FULL CLAIM: There is no ‘coronavirus’. The Chinese were secretly working on a biological agent that was supposed to make protesters docile and obedient.
The false claim that the coronavirus does not exist and that the current COVID-19 pandemic is instead caused by an agent produced in China “which is biochemical in nature and spread in an invisible aerosol, akin to certain viruses” was posted on Facebook 1 March 2020 and has been viewed more than 2.3 million times as of 24 March.
This claim actually comes from a piece of fictional literature posted on a Reddit community for horror story writers in February 2020. The story has since been removed from Reddit, but it continues to circulate on Facebook in posts that do not include the context that it is a work of fiction.
The posting guidelines for the horror fiction subreddit also might have contributed to the perception that the story is real. The guidelines state: “Remember: everything is true here, even if it’s not. Do not insinuate or flat out say that your story or any other story on r/nosleep is or may be fictional.”
But beyond the clear fictional origin of this claim, the science also doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Countless laboratories from the U.S. and at least 150 other countries that have reported cases of COVID-19 have independently confirmed that the causal agent is the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus. Several new viruses capable of infecting humans emerge every single year, so the emergence of this virus is not unusual or unexpected. And even though a pandemic spread is rare, it is most certainly not uncommon, not even before the invention of flight and the prevalence of international travel. Therefore, any suggestion that the current outbreak could only have happened via a man-made contagion is false.
In addition, SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t contain any of the obvious molecular signatures left behind when a virus or other microbes are manipulated in the laboratory, and its genome reveals a clear evolutionary connection to previously identified coronaviruses. A study published in the journal Nature on 17 March 2020 reported that “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus”.
Snopes also covered this claim in a 20 February 2020 article, labeling the story “False.”
Several competing hypotheses have been proposed to explain where the novel coronavirus actually came from. Health Feedback investigated the three most widespread origin stories for the novel coronavirus (engineered, lab-leak or natural infection), and examined the evidence for or against each proposed hypothesis in this Insight article.
- 1 – Zhu et al. (2020) A novel coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China, 2019. New England Journal of Medicine.
- 2 – Woolhouse et al. (2012) Human viruses: discovery and emergence. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London B: Biological Sciences.
- 3 – Jamison et al. (2017) Disease Control Priorities: Improving Health and Reducing Poverty, 3rd edition. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank.
- 4 – Andersen et al. (2020) The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Nature Medicine.