was using the virus as a means to attack the United States. The Blog ZeroHedge went further, listing the contact details of the scientists supposedly responsible and suggesting that readers ‘pay them a visit’.
It should come as no surprise that this theory has no evidence behind it. A Nature Medicine paper argued against the idea, describing how the genetic data irrefutably rules out the possibly that the virus was derived from a previously used viral template. Rather, the high binding affinity of the virus‘s spike protein for human ACEII was most likely the result of natural selection.
If the virus is not the result of an intentional weapons program, what about an accidental leakage from a lab in Wuhan?
The scientific consensus is that SarsCoV-2 is most likely to have originated in bats or pangolins, and may have mutated into a virus capable of infecting humans due to consumption of said animals’ meat. If such a virus was being studied in a lab and escaped, it would not have been able to infect humans without acquiring the necessary genetic mutations – something that is extremely unlikely.
These accident theories – and the lab-made theories before them – reflect a lack of understanding of the genetic make-up of Sars-CoV-2 and its relationship to the bat virus. If someone had that virus in the lab, and say it escaped, it would not have been able to infect humans – the human Sars-CoV-2 has additional changes that allows it to infect humans.Vincent Racaniello, professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University in New York.
Bat virus? Bioweapon? What the science says about Covid-19 origins. (2020). Retrieved 15 April 2020, from https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3079391/bat-virus-bioweapon-what-science-says-about-covid-19-origins
Despite the efforts to debunk this theory, nearly 30% of Americans believe it is true, so why has it gained so much traction? While there is still absolutely no evidence to support the idea, it sounds like a plausible theory to the uninformed – SARS virus has escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing in the past.
It is at this point that we must take a brave step into the realm of tinfoil hat theories. As unfounded as the previous two theories are, at least it is theoretically possible that they could have occurred, within the capabilities of modern technology. The idea that electromagnetic waves from 5G towers could somehow give a person a virus is really quite something. Were it true, many scientists would probably be interested in exploring the uses of this miraculous technology. Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology from the University of Reading, sums up the absurdity of the claims rather nicely:
5G radio signals are electromagnetic waves, very similar to those already used by mobile phones. Electromagnetic waves are one thing, viruses are another, and you can’t get a virus off a phone mast.Gallagher, R. (2020). 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory driven by coordinated effort. Retrieved 15 April 2020, from https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/5g-coronavirus-conspiracy-theory-driven-coordinated-effort-200410182740380.html
In 2015, Bill Gates gave a TED talk in which he warned the world of a pandemic taking place within the next decade. He warned that this pandemic could kill over 30 million people in six months, and that “the world needs to prepare for pandemics in the same serious way it prepares for war.”
How was Mr Gates able to make this astute prediction? Epidemics are a regular occurrence, and we live in a world in which global travel allows infectious diseases to spread with unprecedented speed. It was never a question of if, but when a global pandemic would occur, and this was widespread knowledge amongst scientists. The idea that Bill Gates is somehow responsible for unleashing COVID-19 on the world finds many of its roots in another, much older conspiracy theory – the anti-vaccination conspiracy theory.
The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has funded development of multiple vaccines, and is now funding factories for the production of seven coronavirus vaccine candidates. In 2018, the Mysterious Times misquoted Gates as saying he had outlined a plan to depopulate the planet (he was actually talking about slowing population growth). Conspiracy theorists did what they presumably thought to be putting two and two together, and claimed that Mr Gates created the novel coronavirus so that he could sell his ‘deadly’ vaccines, depopulating the planet in the process.
When delving into the world of conspiracy theories, it quickly becomes apparent that aliens are responsible for most major events occurring in the world, and the current pandemic is no exception. Alien enthusiasts have suggested that COVID-19 could be an alien bioweapon, and the first step of an invasion of Earth.
It’s not just the UFO-flying type of alien we should be concerned about either. According to conspiracy theorists, the shape-shifting reptilians within our midst are also helping to spread the virus. And Bill Gates is probably one of them.
These are just a few of the coronavirus related conspiracy theories out there. If you have others that you would like us to add to this list please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Markets blogger Zero Hedge suspended from Twitter after doxxing a Chinese scientist: https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/31/21117663/twitter-zero-hedge-suspended-platform-manipulation-policy-doxxing-coronavirus
The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-0820-9
Inside the Chinese lab poised to study world's most dangerous pathogens: https://www.nature.com/news/inside-the-chinese-lab-poised-to-study-world-s-most-dangerous-pathogens-1.21487
5G coronavirus conspiracy theory driven by coordinated effort: https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/5g-coronavirus-conspiracy-theory-driven-coordinated-effort-200410182740380.html
Bill Gates behind creation of coronavirus and covid-19 pandemic? Conspiracy theorists float wild theories: https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/news/story/bill-gates-behind-creation-of-coronavirus-and-covid-19-pandemic-conspiracy-theorists-float-wild-theories-1666465-2020-04-13
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