2019-20 COVID-19 outbreak

From RationalWiki
Revision as of 19:09, 22 February 2020 by Bongolian (talk | contribs) (Snake oil)

Jump to: navigation, search
Helpful advice on social media stories about COVID-19 from Douglas Adams.
One of our pieces on
Icon bioDNA.svg
Life as we know it
Divide and multiply

The 2019-20 COVID-19 outbreak (also known, before the virus was named, as the 2019–20 Wuhan coronavirus outbreakWikipedia's W.svg) is a currently ongoing (as of February 21, 2020) epidemic caused by a coronavirusWikipedia's W.svg named SARS-CoV2, causing the disease named COVID-19.[1] The virus was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, ChinaWikipedia's W.svg around December 2019. Initially thought of as a mysterious case of pneumonia,Wikipedia's W.svg[2] it was quickly identified as a new disease in January 2020.[3] Since then, the virus has since spread from a relatively small initial infection to over 75,000 cases as of February 21, 2020 (largely centered in China but also with smaller numbers of cases spread over several other nations).[4] The mortality rate of this disease, at around 2%, is higher than ordinary influenza but quite a bit lower than other coronavirus infections such as SARS.Wikipedia's W.svg[5] It has been declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)Wikipedia's W.svg by the World Health OrganizationWikipedia's W.svg[6] and has caused severe disruptions in China, particularly in the center of the pandemic where many areas were placed under quarantine, disrupting normal work operations.[7]

Unfortunately, panic, misinformation, and quackery related to COVID-19 has spread through social media all over the globe far faster than the virus has spread itself.

What science says

Due to the novelty of the disease and the rapid spread of the disease in China, COVID-19 is considered a health emergency and is being evaluated by all major health organizations around the world.[8] The source of the disease, SARS-CoV-2, is a betacoronavirus,Wikipedia's W.svg a virus known to mainly infect bats.Wikipedia's W.svg Although the details are unclear at this time, it is suspected that this virus underwent zoonosisWikipedia's W.svg — i.e., it crossed over from an animal to humans.[9]

SARS-CoV2 spreads largely via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.[10] The virus has proven to be more contagious than other coronaviruses such as SARSWikipedia's W.svg or MERS,Wikipedia's W.svg in some ways behaving more like influenza.[11][12] Unfortunately, once infected, the full clinical picture with COVID-19 is not completely understood at this time.[8] While many people have had only mild symptoms, for some the disease has been deadly. Thus, the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, in part because of the current uncertainty.

The good news is that, so far, although the potential health threat is high, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low at this time, at least for areas outside the primary pandemic area of China.[8] Although there is no vaccine at this time, because the transmission method is similar to flu, prevention methods are also similar to flu: wash your hands regularly using soap and water, clean and disinfect frequently touched objects, cover your cough or sneeze, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and avoid contact with other people when you are sick.[13]

Conspiracy theories, paranoia and the blame game

See the main articles on this topic: Conspiracy theories and Paranoia

When a new pandemic arises, it's easy for people to collectively start searching for anyone, anything to blame. Sometimes the blame game extends into batshit insane conspiracy theory territory.

  • Early indications during the pandemic indicated that the first cluster of the viruses may have originated from a "wet marketWikipedia's W.svg" in Wuhan. [14] Two Chinese scientists, Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao, in a pre-print paper (that was quickly withdrawn after appearing on ResearchGateWikipedia's W.svg), proposed that the virus might have actually come from one of two research laboratories near the wet market: the Wuhan Center for Disease Control & Prevention, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.[15] Always keen to spread bullshit on anything health related, this was picked up by the Daily Mail with an appropriate panicky headline.[16] Even the ying to the Daily Mail's yang, the Daily Mirror,Wikipedia's W.svg couldn't help JAQing off on the subject as well.[17] On the American side, Senator Tom CottonWikipedia's W.svg (R-AR) repeated this bullshit on Fox News, and subsequently accused the Chinese government of lying about COVID-19.[18] (The scientific consensus "overwhelmingly conclude(s) that this coronavirus originated in wildlife."[19])
  • Zero Hedge went even further. Claiming that the virus was spreading because it was a "weaponized version of the coronavirus" originally from Canada, Zero Hedge sought to seek out who was responsible for this coronavirus. So they cobbled some criteria for narrowing down who "created" the virus from a job posting on the Wuhan Institution of Virology's website. Using these rather random criteria, they zeroed in on one Chinese scientist in particular who was focused on bat virus infections and immunity, and claimed that he created SARS-CoV-2. At that point, they proceeded to doxx the scientist, because of course they would.[20]This was enough to get them permanently suspended from Twitter.[21]
  • Why did Zero Hedge think the virus came from Canada? Because of another rumor: in July 2019, virologist Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, her husband, and some of her students from China were removed from Canada's National Microbiology LaboratoryWikipedia's W.svg in Winnipeg, Manitoba over a "policy breach". Not only did social media rumors link COVID-19 to these individuals, but baseless claims were made that Dr. Qiu and her husband were part of a "spy team" that had sent "pathogens to the Wuhan facility", and that her husband "specialised in coronavirus research".[22]
  • Memes spread online on how the Wuhan Institute of Virology's logo is similar to the "Umbrella Corporation", a shady agency responsible for making the virus that starts the zombie apocalypse in the Resident EvilWikipedia's W.svg video game franchise. Unfortunately, the logo that inspired the meme belongs to a different company altogether (Shanghai Ruilan Bao Hu San Biotech Limited, located in Shanghai, 500 miles away from Wuhan.)[23]
  • The strangest conspiracy theory came, as you would expect, from the depths of QAnon. Prominent QAnon Youtuber Jordan Sather mistakenly thought a patent for a vaccine for avian IBV,Wikipedia's W.svg[24] created by farm animal infectious disease research institution Pirbright Institute,Wikipedia's W.svg was a vaccine for COVID-19. Because the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have funded some of the other research of this institute, Sather connected the two, causing the rumor that Gates *created* the virus to spread like wildfire across conspiracy blogs.[25] Naturally, this tied into pre-existing conspiracy theories linking Gates to bullshit that Gates wants to depopulate the planet.[26] (The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, who have been warning about the risk of a pandemic disease for years, is actually giving $100 million in funding to fight COVID-19.)[27]
  • In October 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health SecurityWikipedia's W.svg hosted a high-level pandemic exercise called Event 201.[28] Players in the exercise were presented with a scenario where a fictional coronavirus (i.e., not SARS-CoV-2) started in pig farms in Brazil, and then spread around the world, leading to a (fictional) 65 million deaths. Naturally, since Bill Gates (being a huge supporter of global health initiatives) was also involved with this simulation, this morphed into sites like Infowars putting up alarmist headlines like "BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION & OTHERS PREDICTED UP TO 65 MILLION DEATHS VIA CORONAVIRUS — IN SIMULATION RAN 3 MONTHS AGO!"[29]
  • In February 2020, a viral video supposedly showing a chaotic scene in Wuhan, China circulated, where posters claimed that people were "shooting down all the people with the virus in China". This in fact was a mixture of several mislabeled videos, such as a video where firework explosions were being heard in the background, and a scene from a fatal motorcycle accident.[30]
  • Early in February, the World Population Project at the University of SouthamptonWikipedia's W.svg published research predicting where people from Wuhan had traveled to in the two weeks prior to Wuhan being locked down under quarantine. The researchers on this project posted a series of messages about their work on Twitter. One of these messages included a side point, with a map illustrating global air travel traffic (basically, all the flight paths in the world, nothing more) just to show the extent of the global air network. Somehow, tabloids such as the Sun took the global air traffic map to be an actual "HORRIFYING" map showing "the unstoppable spread of the deadly coronavirus across the globe".[31]
  • The misinformation is so bad about COVID-19, clear shitposting-style "jokes" about EminemWikipedia's W.svg being the first celebrity with COVID-19 (parodying Eminem lyrics in the process),[32] satirical warnings not to pop bubble wrap, [33] and "realistic" conspiracy-oriented horror fiction about COVID-19 cover-ups posted on Reddit[34] got misrepresented as factual in social media.

Snake oil

See the main article on this topic: Snake oil

When a new disease sprouts up, scammers are bound to show up and offer you bullshit that will "protect" you from COVID-19, and, in fact, every disease known to man.

  • Disgraced evangelical preacher Jim Bakker has been hawking a "Optivida Silver Solution", a colloidal silver formulation,[35] for some time as the cure for every disease known.[36] In February 2020 he started pushing his silver solution as something that "totally eliminated, deactivated" "the coronavirus".[37] (Colloidal silver is a well-known quack "cure", whose only possible effect will be argyria,Wikipedia's W.svg i.e., it may make you look like a Smurf.Wikipedia's W.svg)[38][39]
  • Several prominent supporters of the QAnon movement have been promoting chloride dioxide bleach Miracle Mineral Supplement as a bullshit cure for "the coronavirus".[40] (It is true that if you die from bleach poisoning, there will be absolutely nothing to worry about regarding being infected from SARS-CoV-2.)
  • Natural News, never one to miss the opportunity to direct the paranoid and conspiratorial towards the arms of the profitable supplements businesses that support them, actually launched a separate site called "Pandemic News"[41] dedicated to spreading bullshit about the virus. Their home page has been changed to add a counter with the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, with one line for the (according to them) "rigged" official infected and death counts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and another for the (according to them) "realistic" infected and death counts of the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring numbers that they pulled out of their ass.[42] Among their bullshit suggestions are articles that COVID-19 can be treated by "intravenous vitamin C"[43] and "all-natural oxygen therapy"[44]
  • In China, meanwhile, fans of traditional Chinese medicine snapped up a formula called "shuanghuanglian" (invented, as traditionally as you'd expect, in the 1960s) to combat the virus. Made of honeysuckle, Chinese skullcap, and forsythia, the formula sold out rapidly across the country, despite the fact that (in keeping with how most traditional Chinese medicine doesn't really work well) there is no evidence that this formula does a thing for COVID-19.[45] A drug called Kaletra (a.k.a., lopinavir/ritonavir,Wikipedia's W.svg used to treat HIV/AIDS) was also highly in demand, despite the fact that there is no evidence that this will help treat COVID-19 either.[46]
  • India went even further and actually issued a government notice[47] detailing approved ayurvedic and homeopathic methods for "prevention of corona virus infections". There is no evidence that any of this will do anything for COVID-19 beyond placebo.[48]
  • Online, other miscellaneous bullshit prevention methods spread across social media, such as one purported to be sent by "NWLLAB" telling you to "keep your throat moist", "avoid fried or spicy food", and "load up on vitamin C".[49]

Racism and trolling

See the main articles on this topic: Racism and trolling
  • In Australia, a fake shitpost, with hugely embarrassing grammar and spelling, from the "Department of Diseasology Parramatta" circulated on social media, saying that several Asian food items (as well as, bizarrely, Lipton's peach ice tea) "may have traces of corona's disease".[sic] This prompted a statement refuting the post from NSW Health.Wikipedia's W.svg[50]
  • Many Asians (regardless of whether they are Chinese or not) have reported experiencing increased profiling and social isolation over concerns that they might have COVID-19 (complete with racist terms and tropes directed against them in some cases). Business have slumped at many Asian-oriented establishments in the West.[51] These verbal attacks have occasionally crossed over into assault and harassment.[52] A few businesses across the globe are prohibiting "all people coming from China" from entering their establishment due to excessive COVID-19 fears. [53]
  • In January 2020, a viral video showing a young Chinese woman eating a whole bat with chopsticks spread rapidly across social media. In reporting on this video, the Daily Mail (of course) called it "revolting footage" while winking and nudging that "scientists link the deadly coronavirus to the flying mammals" (thus reawakening the old racist trope among Americans and Europeans that Asians are [[Argumentum ad fastidium

|"filthy" and harbor disease]].)[54][55] The problem is, the video in question (filmed in 2016, several years before the virus outbreak began) was regarding travel blogger Wang Mengyun eating a bat in Palau,Wikipedia's W.svg a Pacific Island nation where bat-oriented cuisine is common.[56][57] Naturally, Mengyun received hate mail (and even death threats).[58]

  • For some reason, a story about a CameroonianWikipedia's W.svg man living in China who contracted, and was successfully treated for COVID-19[59] generated bullshit racialist posts online that he actually fought off the virus "because he has black skin, (because) the antibodies of a black person are 3 times strong, powerful,and resistant as that of a white".[sic] There is no scientific evidence to support this claim.[60]

Information suppression

China's government uses many authoritarian tactics — strict secrecy, media censorship, and the like — to promote "stability" and slavish adherence to central authority. When the disease first started showing up in December 2019, the Wuhan government ordered all government agencies to act like everything was "normal". This delayed public discovery about the virus for 40 days, probably causing the pandemic to be much worse than if China had a free press.[61] One doctor, Li Wenliang, who attempted to raise the alarm about the new coronavirus, was actually punished for "spreading false rumours". Wenliang died from the coronavirus on February 7th, 2020, causing widespread outrage on Chinese social media, actually threatening to overwhelm Chinese social media censors for a time.[62][63]

Since then, China has been proud to show images in official media coverage that they are fighting the virus. (However, some of the images that they show are not what they claim to be.)[64]

External links


  1. "Coronavirus disease named Covid-19", BBC News, 11 February 2020
  2. "China pneumonia outbreak: Mystery virus probed in Wuhan", BBC News, 2020 January 3
  3. "A novel coronavirus outbreak of global health concern" by Chen Wang, Peter W. Horby, Frederick G Hayden and George F Gao, Lancet, 2020 January 24
  4. "Virus Outbreak: The latest news on an outbreak of respiratory illness from a virus that originated in China", AP News, Archived February 21, 2020
  5. "What is coronavirus and what should I do if I have symptoms?" by Sarah boseley, Hannah Devlin, and Martin Belam, The Guardian, 2020 Feb 21
  6. "Coronavirus emergency: here’s what we know so far", UN.Org, 2020 February 3
  7. "China struggles to return to work after coronavirus shutdown" by Ryan McMorrow, Christian Shepherd and Tom Mitchell, Financial Times, 2020 February 10
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary", Center of Disease Control, 2020 February 20
  9. "Coronavirus came from bats or possibly pangolins amid ‘acceleration’ of new zoonotic infections" by Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, 2020 February 7
  10. "How COVID-19 Spreads", Center of Disease Control
  11. "Chinese CDC study finds Covid-19 virus to be more contagious than SARS or MERS" by James Griffiths and Nectar Gan, CNN, 2020 February 19
  12. "How does the new coronavirus spread? These new studies offer clues." by Julia Belluz, Vox.com, 21 February 2020
  13. "Coronavirus Disease 2019: Prevention and Treatment", Center of Disease Control
  14. "Why They're Called 'Wet Markets' — And What Health Risks They Might Pose" by Jason Beaubien, NPR, 2020 January 31
  15. "The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus" by Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao, February 2020, archived at archive.org on 14 February 2020
  16. "Did coronavirus originate in Chinese government laboratory? Scientists believe killer disease may have begun in research facility 300 yards from Wuhan wet fish market" by Ross Ibbetson, Daily Mail, 2020 February 16
  17. "Coronavirus may have actually started in secret Wuhan lab just 280m from wet market" by Tiffany Lo, Daily Mirror, 2020 February 16
  18. "GOP Senator Tom Cotton Suggests Coronavirus Could've Come From Wuhan 'Super Lab', Not Seafood Market: China's 'Still Lying Today'" by Christina Zhao, Newsweek, 2020 February 16
  19. "Scientists 'strongly condemn' rumors and conspiracy theories about origin of coronavirus outbreak" by Jon Cohen, Science, 2020 February 19
  20. "Is This The Man Behind The Global Coronavirus Pandemic?" by "Tyler Durden", Zero Hedge, 2020 January 29
  21. "Zero Hedge Permanently Suspended From Twitter for ‘Harassment’" by Siraj Datoo, Bloomberg, 2020 January 31
  22. "China coronavirus: Misinformation spreads online about origin and scale" by BBC Monitoring, BBC News, 2020 January 30
  23. "A Pro-Trump Blog Doxed A Chinese Scientist It Falsely Accused Of Creating The Coronavirus As A Bioweapon" by Ryan Broderick, Buzzfeed News, 2020 January 31
  24. "US Patent for Coronavirus Patent (Patent # 10,130,701)", Patents.Justia.com, 2015 Jul 23
  25. "QAnon Supporters And Anti-Vaxxers Are Spreading A Hoax That Bill Gates Created The Coronavirus" by Ryan Broderick, Buzzfeed News, 2020 January 23
  26. Bill Gates funded the PIRBRIGHT institute, which owns the patent on coronavirus by Ethan Huff (27 January 2020) NaturalNews (archived from 28 Jan 2020 19:23:32 UTC).
  27. "The Gates Foundation is spending $100 million to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Bill Gates has warned about a pandemic for years." by Holly Secon, Business Insider, 2020 February 5
  28. Event 201 homepage, John Hopkins Center for Health Security
  29. "New Coronavirus Wasn’t ‘Predicted’ In Simulation" by Angelo Fichera, FactCheck.org, 2020 January 29
  30. "Does Video Show Guns, Violence in Aftermath of Coronavirus Outbreak in China?" by Dan Evon, Snopes.com, 2020 February 14
  31. "Coronavirus: How a misleading map went global" by Reality Check team, BBC News, 2020 February 19
  32. "Was Eminem Diagnosed with Coronavirus?" by Dan Evon, Snopes.com, February 7 2020
  33. "Can Popping Bubble Wrap from China Expose You to Coronavirus?" by David Mikkelson, Snopes.com, 2020 February 12
  34. "Did a Chinese Intelligence Officer Reveal the ‘Truth About the Coronavirus Outbreak’?" by Dan Evon, Snopes.Com, 2020 February 20
  35. Silver Liquid - 10ppm Optivida Health (archived from February 22, 2020).
  36. "Bakker Still Sells Gel That He Says Cures Venereal Diseases (“All of Them!”)" by Hemant Mehta, Friendly Atheist, 2019 August 17
  37. "Disgraced Televangelist Jim Bakker Now Hawking Product That Claims to ‘Kill’ or ‘Deactivate’ Coronavirus, SARS, and HIV" by Reed Richardson, Mediate.com, 2020 February 15
  38. "Colloidal Silver: Risk Without Benefit" by Stephen Barrett, M.D., Quackwatch
  39. "Colloidal silver has not been shown effective against new virus from China" by Beatrice Dupuy, AP News, 2020 February 14
  40. QAnon-ers’ Magic Cure for Coronavirus: Just Drink Bleach! by Will Sommer (Updated Jan. 28, 2020 12:32PM ET; Published Jan. 28, 2020 4:57AM ET) Daily Beast.
  41. "Pandemic News", archived on 2020 February 11
  42. Naturalnews.com, archived on 2020 February 18
  43. "Clinical trials of intravenous vitamin C treatments for coronavirus commence in China" by Ethan Huff, Naturalnews.com, 2020 February 21, archived on 2020 February 21
  44. "South Korea says it’s successfully treating coronavirus patient with natural oxygen therapy" by Ethan Huff, Naturalnews.com, 2020 February 18, archived from the original on 2020 February 18
  45. "Chinese Media Is Selling Snake Oil to Fight the Wuhan Virus" by James Palmer, ForeignPolicy, 2020 February 3
  46. "Desperate for coronavirus solutions, Chinese turn to HIV drugs, gray market and traditional cures" by Roxanne Liu and Gabriel Crossley, Reuters World News, 2020 February 6
  47. "Advisory for Corona virus: Homoeopathy for Prevention of Corona virus Infections Unani Medicines useful in symptomatic management of Corona Virus infection", PIB Delhi, 2020 January 29
  48. "Indian Authorities Propose Use of Homeopathy to Prevent Coronavirus" by Alakananda Dasgupta, TheScientist, 2020 February 7
  49. "Was This ‘Health Bulletin’ an Accurate Coronavirus Warning?" by Dan Macguill, Snopes,com, 2020 January 31
  50. "Watch out for this extremely fake, weirdly racist viral post about coronavirus" by Caitlin Welsh, Mashable.com, 2020 January 28
  51. "The coronavirus panic is turning the UK into a hostile environment for east Asians" by Sam Phan, The Guardian, 2020 January 27
  52. "What's spreading faster than coronavirus in the US? Racist assaults and ignorant attacks against Asians" by Holly Yan, Natasha Chen and Dushyant Naresh, CNN
  53. "‘No Chinese allowed’: Racism and fear are now spreading along with the coronavirus" by Quentin Fottrell, Marketwatch, 2020 February 3
  54. "The coronavirus reawakens old racist tropes against Chinese people" by John Pomfret, Washington Post, 2020 Februrary 5
  55. "Revolting footage shows Chinese woman eating a whole bat at a fancy restaurant as scientists link the deadly coronavirus to the flying mammals" by Billie Thomson, Daily Mail 2020 January 23
  56. "Don’t Blame Bat Soup for the Wuhan Virus" by James Palmer, Foreign Policy, 2020 January 27
  57. "Bat soup in Palau is pretty intense" by Master Blaster, SoraNews24
  58. "Chinese influencer Wang Mengyun, aka ‘Bat soup girl’ breaks silence" by Marnie O'Neill, News.com.au, 2020 February 7
  59. "Coronavirus: A Cameroon student on how he recovered" by Danny Vincent, BBC News, 2020 February 17
  60. "Black people aren’t more resistant to novel coronavirus" by Anne-Sophie Faivre Le Cadre, AFP Fact Check, 2020 February 12
  61. "China tried to keep a lid on the coronavirus. It put everyone at risk." by the Editorial Board, Washington Post, 2020 January 29
  62. 'Hero who told the truth': Chinese rage over coronavirus death of whistleblower doctor" by Verna Yu, Guardian, 2020 February 7
  63. "Obituary: Li Wenliang" by The Economist, 2020 February 13 edition
  64. "China’s Official Newspaper Mislabels Video Footage in Coronavirus Coverage" by Dan MacGuill, Snopes,com, 2020 February 2020