2019-20 COVID-19 outbreak
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The 2019-20 COVID-19 outbreak (also known, before the virus was named, as the 2019–20 Wuhan coronavirus outbreak) is a currently ongoing (as of February 21, 2020) epidemic caused by a coronavirus named SARS-CoV2, causing the disease named COVID-19. The virus was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China around December 2019. Initially thought of as a mysterious case of pneumonia, it was quickly identified as a new disease in January 2020. 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). 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. It has been declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization 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.
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. The source of the disease, SARS-CoV-2, is a betacoronavirus, a virus known to mainly infect bats. Although the details are unclear at this time, it is suspected that this virus underwent zoonosis — i.e., it crossed over from an animal to humans.
SARS-CoV2 spreads largely via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus has proven to be more contagious than other coronaviruses such as SARS or MERS, in some ways behaving more like influenza. Unfortunately, once infected, the full clinical picture with COVID-19 is not completely understood at this time. 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. 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.
Conspiracy theories, paranoia and the blame game
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 market" in Wuhan.  Two Chinese scientists, Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao, in a pre-print paper (that was quickly withdrawn after appearing on ResearchGate), 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. Always keen to spread bullshit on anything health related, this was picked up by the Daily Mail with an appropriate panicky headline. Even the ying to the Daily Mail's yang, the Daily Mirror, couldn't help JAQing off on the subject as well. On the American side, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) repeated this bullshit on Fox News, and subsequently accused the Chinese government of lying about COVID-19. (The scientific consensus "overwhelmingly conclude(s) that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.")
- 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.This was enough to get them permanently suspended from Twitter.
- 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 Laboratory 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".
- 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 Evil 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.)
- 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, created by farm animal infectious disease research institution Pirbright Institute, 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. Naturally, this tied into pre-existing conspiracy theories linking Gates to bullshit that Gates wants to depopulate the planet. (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.)
- In October 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security hosted a high-level pandemic exercise called Event 201. 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!"
- 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.
- Early in February, the World Population Project at the University of Southampton 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".
- The misinformation is so bad about COVID-19, clear shitposting-style "jokes" about Eminem being the first celebrity with COVID-19 (parodying Eminem lyrics in the process), satirical warnings not to pop bubble wrap,  and "realistic" conspiracy-oriented horror fiction about COVID-19 cover-ups posted on Reddit got misrepresented as factual in social media.
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, for some time as the cure for every disease known. In February 2020 he started pushing his silver solution as something that "totally eliminated, deactivated" "the coronavirus". (Colloidal silver is a well-known quack "cure", whose only possible effect will be argyria, i.e., it may make you look like a Smurf.)
- Several prominent supporters of the QAnon movement have been promoting
chloride dioxide bleachMiracle Mineral Supplement as a bullshit cure for "the coronavirus". (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" 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. Among their bullshit suggestions are articles that COVID-19 can be treated by "intravenous vitamin C" and "all-natural oxygen therapy"
- 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. A drug called Kaletra (a.k.a., lopinavir/ritonavir, 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.
- India went even further and actually issued a government notice 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.
- 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".
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.
- 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. These verbal attacks have occasionally crossed over into assault and harassment. A few businesses across the globe are prohibiting "all people coming from China" from entering their establishment due to excessive COVID-19 fears. 
- 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]].) 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, a Pacific Island nation where bat-oriented cuisine is common. Naturally, Mengyun received hate mail (and even death threats).
- For some reason, a story about a Cameroonian man living in China who contracted, and was successfully treated for COVID-19 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.
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. 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.
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