Coronavirus conspiracies


COVID-19 conspiracy coverCoronavirus conspiracy theories
Image adapted from (clockwise from top left):
@thesimpsons, @iamcardib, Windy, @traintobusanmovie

A global pandemic, cities on lockdown and panic-buying frenzies – it sounds like the stuff of movies, but with COVID-19, it’s now our reality. As we all struggle to make sense of this ‘new normal’, coronavirus conspiracy theories have gripped people’s imaginations worldwide.

Some of these theories are outrightly outrageous, but admittedly, some do sound believable. Here are 7 crazy COVID-19 conspiracy theories circulating as we speak – read on to see if you’ve accidentally believed any of them. 

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1. Celebrities were paid to say they have coronavirus


This happened earlier in March, but many of us remember being shocked when Tom Hanks revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19. The multiple Academy Award-winning Forest Gump actor was the first among the slew of celebrities who took to social media to reveal that they caught the virus. Soon after, basketball player Kevin Durant, Hawaii Five-0 actor Daniel Dae Kim and English movie star Idris Elba followed. 

Tom Hanks and his wifePhoto from Tom Hank’s Instagram of him and his wife in self-isolation
Image credit: @tomhanks

Yet some people were not convinced that these claims were legit, thinking that the actors were, well, acting. Rumours flew that they were paid to say they tested positive, all in the name of publicity. Apparently, rapper Cardi B also believed this, going so far as to say she wanted to be paid too.

COVID-19 conspiracy - Cardi BEarly on, Cardi B took to Instagram Live to reveal she thought celebrities were getting paid to say they tested positive
Image credit: @iamcardib

In hindsight, with the explosion of cases all over the world, it’s unlikely they were lying. Even highly protected people like PM Boris Johnson and Prince Charles of the United Kingdom were infected with COVID-19. The virus doesn’t discriminate against wealth, status or power – and it’s a good reminder that celebrities are people too.

Verdict: Debunked.  


2. We already knew about the virus in 2015


COVID-19 conspiracy - patentScreengrab of the patent page that allegedly proves a patent for Coronavirus was filed in 2015
Image adapted from: Justia Patents

Okay, this one is a little spooky. Someone on the Internet did some research on coronavirus and stumbled upon this patent page. In case you didn’t know, patents are documents that guarantee rights to an invention – in this case, a “live, attenuated coronavirus”.

Pirbright Institute in Surrey, England filed this patent all the way back in 2015, half a decade before the first reported case in Wuhan. It led some people to believe that the virus was intentionally developed and released.

COVID-19 conspiracy - patent
The Pirbright Institute filed the patent. They mainly study infectious diseases of farm animals.
Image credit: The Pirbright Institute 

Since this rumor came out, they’ve clarified that they were working with a different strain of coronavirus. 

COVID-19 conspiracies - patent

The new disclaimer reads, “Coronavirus is a broad name for a family of viruses. This patent is NOT for the new COVID-19 virus.”
Image adapted from: Justia Patents

Long story short, they did not file a patent for COVID-19, nor did they know it was coming. They were simply researching a different strain from the coronavirus family – one that only affects animals and not humans. 

And the story checks out. After all, the Pirbright Institute studies infectious diseases in animals. Sorry folks, this rumor is quashed through and through.

Verdict: Debunked.


3. The Simpsons predicted the coronavirus outbreak


Simpsons
Image credit: @thesimpsons

The Simpsons is a long-running cartoon that some believe has the eerie ability to predict the future. Events they have successfully forecasted include Donald Trump becoming the President, Disney buying 20th Century Fox, Game of Thrones spoilers, and now some say even the coronavirus pandemic. 

It’s hard to blame these believers as the image below made its rounds on Facebook, claiming that the show had accurately predicted the COVID-19 outbreak to a T. Apparently, an episode that premiered in 1993 showed a “corona virus” spreading from a factory to America and becoming a newsworthy pandemic. 

COVID-19 conspiracy - the simpsons

Image credit: Crystal Lynn

The good thing about claims like this is that they are simple to fact check – simply watch the episode in question.

Turns out, the 4th image on the bottom right is completely fake. It’s from a different episode altogether, and originally read “Apocalypse Meow”. As for the first 3, they were really aired, but were about a fictional “Osaka flu”. Nothing to do with coronavirus, and definitely not the one we’re facing today. 

Verdict: Debunked.


4. The virus was engineered in a lab as a bioweapon


Train to Busan
Train To Busan is a popular movie about a disease leaked from a biological factory
Image credit: @traintobusanmovie

We’ve all seen it a thousand times in movies: bad guys engineering viruses in a top secret lab, or a government experiment gone wrong and covered up.

Except this is real life, and it’s almost never so simple. Some say COVID-19 was created by scientists in Wuhan, others say it was the Americans or Russians. Well, they are sorely mistaken. 

Research from around the world has since determined that COVID-19 was in no way man-made. Studying the genomic data of the virus, researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego confirmed that the virus originated naturally – no foul play, sabotage or plans of world domination behind it.

Verdict: Debunked.


5. China hid the number of initial deaths and mass burned corpses


COVID-19 conspiracy - windyImage credit: Windy

According to a Twitter user, the image above is satellite data that shows an exceptionally high level of sulphur dioxide near Wuhan, China. The user claimed this correlates to the “burning of organic matters” – and that China was mass burning casualties of the virus to hide its astronomical death toll. 

News outlets like The Express and The Sun in the UK ran with it, causing the story to spread like wildfire. 

COVID-19 fake newsScreengrab of an article sharing the unverified claims of a Twitter user.
Image adapted from: The Sun

This story is a textbook example of fake news. According to fact-checking site Snopes, the heat map isn’t even an accurate real-time reflection of sulfur emissions. What you see is actually a predictor based on wind patterns and meteorological conditions – not actual readings. The reason why there’s so much sulphur on this predicted map is because the Wuhan Iron and Steel industrial complex is located nearby.  

On top of that, there’s almost no link between sulfur emissions and the cremation of the human body since sulphur only makes up less than 1% of human bodies. So even the “satellite data” doesn’t prove anything except how imaginative the human mind can be. 

Verdict: Debunked.


6. 5G networks cause the virus


5G Networks

The theory started circulating in January 2020 when a Belgian doctor reportedly linked 5G networks to the virus. There was no evidence to support the claim, but it gained traction among many anti-5G groups around the world who cited it as evidence against technology like radiation waves. 

If anything, these groups have posed dangers of their own. Vandals from such groups have destroyed a number of mobile phones, harassed broadband engineers and even set fire to cell towers in Australia and the UK. 

COVID-19 conspiracy - twitter fake newsUnsubstantiated claims on Twitter about the “dangers” of 5G.
Image credit: @BrendanCarrFCC

The fact is, 5G networks have proven time and time again to be safe. It can’t penetrate human skin, let alone carry a virus. Contrary to these phony claims, the technology doesn’t suck air out of your lungs, affect your immune system, let alone kill people. 

Perhaps the strongest link between phones and the virus is how it can transmit on phone surfaces – so remember to disinfect your phone properly.

Verdict: Debunked.


7. Dean Koontz predicted the Coronavirus outbreak in his 1981 novel


Dean Koontz Novel
Image credit: @NickHintonn

During this stay-home CB season, many of us are entertaining ourselves with movies, music and books that are pandemic-themed. If that’s you, you might have stumbled across Dean Koontz’s novel titled “The Eyes of Darkness” and read something unsettling:

Dean Koontz novel
Image credit: @NickHintonn

The book mentions a virus named “Wuhan-400” that first started in China – not unlike how COVID-19 first began to unfold. Many people have picked on its similarity and hailed the writer as a psychic who accurately predicted the events of 2020 almost 40 years before. 

However, as much as we would love having a living oracle, it’s mere coincidence. Everything else apart from the name of the virus is off tangent. For instance, the book says “Wuhan-400” is a man-made weapon – when it’s confirmed to be otherwise. 

Don’t be disappointed. The book goes on to say that Wuhan-400 has a 100% mortality rate that kills all infected under 24 hours. 

Verdict: Debunked.


COVID-19 conspiracy theories


As the lines between fiction and reality blur, it can be hard to tell what’s real even with an extra dose of common sense. Of course, we can prevent ourselves from believing in lies with the right tools to do extra research. Remember to verify “news” before you spread it, and remind your friends and family to do the same! 

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