Is it true that the coronavirus came from outer space? Or perhaps it is a bioweapon invented by the Americans in Kazakhstan? Or maybe, on the contrary, coronavirus isn’t dangerous, and this global panic was stirred up by pharmaceutical companies?
The State Department, Pentagon, and a number of analysts have accused the Kremlin of spreading disinformation about coronavirus. The EU diplomatic service and US authorities have stated that the Kremlin is spreading false rumours about the epidemic around the world. Who invents fake coronavirus news, and why?
According to a report by US e-zine Daily Beast and the disinformation-tracking firm Graphika, a 40-person team is seeding fake news about coronavirus via Facebook, Reddit, Medium, and smaller web forums. The style resembles the Kremlin trolls who were blocked by Facebook last year.
At number one – the US is blamed for creating the coronavirus. In second place are allegations that the European Union cannot handle the pandemic and will soon collapse. Then, ranked by number of publications: coronavirus is the West’s weapon against the Chinese economy; the pandemic is a cunning plan of the world elite; lies that the pandemic is destroying Ukraine; and finally, claims that the coronavirus is harmless. Let’s take a closer look at some of these.
Russia’s Channel One, the defence ministry newspaper Zvezda, and dozens of pro-Kremlin sites in Russian, English, Arabic, Spanish and Italian have claimed that the United States created the coronavirus.
“[…] because it’s the only country with all the branches of the evolutionary tree of coronaviruses. The original source of COVID-19 was the US military laboratory at Fort Detrick,” ura.ru reports.
The Russian trolls exposed by the Daily Beast were spreading reports that America created the coronavirus not at home, but in Kazakhstan – at the Central Reference Laboratory in Almaty, and even linked this rumour to February’s inter-ethnic clashes:
“The recent mass pogrom in Dungan villages of Kordai district may also be seen as an attempt to ‘cleanse’ those who witnessed the American military biologists at work,” rusvesna.su claims.
But, back to reality… According to the World Health Organisation, the new coronavirus appeared in China’s Hubei Province. The virus originated naturally, as was stated by 27 scientists who studied its genome. As to the laboratory built in Kazakhstan with US backing, it’s actually part of the Scientific Centre for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases, founded 70 years ago. It’s staffed not by Americans, but Kazakh citizens making not weapons, but vaccines for Kazakhstan and the entire region. 40% of this area lies in the natural foci of plague, haemorrhagic fevers and encephalitis.
“Europe is drowning, and aboard this Titanic, the passengers are divided into first and second class,” reported Channel One, claiming that the EU isn’t helping Italy but trying to drive it into debt.
“European Union flags are being burned in Italian courtyards and removed from Italian MPs’ offices.”
They’re even being replaced with the Russian tricolour, according to LIFE.RU.
The European Union was a little late with its aid to affected countries, but it did allocate 500 billion euros. The EU has sent 37 billion euros to medics. Brussels has allowed governments to support businesses. Patients from France and Italy are being treated in Germany, Austria, and even tiny Luxembourg. Doctors from Germany, Romania, and Greece are working in Italy. EU member-states have provided Italy with over 2.5 million masks and 30,000 protective suits.
So far, the EU isn’t collapsing, so why claim the opposite?
The major goal is to demoralise and misinform EU residents. […] It is a propaganda narrative about the disintegration of the EU and NATO, that the United States will definitely betray them. Coronavirus is just an extra trigger to play with, says Belarusian political analyst Andrey Yeliseyeu.
Overcrowded infectious-disease hospitals and pulmonology units, roadblocks, special passes, ID checks – Moscow has imposed a tougher lockdown than most Western cities. But just three weeks ago, pro-Kremlin media tried to tell the world that the coronavirus was harmless, and accused Western governments and pharmaceutical firms of fuelling the panic.
“The damage the lockdown has caused to business, civil liberties, individual lives and, of course, the global economy might all be for nothing,” Russia Today reported recently.
“Only around one in a thousand infected people need hospitalisation, which is the same as for common flu, or even less,” svpressa.ru informed.
“This virus is an emerging infection – one that has occurred for the first time. Humanity has never encountered it before. Consequently, we don’t have any vaccines or medicines that could affect this specific virus, and no immunity either,” Vadim Aristov, a Kyiv-based infection disease doctor, says.
For connoisseurs of conspirology and those who believe there is a cure but they’re hiding it, the pro-Kremlin media are ready with the finest of fabrications:
“Coronavirus arrived on a meteorite from outer space” (Russia Today Arabic);
“The legalisation of same-sex marriages has caused the epidemic to spread” (Sputnic Arabic);
“Baba Vanga predicted that Russian scientists would find a cure for coronavirus in Siberian cedar trees” (Federal News Agency)
“Products containing zinc protect against coronavirus” (Russia Today Arabic).
“These messages are endangering global health because they’re undermining the efforts of governments, health agencies, and the organisations in charge of disseminating accurate information. As recently as late March we’ve seen articles claiming that hand-washing is ineffective against coronavirus,” Laura Cooper, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence, stressed.
The Russian authorities aren’t the only ones planting disinformation about coronavirus. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused the US Army of infecting China. US Senator Tom Cotton, meanwhile, stated that the virus had been created in Chinese laboratories. As usual, the Iranian state media have pinned the blame for the virus on their two arch-enemies: America and Israel.
For a long time, Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka denied that the virus was dangerous, calling lockdowns ‘hysteria’ and urging the nation to cure themselves with the help of tractor-driving, vodka, saunas, butter, and staring at goats.
But not only governments are inventing fake coronavirus news. People make up dozens of false stories themselves. Almost 300 people died of toxic methanol poisoning in Iran, believing rumours that it could stop coronavirus. French Twitter was buzzing with posts claiming you could protect your nostrils from coronavirus by … sniffing cocaine. In the UK, vandals have torched 30 5G phone masts in the space of a month, believing that radio waves help the spread of COVID-19.
The Russian authorities took advantage of the pandemic to launch another information war against the West. Since January, an army of Kremlin trolls, state TV channels, and dozens of websites in various languages have been spreading disinformation about the coronavirus.
Fake news about the “infectious” West helps Russian leaders unite their citizens and divide Europeans, by sowing distrust of Brussels, neighbouring countries, the authorities, and doctors.
Other authoritarian states are also keen to accuse the West of creating the coronavirus, although this doesn’t help at all in saving patients’ lives.
The explainer was part of Belsat TV news show Vot Tak (That Way). The episode was aired on 22.04.2020
Аlyaksandr Papko, belsat.eu