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

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.

Do a quarter of French people really believe that coronavirus was created in a laboratory?
Conspiracy theories are circulating France over coronavirus. Photo: AFP

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.

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.



Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

Manual widget for ML (class=”ml-manual-widget-container”)

Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.