24th January 2020 – (United Kingdom) The novel coronavirus has infected more than 865 while death toll has risen to 27 as at now. Apart from many provinces in China, infected patients have been detected in Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and Singapore. The first US case was also announced on Tuesday, and five US airports have begun screening for the virus after a man in his thirties from Washington was diagnosed positively for the infection.
Meanwhile, Wuhan has been in lockdown since yesterday at 10am leaving 20 million people effectively unable to leave for Lunar New Year. However, more than 300,000 residents reportedly escaped from the city a day before the lockdown.
While the World Health Organization has so far stressed that this isn’t a global emergency, online rumors and lies have run fast.
An online rumor recently surfaced to allege that the coronavirus outbreak is masterminded by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. The rumour is believed to be spread by supporters of the pro-Trump QAnon movement and the anti-vax community.
A QAnon YouTuber named Jordan Sather tweeted on Tuesday that the coronavirus was a “new fad disease” and claimed the release of the virus that causes it was “planned.” His conspiracy theory has since been shared all over social media.
Jordan relies on a development of coronavirus patent filed by the Pirbright Institute in Surrey, England in 2015 that could potentially be used as a vaccine to prevent respiratory diseases in birds and other animals. Jordan said in his tweet, “The assignee of this patent was the government-funded Pirbright Institute out of the UK,” “Was the release of this disease planned? Is the media being used to incite fear around it? Is the Cabal desperate for money, so they’re tapping their Big Pharma reserves?” He also said that the patent was filed in 2015 and granted in 2018.
Jordan alleges that Pirbright does not currently work with any strains of the coronavirus that affect humans — its patent covers the avian coronavirus, which only affects birds. Even the Chinese authorities have confirmed that mammals could be the cause of the outbreak.
Dr. Erica Bickerton, who studies avian pathology for Pirbright said that each of the coronavirus has its own characteristics. She refuted the online rumour and reiterated that the coronavirus developed by Pirbright does not involve humans.
The exposed facts have not deterred the spreading of the conspiracy theory. Instead, one QAnon supporter tweeted, “Big money in vaccines,” “Who is pushing for people to be vaccinated? Hillary and Chelsea?”
“This is a man-made, patented virus with a vaccine in the works. Here’s the link to the patent,” one user wrote in a group called United States for Medical Freedom. “So back in Nazi Germany, Hitler didnt want anyone to wake up to his deceit. So he had Jews in every neighbourhood give the S.S. intel. Kind of like facebook reporting our comments.”
Other conspiracy theorists have put forward a purported motive: “Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation one of the primary owners. Deep State released the virus to create chaos since nothing stopping Trump.”
In response, spokesperson for Pirbright, Teresa Maughan said that ‘not only does the patent in question not involve a coronavirus strain that affects humans, but the institute’s work with the virus wasn’t funded by the Gates Foundation.’
Meanwhile, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on its website, explains that coronaviruses are a group of viruses that tend to cause respiratory illnesses in humans and a variety of other illnesses in animals. The name comes from the crown, or corona-like appearance of infective viruses when seen under a microscope. One patent is for a genetic sequence of the virus that causes SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a disease that spread to dozens of countries in 2003.
Matthew Frieman, a coronavirus researcher at the University of Maryland, was quoted saying that “the sequencing was done at the CDC during the SARS outbreak and they were the ones that filed the patent.”The other supposedly related patent is for a mutated form of avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), which infects poultry, but not people. The patent was filed by the Pirbright Institute, a research institute in the UK that aims to prevent and control “viral diseases of livestock.”
“Neither of these has anything to do with the new 2019-nCoV virus, ” said Frieman. “This is clearly a bogus theory that this virus was created in a lab, patented and has a vaccine already made to it.”
At press time, neither the patent related to the new virus nor a vaccine is currently available for the new coronavirus as researchers are still working to understand the origin, spread and severity of the Wuhan virus.