Are coronavirus deniers/conspiracists prominent outside the U.S.?
March 29, 2020 11:52 AM   Subscribe

In the U.S., the coronavirus has become something of a political issue. I can't wrap my head around this. My Facebook feed is filled with friends who discount its potency and/or promote bizarre conspiracy theories around the virus and our reaction to it. Plus, there are Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones promoting the idea that everyone is freaking out for no good reason. My question: Is this attitude something common outside the United States? Has this pandemic become a political issue in other countries too?

I have zero interest in discussing the reaction inside the United States itself. I can get my fill of that on social media.

But I have a deep curiosity about how people in, say, Italy or Iran or Indonesia are reacting. Are there Italians who think this is a conspiracy by the Italian government to deprive them of their rights? Are there Ecaudorans who think the news media there is making numbers up? Do people in South Africa argue that "the flu kills more every year"?

Links to actual news stories, blog posts, YouTube videos, etc. encouraged. Personal anecdotes from folks who live outside the U.S. are also very welcome.
posted by jdroth to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've been staying off Facebook for the last few days but the last time I did check the local neighbourhood group there were certainly fellow South Africans who believe it's all "just panic" and driven by media hype. They were definitely in the minority though.
posted by Zumbador at 11:56 AM on March 29 [2 favorites]

To my knowledge, this is not the case in Canada. I do see people on the streets (I have a dog to walk in Toronto), but severely limited in number. I can walk 5 miles and keep to non-major streets and not see a soul. Certainly no one I've been texting/emailing with thinks it's a hoax. In fact, I find the opposite: many people think we're nowhere near the end of even the beginning. I've had friends cancel their winter/Christmas plans/flights.

Note that I am not on Facebook.
posted by dobbs at 11:57 AM on March 29 [9 favorites]

This is definitely happening in the UK too - someone sent me a screenshot in the last few days of a truly unhinged Facebook rant about how coronavirus was 100% a cover-up for 5G poisoning.
posted by terretu at 11:59 AM on March 29 [6 favorites]

I'm in Ireland. We're now in Italian-style lockd-own as of midnight. Why? Because when they asked us to shelter in place, nearly everyone did but a minority treated it like a holiday and parks, beach and mountain parking lots were jammers. It was very disappointing.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:03 PM on March 29 [12 favorites]

No, they're here in Finland as well.
posted by wile e at 12:05 PM on March 29 [2 favorites]

I’m on various Facebook groups in the UK. I would say that there’s a knot of maybe 1 or 2% who are deniers. They get roundly jumped on by the majority when they make denier type posts.

Politically, those views don’t seem to be getting much, if any, mainstream traction.
posted by JJZByBffqU at 12:18 PM on March 29 [5 favorites]

Indonesia's secrecy, denial just adds to virus panic (Financial Review, Mar. 3, 2020), Indonesia under fire for viral denial (Asia Times, Mar. 9, 2020), Joko Widodo 'did not want to stir panic' but Indonesia is now playing coronavirus catch-up (James Massola, Sydney Morning-Herald Opinion, Mar. 16, 2020)

How Iran Completely and Utterly Botched Its Response to the Coronavirus (Kamiar Alaei and Arash Alaei, NYT Opinion, Mar. 6, 2020), ‘Virus at Iran’s gates’: How Tehran failed to stop outbreak (AP, Mar. 17, 2020)

What does Britain know about coronavirus that the rest of Europe doesn't? (CNN, Mar. 14, 2020), I’m an epidemiologist. When I heard about Britain’s ‘herd immunity’ coronavirus plan, I thought it was satire (William Hanage, Guardian Opinion, Mar. 15, 2020), Our politics isn’t designed to protect the public from Covid-19 (George Monbiot, Guardian Opinion, Mar. 18, 2020) The politics of denial, first honed in the tobacco industry, has serious consequences for a floundering Johnson government

Denial, fear, shock and anger: How the public is reacting to coronavirus (The National Scot, Mar. 25, 2020)
posted by katra at 12:53 PM on March 29 [7 favorites]

In Poland there was a lot of bishop pushback against the initial decision to limit Mass to 50 people, including one bishop famously declaring you can't get any virus from holy water or Communion distributed directly to the mouth because the devil is afraid of holy water. The U-turn when the first local priest died has been... impressive, and the further limit to 5 people in church has been meekly accepted.

In Russia alas the Orthodox church is still sticking to business as usual, including kissing icons and relics by all present...
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:58 PM on March 29 [7 favorites]

I am sad to say my Dad is one of those "this is ridiculous, the flu kills more people per year" kind of people. In my fairly large Canadian city I am still seeing people not following social distancing on the streets. In my small apartment building 2-3 apartments are still socializing as normal.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 1:03 PM on March 29

The Globe and Mail, Mar. 13, 2020: Chinese official promoting unfounded Canadian theory that coronavirus has roots in U.S. military.
Mr. Zhao has given an official imprimatur to the belief that the virus may have a U.S. origin, as the Chinese government mounts what researchers call a counter-offensive to widespread domestic criticism that a slow response and coverups by China’s leadership allowed the virus to spread rapidly in Wuhan and the wider Hubei province. On Friday, Mr. Zhao revealed a new source for his information: the [Montreal-based] Centre for Research on Globalization, or Global Research, a site founded by Michel Chossudovsky, a professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa, which has come under investigation by NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence over its content.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:17 PM on March 29

Yes, in the UK I've seen various Facebook posts stating as fact that coronavirus is directly related to vaccinations, or 5G, or that it's been deliberately targeted at the poorest in society as a cull, at the same time as allowing the Government to introduce martial law (which is always spelled 'marshall').

There's also an utterly crackpot theory that the Russians are behind it, because (allegedly) they are using underground fibre optic cable for their 5G, which means that no Russians will come into contact with coronavirus and at the end of all this Putin's plan for World Domination will be complete.

Unsurprisingly, in common with all conspiracy theorists, they are unable to provide any evidence in support of their theories other than YouTube blatherers, nor accept any other version of the 'truth' than their own.
posted by essexjan at 2:10 PM on March 29 [5 favorites]

Because of my past energy connections in Canada, I see the very edges of the Albertan #wexit nonsense, and denial seems to be more of a thing there, but couched in "conspiracy keeping the oil price low" grumbles. Given that the price of Canadian bitumen is zero or negative, there are things to grumble about. Alberta's health minister is personally acting a bit special, but provincially the right messages are going out
posted by scruss at 2:55 PM on March 29 [3 favorites]

An online acquaintance of mine in Lahore said that the pandemic has become very political in Pakistan. She didn't go into details though.
posted by bluesky78987 at 2:56 PM on March 29

Canada as well, I am a member of a couple of FB groups with conservative members and about a month ago/three weeks ago there were occasional “it’s just a flu” comments (usually immediately challenged) but I have seen zero since then. I live in a rural, gun-owning, conservative area and EVERYONE is complying with physical distancing here. Online, I have seen a few ignorant comments about Trudeau “hiding” a covaid diagnosis, but that is about as political as it gets.
posted by saucysault at 3:40 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]

According to a recent survey, 27% of French people believe the virus was created in a laboratory, including 17% who believe it was created intentionally. That increases to 40% among Rassemblement national sympathizers (aka the party of Marie Le Pen, the extreme right). I think there is less of an idea that the virus isn't actually serious as we are already see the effects here and in neighboring countries.

A variety of conspiracy theories are also circulation in African countries, including false remedies, transmission by mosquito or packages from china, and that the virus is a biological weapon or otherwise created in a laboratory.
posted by orchidee at 1:21 AM on March 30 [1 favorite]

Here in Congo (Kinshasa), the initial conversation was that it was a white man's disease, and only light skinned people could get sick. Then it was that Africans could get sick, but it was solely imported by white men. Now that the situation has become much more obvious, that people, ''even Africans'' really are sick, it's shifted again. Now there's a quite popular rumor circulating that while the virus is widespread, the USA is about to send a vaccine trial just to Africa, but it's actually a poison meant to sterilize and wipe out the African continent. A LOT of people seem to believe this. And now the newest hoax that's circulating is that China is going to send masks (true), but they're all poisoned, so people should destroy them...
So no, Covid conspiracies certainly aren't limited to the US. Lunacy is widespread, unfortunately.
posted by hasna at 4:32 AM on March 30 [3 favorites]

I'm in a facebook group for expats in the country where I'm in. There are people of many Western European nationalities who think that even if it does exist and is bad as the media says, the restrictions are ridiculous and why can't we move about as we wish, this is just a way for the government to keep track of us.
posted by affectionateborg at 6:27 AM on March 30

We get FOX News in Canada and I have a member of my family who thinks it's an exaggerated flu (remote west coast Canadian.) So it's not a utopia up here.

But I would say in mainstream politics, our politicians in general are pretty united. I've been pleasantly surprised by the people-first narrative and the leadership shown by Ontario Premier Doug Ford who has been called Trump-lite (also famous crack addict Rob Ford's case you were wondering if politics can be nuts elsewhere.)
posted by warriorqueen at 6:48 AM on March 30

According to a recent survey, 27% of French people believe the virus was created in a laboratory, including 17% who believe it was created intentionally. That increases to 40% among Rassemblement national sympathizers (aka the party of Marie Le Pen, the extreme right).

YUP YUP YUP YUP can confirm, everywhere from the comments section on Le Monde, to French Twitter, to various (though thank God not the majority) of my in-laws, to Facebook, I am seeing a non-zero number of French and francophone folks rolling out the "Americans/Chinese/Mooninites created it", "[One Weird Trick] is a cure BUT [public figure I hate] WANTS TO KEEP IT A SECRET", "it's the flu and the government is lying to us as an excuse to do [dastardly conspiracy-theory deed]" stuff.

Contrary to what some of us might like to believe, Europe is absolutely not exempt from this shit. The real difference from the US is that, regardless of how one might feel about various members of the current government, in France at least we actually...have a government? Which is at least attempting to take appropriate measures? So I'd argue that the conspiracy thinking isn't significantly less widespread, just that its danger is mitigated by the fact it hasn't totally saturated the upper levels of government the way it, elsewhere.
posted by peakes at 8:39 AM on March 30 [2 favorites] the same time as allowing the Government to introduce martial law (which is always spelled 'marshall').
Maybe they're all just huge fans of Kate Tempest?

posted by peakes at 8:53 AM on March 30

I live in Russia and it seems there are a lot of people, including local doctors (I'm a decent ways outside of the Moscow hotspot) that don't think its a big deal, like its just a virus and normal viral precautions will be fine (like wearing excessively warm gear to go outside at any time).

Also the orthodox church is "discouraging" people from kissing the icons, but in a tone that's more like toeing the line for Putin's week long shut down than true belief in the threat or concern. There are loudspeakers in my city (and most other cities and villages) loudly playing messages telling people to go home, stay home. Everything except grocery stores and pharmacies are closed starting today for one week. The border with China was closed some time in January, european land borders and water borders were closed 2 or 3 days ago and international flights were grounded maybe a week ago? The main conspiracy theories are that the panic is being used just to close borders and that its just a way to increase surveillance. But I'm like, why not all 3?
posted by WeekendJen at 9:24 AM on March 30 [1 favorite]

To update, Russia's lockdown measures were just extended for 90 days.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:41 AM on March 31

Yes, in Australia too. Most notably from the same people who are climate-change deniers (Andrew Bolt, for example). A lot of right-wing politics lately is based on the assumption that experts are not to be trusted.
posted by harriet vane at 5:28 AM on March 31

I was just listening to the Jeremy Vine show here in the UK - several people believe that the virus is being spread through the 5G network, if that helps.
posted by mippy at 6:46 AM on March 31

Also, here is a prominent rightwing commentator from the UK: - basically arguing that there's no point to any of this as the people who will die wouldn't have been that useful anyway.
posted by mippy at 6:48 AM on March 31

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