The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Coronavirus conspiracies: The simple answers turned into political weapons

By in Culture
Empty shelves in the toilet paper aisle of an Atlantic Superstore supermarket in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on March 12, 2020 due to panic buying related to the COVID-19. | Flickr / Indrid__Cold

As more governments de­clare a state of emergency and businesses close to limit the spread of COVID-19, the world has shifted into a state of crisis.

Social distancing has in­creasingly become the new norm, but conspiracy theories are also on the rise as people search for an explanation.

Experiencing a pandemic for the first time has made people more nervous than usual. People like to feel in control of their lives, how­ever, that sense of security is eroded when our daily lives are interrupted and stopping the spread of COVID-19 seems impossible.

Take the people around the world panic buying food and toilet paper. Although this gives people some control over their immediate well-be­ing, it can cause real supply shortages as a collective ac­tion.

Another way people try to regain their personal agency is by searching for an easy explanation and someone to blame. Conspiracy theories can help their believers reas­sert control over an unstable and complex situation, such as a pandemic, by offering a simple answer.

Some have already claimed the coronavirus came from space — which is not true — but this just shows the lengths people are willing to go to find an explanation.

In reality, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has a pretty unevent­ful origin compared to the conspiracy theories already surrounding it. Coronavirus­es are zoonotic, meaning the virus was transmitted from an animal species to humans. This is what is suspected to have happened in a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

But this seemingly random zoonotic beginning hardly competes with the idea that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is ac­tually a biological weapon manufactured in a lab. Sus­picion is misdirected at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, with rumours claiming the vi­rus was either intentionally or accidentally released.

Believing that the novel coronavirus is the product of human engineering is tanta­lizing because it makes the emerging pathogen seem less like a chaotic force of nature while providing a scapegoat.

Despite how believable these explanations might be, research has debunked the theory. Furthermore, past coronaviruses such as MERS and SARS both had zoonotic origins. And there are sever­al identified coronaviruses in animals that have not yet in­fected humans.

However, some Chinese officials have flipped this conspiracy theory around to deflect blame for the pandem­ic with a counterclaim that the virus is a bioweapon in­flicted against them. Chinese propaganda is now pushing a conspiracy that the United States’ military released the coronavirus in Wuhan.

In response to these state-sponsored rumours, President Donald Trump has deliberately been calling COVID-19 the “Chinese vi­rus.” Trump claims this term is not racist and strictly refers to its country of origin, but many fear the term is stoking xenophobia during a global crisis.

While conspiracy theories can help individuals ratio­nalize the randomness of the world during this pandemic, they are increasingly being used as political tools to mis­direct citizens’ anxieties.

A statement made by public health scientists from around the world has condemned ru­mours and misinformation, suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural ori­gin.

“Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, ru­mours and prejudice that jeopardize our global collab­oration in the fight against the virus,” the statement said.

The fact that so many con­spiracies have quickly aris­en shows that our society is plagued by worse things than emerging viruses — misin­formation.

However, stopping the coronavirus is not out of our control. In fact, it is very de­pendent on each individual to be responsible and practice social distancing to help flat­ten the curve.

Noah Callaghan | Staff Writer

Photo: Flickr / Indrid__Cold

Latest from Culture

Go to Top