At the time of writing we don’t know how widespread or serious the current coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak will be. But nature abhors a vacuum and the conspiracy theorist nutjobs are filling any gaps with Utter, Utter Bollocks (μ²β) as usual. More on that in a bit.
What we DO know
First, this is a proper outbreak. Until now there were six coronaviruses known to cause human disease: four cause colds, MERS and SARS are far more serious. 2019-nCoV is the seventh and causes a viral pneumonia – which is nasty at best and fatal at worst.
A key number we don’t have a good handle on yet is the Base Reproduction Rate (R0) – this essentially tells us “if someone has it, on average how many others will they spread it to?” There are estimates knocking about but I suspect these are low for the reasons below.
So, here’s what we do know before we get into the batshit crazy stuff:
We have person-to-person transmission. This is not helpful. Most coronaviruses have animal reservoirs and most infections are animal > human (zoonotic).
There are reports people can pass it on before symptoms are apparent. This is bad. In the case of SARS you could isolate people as soon as they showed symptoms and because the virus didn’t spread before day 5 of the illness the R0 was reduced from 2-4 to 0.4.
If it really is the case that the virus can be transmitted before people show symptoms, the ability to make predictions based on the epidemiology of other coronaviruses such as SARS or MERS is limited – we can’t assume the R0 will be similar.
This also means that measures such as quarantine and isolation will likely be less effective at controlling spread than it has been with other coronaviruses where victims aren’t infectious until they’re sick.
There isn’t a vaccine (but one for MERS is in trial), antibiotics won’t work (it’s a virus) and there is no evidence yet that any current antiviral drugs are of any utility.
2019-nCoV has the whiff of being quite transmissable (its ability to spread between hosts) but with a low mortality rate. This fits the informal rule that infectious diseases are either easily transmissible but not too serious or very serious but more difficult to catch. Yes, there are exceptions to this – and it’s when you get a mutation that’s easily transmitted and of high consequence we need to worry.
The most seriously affected groups are the old, infirm, very young or those with other risk factors. But there have been reports of fatalities among otherwise healthy adults which, if true, is also a concern.
Where's It From?
We now have a genetic analysis of the coronaviruses isolated from nine patients in Wuhan which show 2019-nCoV is closely-related to two bat-derived SARS-like coronaviruses. This makes sense. Bats are sold at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan; eight of the patients had recently visited the market and the ninth patient had stayed in a nearby hotel. The viral genomes isolated from the different patients differed by less than 0.1%.
We also know how 2019-nCoV binds to human cells: just like SARS it binds to the ACE2 (angiotensin converting enzyme 2) receptor which we have in common with bats. That’s not to say there wasn’t an intermediate host like a pig or civet; bats get captured and taken to a wet market, coronaviruses are in bat poop, there’s other livestock and people in close proximity – or if a bat forages around a pig farm and has a crafty dump a lot of animals can get infected – and then taken to market…
So, this all adds up. But this happens all the time. There’s a clade of bat viruses that get into humans all the time in south China. Many of these won’t bind very well and won’t cause serious illness and likely never get diagnosed but chances are there are many such spillover events happening all the time. It’s the luck of the draw whether they have the capacity to create a raging infection or a mild, self-limiting (or even asymptomatic) illness.
So, this is a rapidly evolving story but we are already getting a good grip on the science. But that’s not stopping the crazy conspiracy theories that are totally immune to basic science or the established facts.
It's Bill Gates!
There are allegations circulating widely in QAnon and other conspiracy Facebook groups and pages claiming that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation predicted, and are somehow profiting from the coronavirus outbreak.
The basis of this alleged conspiracy relies on a 2015 patent filed by the Pirbright Institute which covers the development of a weakened form of a coronavirus for potential use as a vaccine to prevent respiratory diseases in birds and other animals.
One of the many, many issues with this theory is 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. Gates has supported Pirbright – and many other institutions working to prevent epidemics – in the past, which is apparently conclusive proof he’s the evil genius behind this epidemic.
It Was Made In A Lab!
In a groundbreaking exposé the Daily Star revealed 2019-nCoV was created in a lab – later retracted as this was too crazy even for them. But there’s more – it was created in a lab as a:
The author, David Zublick, has a history of propagating conspiracies and reckons 2019-nCoV was developed in a lab as a bioweapon against the US. Naturally he provides zero proof and fails to address the ever-growing proof it came from a wet market. Also now that we have the sequence there are none of the signatures we would expect to find; when you splice genes about the place you leave fingerprints. They are missing.
An article published by the Washington Times – a newspaper not noted for its liberal views – suggested that the “Coronavirus may have originated in lab linked to China’s biowarfare program” and pointing to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Again, no proof, it was the guesswork of one man, Dany Shoham.
Shoham has form for pumping misinformation; in 2017 he appeared on Radio Sputnik, a propaganda arm of the Russian government, to suggest the Islamic State had likely passed on chemical weapon capabilities to its sleeper cells in the West.
There are many similar claims on social media. There is a BSL-4 lab near Wuhan and that’s enough for many of the idiots out there to put 2 and 2 together to make 22. Incidentally you don’t need a BSL-4 lab to work with coronaviruses. It’s BSL-2 or BSL-3 depending on the strain and what you’re doing with it.
There were reports last year about a microbiologist, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, and her research team – all from China – who were escorted from Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab, which handles dangerous pathogens. There’s no evidence Dr Qiu gave China coronavirus samples to develop a biological weapon – and the lab worked on MERS, not the Wuhan coronavirus. But that hasn’t t stopped the ‘Chinese agents infiltrated Canadian lab to steal bioweapons’ stories.
This is where the psychology gets interesting.
Coronavirus is a perfect fit for batshit-crazy conspiracy theorists and other random nutters – principally on the fringe right – who see the hidden hand of Deep State behind absolutely everything. Of course the virus has been manufactured by shadowy forces!! Of course it bears none of the hallmarks of an engineered virus – that’s just further proof!!
And as ever they give their assumptions more weight than all the medics, scientists and others expert in the field – they’re all part of the conspiracy too!! Obvious, innit.
That nexus of conspiracy theory bullshit, Infowars, has long promoted the idea that Bill Gates’s philanthropy is just a cover for his ‘depopulation agenda‘. It all fits!!
Forget the Dunning-Kruger going on where these people think the confirmation bias fed to them by their smartphones is THE TRUTH and only they are smart enough to see it.
These utter fucktards who buy into and repost all this Utter, Utter Bollocks (µ²β) are so intoxicated by their own sense of superiority having found THE TRUTH that they’re missing a couple of things.
Follow The Money!
According to Infowars “it’s over for humanity” and there will only be ‘lone survivors’. So stock up now on their range of survival foods! Or if you want to cure the virus, for a mere $45 you can buy a tiny bottle of bleach to drink. Yes, I kid you not. Followers of this nonsense are willing to pay through the nose to drink fucking bleach.
The Russians have a stellar reputation – and deservedly so – for spreading misinformation. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda the virus was created in a lab by the US to only infect Asians. And this is what’s going out publicly. Given all the false stories they’ve spread about politicians, vaccines and everything else one dreads to think what’s coming out of their bot farms.
I frequently rant about total fuckwits deriding expert opinion and giving more weight to some shite they’ve read on Facebook.
But the conspiracy theorist loonies are in a class of their own. They have no inner filter, they think that everything fits the conspiracy and their version of ‘critical thinking’ is finding more shit on the internet that reinforces their beliefs.
And they do it with an overweening smugness – that one day they will be proved right and the rest of the world will feel very silly. They alone can see THE TRUTH and the rest of us are being manipulated.
“EVERYTHING WE SEE IS LIES, SHEEPLE!!”
The irony of all this is that all the agendas they so willingly absorb into their overarching conspiracy mindset – whether it’s that Mueller and Trump secretly working together to take down a global paedophile ring run by celebrities and Democratic politicians, Bill and Hillary are murdering all their opponents with impunity (and remember he couldn’t even hide a blow job in the Oval Office), secret global cabals controlling everything, hate campaigns against Muslims, brown people, the ‘globalists’ (a dog-whistle term for Jews) – pretty much all of these campaigns have been shown to originate from and driven by Russian bots to misinform and destabilise.
So, it’s actually the people peddling all this bollocks who are being manipulated, not the rest of us…