Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19 was first announced in January 2020, the origin of the novel coronavirus has lent itself to many conspiracy theories. Most prominent and oft-repeated one among these claims is that ‘COVID-19 is an artificial virus prepared in a Chinese lab’.
More recently, the theory found support in Union minister and senior BJP leader, Nitin Gadkari.
WHAT DID GADKARI SAY?
In an interview to NDTV on Wednesday, 13 May, Gadkari said that the novel coronavirus is not a natural virus and people will have to learn the art of living with it.
"“We have to understand the art of living with corona. This is not a natural virus. It is an artificial virus and now many countries in the whole world – they are researching on it for a vaccine.”" - Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways.
“The vaccine is not available. It is expected that a vaccine will be available as soon as possible, then there will be no problem,” he added.
WHO, MEDICAL JOURNALS, EXPERTS – ALL DENY THE THEORY
The theory of the novel coronavirus being an artificial lab-made virus has few takers in the scientist, doctors and virologist communities. In a report published on 23 April, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that data studied so far suggests that the virus has a natural animal origin.
“All available evidence for COVID-19 suggests that SARS-CoV-2 has a zoonotic source. Many researchers have been able to look at the genomic features of SARS-CoV-2 and have found that evidence does not support that SARS-CoV-2 is a laboratory construct,” the report reads.
Another analysis by a group of researchers, which was published by Nature Medicine in March, shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a ‘laboratory construct’ or a ‘purposefully manipulated virus’.
These researchers studied the genomic data of SARS-CoV-2 to discover how the virus mutated into the virulent version that the whole world is struggling to contain.
“It is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus,” the study reads. Further, the researchers have explained two plausible origins of the virus, which includes:
Natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer.
Natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer.
And before this study, a report published by as many as 27 non-Chinese scientists in the renowned science journal The Lancet, dismissed the possibility of the virus being artificial.
“The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” the report stated.
US OFFICIALS DENIED TRUMP’S CLAIMS
While US President Trump has also endorsed this conspiracy theory, Dr Anthony Tony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a recent interview to National Geographic, said that he doesn’t “entertain an alternate theory.”
Fauci also said that the scientific evidence that the virus “evolved in nature and then jumped species” is very strong.
Even the US National Intelligence Director’s office released a statement on 30 April, underlining that the virus wasn’t man made.
“The Intelligence community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man made or genetically modified,” the statement read.
HOW DID THE CONSPIRACY THEORY START?
While the origin of the conspiracy theory is unknown, there were unsubstantiated rumours which were doing the rounds on the internet in January and February. Users on various social media platforms made these claims and several fact-checkers had called them out. Even The Quint had debunked this claim earlier in February.
We have also found some that some of these claims originated from fictional pieces that appeared on websites like Reddit for entertainment purpose, and were passed around as facts on WhatsApp and other platforms. Some were even falsely attributed to experts to lend credence. But, none of them have been substantiated or backed by evidence.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in December last year has pushed countries into lockdown and scientists, pathologists, doctors and virologists across the globe are working round the clock to study its nature and develop a vaccine. But, no medical research has corroborated this theory.
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