Coronavirus Outbreak Sparks Misinformation and Deception

A screenshot of a viewer developed by Northeastern University’s modeling lab showing the spread of the coronavirus. Small dots represent population centers.

By Lois Boite

The December 2019 coronavirus outbreak has placed strain on international public health, with over 37,000 reported cases of the virus detected in 28 different countries. Coronaviruses are a class of virus that can infect both humans and animals with symptoms that range from the common cold to severe, life-threatening illnesses. The outbreak has become yet another platform for imperialists to promote their agendas, while self-interested online personalities have seized the opportunity to build their audience with little regard for spreading misinformation.

Previous notable coronavirus outbreaks include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which also originated in China and lasted from 2002-03, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) first detected in 2012. Unofficially named the “2019 novel coronavirus,” it has led to the death of 908 people mostly in China, officially surpassing the death toll from SARS.

The city of Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak has been sourced to.

The first reports of the virus came from Wuhan, a city with a population of 11 million people, in December 2019. The origin of the virus has been traced to the Huanan Seafood Market, known as a “wet market” where animals are slaughtered on-site. Here, current studies claim that the first coronavirus infection was from one of these animals.

The virus is spread through prolonged contact with sneezes or coughs of an infected person or by touching contaminated objects. Individuals affected by coronavirus experience pneumonia-like symptoms, body aches, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases, kidney failure and dangerously high fever. Death is more likely if the infected is old, young, or has a weakened immune system, otherwise, the death rate rests at around two percent.

Wuhan and its surrounding areas have been placed on a state-mandated lockdown, a ‘voluntary quarantine’ of 50 million people. Buses, schools, and highways have been shut down, and people are strongly advised to stay in their homes to prevent spreading or contracting the virus. Several countries began developing a vaccine for the virus in January, but none are expected to be completed soon.

Twelve cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the US across several different states. Though person to person contact has been confirmed, the risk of contracting the coronavirus in the US is low.

Sharpening public health concerns open the door for misinformation and reaction to spread in-step. The misinformation and reactionary conspiracy theories include blame on traditional Chinese cuisine, claims about elaborate plots for the eradication of populations, and bioweapon conspiracies. With the spread of this novel epidemic comes predictable and sweeping attempts at political deception.

While it is important to remain informed of the virus, US bourgeois media outlets have taken advantage of the outbreak to condemn China’s practices as a rival imperialist power. Tensions between the imperialist countries on their handling of the virus will continue to rise, especially during the ongoing trade war between the US and China. The most significant impacts of the coronavirus have been felt through its economic impact in the US. Stock markets fell drastically due to consumer fear of the virus and the restrictions on travel between major countries.

China is a fascist, corporativist state, and their own attempts to limit information neither serve their own people or the global population, independent of US imperialist opportunism. Many Chinese have found a symbol of this in the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, who died after contracting the disease. In December, Dr. Li attempted to raise wider alarms about the spread of the virus, but was visited by Chinese police and forced to sign a statement that his early warnings constituted “illegal behavior.”

A tweet by online personality, Jordan Sather spreading lies about the coronavirus.

Fear-mongering and misinformation have run rampant, particularly via social media. On Twitter, some users are bolstering the conspiracy that coronavirus is a “planned” outbreak. One particularly trafficked thread by Jordan Sather, a conspiracy theorist and YouTuber, claims that the disease was fabricated to build support and funding for vaccination development and dangerously tells his followers to ingest MMS (Miracle Mineral Solution), simply a form of bleach, which should not be done under any circumstances.

One YouTube video published by a South Korean user garnering millions of views, features an unidentified “nurse” allegedly from Wuhan talking about the situation. Dressed in a protective suit and wearing a mask, some online posters claim she attests to 90,000 infected people, but numerous commenters pointed out inaccurate translations, and that she said there were in fact 90,000 hospital check-ins. Clear and precise information will continue to remain elusive with imperialists’ tight control over information access and media platforms.

The coronavirus crisis demonstrates how both competing imperialist powers and reactionary conspiracy theorists will use anything to advance their own agendas. The impacts of the coronavirus are undoubtedly vast, but is important to remember that it is currently less dangerous than the flu and not a reason to panic. Incendiary remains committed to spreading the truth about crises such as the coronavirus and fighting against fear-mongering and sensationalism.