The number of coronavirus cases continues to climb globally — and so do the deaths. The virus is still spreading and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the worst is yet to come. While frantic efforts are underway in several parts of the world to produce a vaccine that can control the pandemic, a host of conspiracy theories are also doing rounds. The US and China have clashed over the origin of the virus. The US has repeatedly said the virus was originated from China’s Wuhan city. China, however, disputes the claim and is adamant that the virus was present in the US much before it was reported in China.
Amid all these wild guesses, in a rare public statement, the Office of the US Director of National Intelligence, which oversees American spy agencies, has said it concurs with the “wide scientific consensus” regarding Covid-19’s natural origins.
“The intelligence community will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
It was the first clear response from American intelligence debunking conspiracy theories — both from the US and China — that the virus is a bioweapon. But President Trump appears to have undercut his own intelligence agencies by suggesting that he has seen the evidence that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory.
Some Chinese officials on the other hand claim that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan in October last year. One conjecture is that the US through the virus wanted to halt the economic rise of China.
In countries like Pakistan, these conspiracies theories have gone even deeper. Some believe it is part of a grand plan to stop Muslims from going to mosques. Others tend to think that the world powers have decided to control the growing world population, and hence the virus. There is one section in Pakistan which believes that there is no disease such as Covid-19. These people think that reports about people dying of coronavirus are not true; and people are dying because of natural causes but their deaths are being linked to the virus in order to create a scare in the world.
If for a while, we believe that there is no such thing as the coronavirus, then why are so many Pakistanis living in Europe and the US becoming its victim? Are they too dying because of natural causes? Why are our doctors and paramedics falling victim to the deadly virus? Are National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and Sindh Governor Imran Ismail merely pretending that they have tested positive for the coronavirus?
And remember the economic and social cost of this virus. The world economy is facing the worst crisis since the Great Depression of 1930s. In the US alone, over 30 million people have applied for unemployment benefits, and the number is increasing. The impact of Covid-19 on the global oil industry is even profound. The prices of oil have plummeted to a record low since there is no demand and the storage capacity is near full.
The result of these conspiracies theories is that the people in Pakistan, including the educated lot, are not taking the coronavirus threat seriously. We need to educate our people that if this virus spreads as it has in Europe or the US, its impact would be far more devastating than in developed countries. Conspiracies theories are good for drawing room discussions or debates on social media but it no time for complacency. A clear and loud messaging is needed from the leadership, which so far has only sent confused signals to the masses.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2020.
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