Spread of conspiracy theories hampers response to pandemic

By Nayara Batschke

Sao Paulo, Mar 23 (efe-epa).- Coronavirus is biological warfare, a laboratory experiment gone wrong or a marketing campaign to sell pharmaceuticals. Those are just a few of the conspiracy theories gaining more adherents with each passing day, posing an enormous challenge for the fight against Covid-19.

From the earliest days of what is now a worldwide crisis, coronavirus denialists have rejected the judgment of scientists that Covid-19 is both more deadly and more contagious than the viruses which cause influenza and the common cold.

The conspiracy-minded have also sought to minimize the seriousness of the pandemic, despite figures reported Monday that show the total number of cases reached 330,000 and the global death toll passed 15,000.

And the skeptics include some national leaders, such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has denounced what he called media-induced “hysteria” about coronavirus.

Bolsonaro has criticized steps taken by some of Brazil’s 27 state governors to bar gatherings and restrict movement in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19 in Latin America’s largest nation, where there are more than 1,500 confirmed coronavirus infections and 25 fatalities.

More than a dozen people who accompanied the president on a visit to Florida earlier this month have tested positive for the virus.

Last week, Bolsonaro, who says he has tested negative more than once, flouted the recommendations of health experts by embracing supporters at one of several pro-government demonstrations.

“That coronavirus doesn’t scare me at all. I’m not even a little bit worried. It’s just another fabrication,” retiree Tina Alves told Efe during a pro-Bolsonaro march here in Sao Paulo, the most populous city in South America and capital of the likenamed state that accounts for the majority of cases in Brazil.

One of the accounts of Covid-19 that seems to be taking hold around the world maintains that the pandemic is the result of biological warfare.

“It’s a biological war among world powers, like the United States with Russia to be able to eliminate China. I believe this virus has been created in a laboratory,” Leticia Belaz, a 23-year-old physiotherapist, said in remarks to Efe.

Those who subscribe to that idea are at least willing to acknowledge the threat, but social media threads and WhatsApp chats are increasingly filled with fake news questioning the reality of the crisis.

“That coronavirus is less potent and much more inoffensive than H1N1 (swine flu), influenza or SARS. What is happening is that when there is an opportunity to make money, everybody wants to,” says a Brazilian businessman on a video circulating among members of several WhatsApp groups.

“It is clear that economic and political interests are behind that (Covid-19), to receive money, millions of dollars in resources to control an epidemic that does not even exist,” a Brazilian who presents himself as a physician asserts in an online video with tens of thousands of views.

Not even the worst-affected countries, such as China – where the outbreak started – and Italy, which leads in fatalities with nearly 6,000, are immune to disinformation about coronavirus.

Posters on an Italian-based Facebook group, Fake News Coronavirus, suggest that Covid-19 is a “controlled experiment” conducted by the US or a crisis “invented” to crash the world economy.

Governments and major media outlets are making efforts to dispel rumors and misinformation about the pandemic and the European Commission has established a dedicated task force to provide the public with facts about the situation. EFE


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