Do a quarter of French people really believe that coronavirus was created in a laboratory?

Do a quarter of French people really believe that coronavirus was created in a laboratory?
Conspiracy theories are circulating France over coronavirus. Photo: AFP
One of the more bizarre side effects of the coronavirus pandemic is conspiracy theories. Worryingly, they're widely circulated online and seem to be gaining ground in France.

A widely cited survey conducted over the past week reveals that 26 percent of French people believe that Covid-19 was created in a laboratory.

The survey – carried out by French polling group Ifop for the left wing think-tank Fondation Jean Jaurès and Conspiracy Watch – revealed that 26 percent of people asked believed that Covid-19 was made in a lab.

Seventeen percent of them believed that its creation was deliberate, but this figure jumped to 40 percent among people who said they supported the far-fright Rassemblement National party.

READ ALSO Why are the French so fond of conspiracy theories?

The online poll only surveyed 1,008 people, but its results are broadly in line with other international surveys – such as the study in the USA which showed that 29 percent of people believed that the virus was deliberately created in a laboratory.

And it shouldn't be so surprising – previous studies have shown that one in ten French people believe the Earth may be flat and 16 percent think the US faked its moon landings.

There is also a high level of distrust of vaccines – as many as 33 percent of French people do not believe that vaccines are safe, according to a study from 2019.

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Rudy Reichstadt, a member of the Jean Jaurès Foundation's Observatory of Political Radicalisation, says that a combination of international and domestic factors have combined to create coronavirus conspiracy theories in France.

He told French newspaper Le Parisien: “It is not surprising that a new, previously unknown virus should give rise to the emergence of conspiracy theories.

“This was already the case with the Black Death in the Middle Ages, with the cholera epidemic in the 19th century, and more recently with AIDS, Ebola, Zika, etc.

Ten years ago, with the H1n1 influenza, conspiracy theories were circulating, but social networks were much less widespread than they are today and they did not have a comparable impact.

“As far as Covid-19 is concerned, the circulation of these conspiracy rumours is probably accelerated by the fact that people are confined to their homes, and therefore much more “connected”.

Coronavirus conspiracies are swirling around the world at the moment – from theories that the virus in a bioweapon unleashed by the Chinese to claims that it's caused by the 5G mobile phone network.
 
But while some of theories may seem entertainingly nuts, there is also a strong link to racism, the far right and – in France particularly – anti-Semitism.
 
The French survey showed that supporters of Marine Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National party were far more likely to believe that the virus had been deliberately created in a laboratory.

Far-right news sites have also been circulating claims that a coronavirus 'miracle cure' discovered in France is being deliberately withheld from sick patients by governments or pharmaceutical companies.

READ ALSO What is chloroquine and why do some scientists believe it can treat coronavirus?

France's Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon has been the target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Photo: AFP

In fact, the French government has licensed clinical trials of the anti-malaria drug chloroquine, which some believe can treat the symptoms of the virus, but has been understandably reluctant to license the drug for treatment without any form of testing.

Clinical trials are still ongoing on 800 of the sickest patients in French hospitals, but several have reported severe side effects including arrhythmia, which can lead to heart attacks.

The 'Big Pharma' conspiracy theories are of course not confined to France, but several French personalities have been involved in circulating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Reichstadt added: “Anti-Semitic speeches soon emanated from these circles, implicating the Rothschilds or incriminating [former health minister] Agnès Buzyn, her husband Yves Lévy, or the Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon.

“We are told in particular that Yves Lévy took part, when he was head of [national medical research institute] Inserm, in the inauguration in 2017 of the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, which is quite true.

“But we then add that it is from this laboratory that the new coronavirus would have come out, which is totally false.”

Several figures in the 'yellow vest' movement have also been involved in spreading conspiracy theories online relating to pharmaceutical companies and anti-Semitic theories.

 

As the lockdown continues authorities worry that the combination of boredom, fear and access to social media could lead to more people accepting dangerous theories as fact.

 

 


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