The most talked about of such conspiracy theories that has gained traction, especially in the social media space, is that the coronavirus is a biological weapon developed by the Chinese in order to wade off or balance trade disputes with the U.S. And on the flip side, there is the other theory that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) engineered the biological weapon to halt the rapid growth of the economy and global influence of China.
The outbreak, last December, of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China has and would continue to have a devastating effect on the global structure of power, the economy and livelihoods. No doubt, the most profound effect of the coronavirus diseases, COVID-19, is that it has become a fertile ground for conspiracy theories.
If not checked, these conspiracy theories – alongside the activities of its enablers, alarmists and purveyors of fake news – would undermine the preventive and protective guidelines, as outlined by public health practitioners, thereby risking the lives of millions.
The most talked about of such conspiracy theories that has gained traction, especially in the social media space, is that the coronavirus is a biological weapon developed by the Chinese in order to wade off or balance trade disputes with the U.S. And on the flip side, there is the other theory that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) engineered the biological weapon to halt the rapid growth of the economy and global influence of China. Due to the diplomatic spat between the two global powers, it would seems plausible for conspiracy theorists to toe the line that the virus was developed in a laboratory, ostensibly to weaken China or, as it were, the U.S., and all in the bid to gain comparative advantage in global economic competitiveness.
Another bizarre conspiracy theory is that linking Mr. Bill Gates, the foremost American billionaire, along with his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with the development of a virus from as far back as 2015.
In 2018, at an event of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Mr. Gates had suggested that a flu similar to that of the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed millions, could kill close to 50 million people within six months. And he had further cautioned that the global health community is underequipped and incapable of handling such a pandemic in the event of an outbreak. Also, in 2019 Mr. Gates said that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would be funding an unrelated project to study livestock diseases and immunology. Hence, since COVID-19 is related or linked to the consumption of animals, and with the projected research being based on immunology, then it was obvious that the Foundation, according to the conspiracy theorist, is responsible for the coronavirus outbreak.
The most intriguing of such conspiracies is the religious angle to the outbreak, especially in our part of the world. The action of some States, notably Kaduna, to follow Saudi Arabia’s measures in banning public/religious gatherings and Jummat prayers, has further fuelled this strain of conspiracy.
Some radical and fiery Islamic clerics view such action as an affront on and desecration of Islam. They contend that it is a well orchestrated and grand conspiracy of the West and Jews to infiltrate and polarise the Islamic faith, using the instruments of fear, panic and anxiety. Thus, to them, banning prayers is akin to bowing to the whims of the conspirators. Most Ulama remind the faithful that life and death belong to the Almighty, and that no one would die, except at the appointed time.
A more fictionally inclined conspiracy theory is found in the work of American author, Dean Koontz, whose 1981 novel, The Eye of Darkness alludes to the creation of a virus known as Wuhan-400, which kills 40 million people. Incidentally, Wuhan is the Chinese city where the coronavirus originated from. This angle further exacerbates and lends credence to the biological weapons conspiracy, in a quest for global hegemony by the superpowers – a critical factor in the ever volatile international politics.
There are multiples of such conspiracies, like the one that predicts that the virus will be gone by summer, according to some Nigerian pastors. It is claimed that The Simpson’s, a TV series in the U.S., had foretold of the outbreak. And the chloroquine dimension and possible treatment is not lost on us.
Caught in the web of these conspiracies is the urgent need to proffer workable solutions to curb the palpable fear, anxiety and pandemonium that have developed.
Historically, this isn’t the first time the world is witnessing the outbreak of a pandemic on a global scale and proportion.
For instance, in 1720, there was the outbreak of bubonic plague in the French port city of Marseille. The plague killed over 100,000 people, and came to be referred to as The Great Plaque of Marseille of 1720-1723.
The Russian Plague of 1770-1772 ravaged Moscow, which saw thousands quarantined and religious gatherings banned. Close to 100,000 people also died during that outbreak.
The American Polio epidemic of 1916, which started in New York, killed 60,000 people, mainly children, but those who survived it were permanently disabled.
The Spanish Flu of 1918 to 1920 had close to 500 million people from the South sea to the North pole fall victim to it. This was exacerbated by the poor nutrition of the post World War I period, leading some indigenous tribes to becoming almost extinct.
Other similar epidemics in history include the Asian Flu of 1957 to 1958; the H1N1 and SARS of 2002 and 2009; the Zika Virus epidemic of 2015; the Ebola virus disease of the 1990s, and then 2014.
Aside these historical outbreak of global pandemics, two holy books, the Qur’an and the Bible, allude to the prevalence of pandemics over time. But the conspiracy theorist would stop at nothing in propagating fear.
While we might by no means completely obliterate the possibility of one or more of such theories within the scope of politics, the power tussle between China and the U.S. comes to mind to give context to why this might appear plausible to many.
Last week, the U.S. president called coronavirus the CHINESE VIRUS, with such remarks serving as a political statement with profound effects on the global configuration of power and the economy. Chinese officials also, at some point, claimed that the U.S. Army brought the disease to Wuhan.
The Nigerian government is equally not immune to these conspiracies because, as some have argued, there is no coronavirus in the country, and it is only a hoax contrived to aggregate fears and receive some N60 billion in interventions from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN).
As usual, the government’s slow response to issues of this scale isn’t surprising. The federal government is tainted as being ever more reactive than proactive. However, the closure of our borders and other preventive measures taken are considered as laudable.
Still, the greater responsibility rests with the citizenry. In the face of panic and apprehension, we must abide strictly in maintaining high hygiene, using face masks, hand sanitisers, and religiously following the advice of public health professionals; and, above all, being prayerful.
Conspiracies or not, the risks are high; the virus is potent, no matter the percentage of infection, high or low.
Staying alive is paramount.
Abdullahi D Mohammed, is with the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Email: email@example.com.