On Friday 31st January 2020, this column made a first excursion into the domain of what has now become the most expensive, most dreaded, and most discussed topic all over the world. The piece was quaintly titled “From ‘the year of the pig’ to ‘the year of the rat’ – a new virus is born in Wuhan.” The story was about the emergence of a new disease in Wuhan, China, just as the Chinese were getting ready to celebrate the end of one year – astrologically known as “The Year of the Pig”, and the arrival of a New Year – “The year of the Rat”.
The general wisdom was that the virus had mutated in the animal host and “jumped” into a human victim, leading to the illness now known as COVID-19. Alternatively, a relatively benign version of the virus could have “jumped” from animal to man, and thereafter mutated into the killer virus we know within the human body. The animal “hosts” held in suspicion in this morbid traffic were bats and pangolins retailed at a popular “wet” market in Wuhan.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that time. Thousands of Chinese have died. So have thousands of Italians, and Spaniards, and Americans, and other nationals. Much of the world’s population is in full or partial lock down. Economic activities have been virtually grounded in many of the world’s cities, and many countries are facing recession. Air traffic has been reduced to a trickle. There is an unmistakable smell of fear in the air.
It is a situation the like of which nobody can remember. Natural and man-made catastrophes tend to be localised – an earthquake here, a tsunami, even a shooting war. COVID-19 has rattled the entire planet. And it is not over yet. A rash of conspiracy theories have been spawned to explain and understand the disease.
One of the early conspiracy theories was widely circulated in a gripping video. It showed a Chinese anchor speaking in a rush of excitement, to a background of gory images that purported to come from Wuhan. The locked-down city looked like a ghost-land. The only people visible were grim-looking figures covered head to toe in white protective clothing. They were spraying everything in sight from massive geysers. They did not look like health workers sanitizing the environment. Rather, they resembled an extermination squad going about its unsavoury business. The camera panned to a set of rooms in the distance. The anchor disclosed that citizens of Wuhan who were ill with the virus were locked away in these rooms without any treatment or food. At a point, out of sight, there was the sound of gunshots. The implication was clear. China was culling its citizens, committing mass murder on an industrial scale. Perhaps it was trying to reduce its population drastically. Something very sinister, very evil, was going on in Wuhan.
Other conspiracy theories spread rapidly, principally on WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, especially as the virus began to spread rapidly across international borders. The virus was really a biological weapon, created in the laboratory by the Americans, and deliberately exported to China to cause havoc. The proponents of this cited as evidence the fact that an international military sports competition recently took place in the Wuhan province, to which America sent a large contingent who won no medals. These soldiers, the story said, had deliberately released the virus into the densely populated market.
In moments of great social Anxiety, it is a well-known fact of Psychology that the human mind suspends rational logic, leading even the most intelligent of the species to think and act in bizarre ways. It is difficult otherwise to fathom how anyone could believe a microchip could be embedded in a vaccine
Yet another theory had it that the Chinese developed the virus and were planning to export it as part of a trade war with the USA, which had seen the Americans imposing tariffs and victimizing the Chinese innovation flagship, Huawei.
As the devastation of the rampaging virus increased world-wide alarm, more elaborate religious and political angles came into the conspiracy theories. The symptoms of the virus were really an immune reaction induced by the effect of 5G radiation. China, as everyone knew, was an outlier in 5G technology.
One popular explanation laid it all at the feet of the “Illuminati” – a shadowy sect out to manipulate and control the world. The danger was not the fever and cough, they averred. The real danger was in the vaccine, which had been stockpiled and would be compulsorily inflicted on the population when everybody was ill enough. A microchip would be implanted in everyone through vaccination, fulfilling the prophecy in the Book of Revelations. People were warned not to allow themselves or their families to be vaccinated. Big names were involved in the plot. Hillary Clinton was The Witch. Barack Obama was neck deep in the plot. The current Pope was the anti-Christ who wanted to tear up the laws in the Bible to satisfy popular sentiment. Only one man stood against the tide of this terrible plot. Donald J Trump.
One widely shared message from a Nigerian man with an American accent declared that COVID-19 was a plot to keep Trump from winning a second term in office. But the great man was standing firm. If the epidemic got so devastating elections could not be held in October, he would automatically rule for another four years, concluding his mission of holding the fort.
In moments of great social Anxiety, it is a well-known fact of Psychology that the human mind suspends rational logic, leading even the most intelligent of the species to think and act in bizarre ways. It is difficult otherwise to fathom how anyone could believe a microchip could be embedded in a vaccine. In any case, it is common it is public knowledge that no vaccine against Covid-19, funded by Bill Gates or any other “culprit” has yet been made, tested and approved.
None of such reasoning will dissuade the believers of conspiracy theories, especially as long as COVID-19 continues to cause havoc all over the world. And as long as DJT continues to loom large on the political landscape everywhere.