File photo of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Photograph:( AFP )
Brazil, a country with just a quarter of India’s population, is the third-worst Covid-hit country in the world. Brazil now has more than 14 million cases and more than 400,000 deaths to date
2020 was not just the year of pandemic, it was also an infodemic, which mainstreamed conspiracy theories.
It amplified hard-to-digest narratives. With the new year, we thought we had left all this behind. But, just like the virus, the conspiracy theories are back too.
The person to set the conspiracy ball rolling this year is the Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro. Throughout 2020, downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 virus, he refused to wear a mask in public, rejected calls for a lockdown, questioned the efficacy of vaccines and advised his supporters to do the same.
The result of this today is that Brazil, a country with just a quarter of India’s population, is the third-worst Covid-hit country in the world. Brazil now has more than 14 million cases and more than 400,000 deaths to date.
Over Brazil’s current state of affairs, Bolsonaro faces a criminal investigation and a possible impeachment. With this, the Brazilian president has suddenly come to the realisation that this virus, i.e. coronavirus, is in fact quite lethal, and according to him can very well be part of a biological war.
“It's a new virus, nobody knows if it was born in a lab or because a human ate some animal they shouldn't have. But it is there. And the military knows all about this chemical, biological and radiological warfare. Could we be fighting a new war? I guess. Which country's GDP has grown the most? I am not going to tell you,” said Bolsonaro.
There have been similar conspiracy theories earlier as well. Theories that this virus is not natural and was made in a lab, or that it is a bio-weapon or that 5G can be used to spread this virus.
While entertaining, these theories remain to be merely theories. According to scientists, there is no evidence to back these claims. While trying to counter scientists, some theories claim that thanks to China’s control on the flow of information, maybe these scientists just haven’t come across the evidence yet.
Scientists addressing the lab and biowarfare theory say that if the virus was indeed engineered, there would have been the evidence of any additions or deletions in the virus’s original genetic code or DNA.
Last year, at the onset of this pandemic, there were numerous reports on supposedly how the virus escaped from The Wuhan Institute of Virology. To address these rumours and to probe the origins of COVID-19, a team from WHO travelled to China but were unable to find any proof backing these claims.
Was this because they didn’t get there in time? The team went to China in January this year, more than 13 months after the first case of coronavirus was reported. Instead of answering some of the long-standing questions, this team by WHO came back with more questions. According to them, while the institute at Wuhan had many strains of coronavirus, SARS-COV-2, which has at times been referred to as “Wuhan Virus,” is not among them.
However on March 31, calling for a deeper probe into the lab theory, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said that he does not believe his team's assessment of the lab leak possibility was extensive enough.
It’s been a month since Dr Tedros’s statement, and WHO is still evaluating how to move forward with its probe.
Now, President Bolsonaro can do two things; either ask his military to show the world whatever proof they have to support his claims, or wait for WHO to once again travel to China, and conduct another probe.
But whether this would solve the mystery or not, remains doubtful.