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Official Chinese media have perpetuated the  false rumor that Maatje Benassi, a U.S. army reservist, was “Patient Zero” of the pandemic, the first person to be infected with the coronavirus. Benassi was targeted due to her participation in the 2019 Military World Games held from October 18–27, 2019 in Wuhan. Benassi never actually tested positive for the virus. According to these rumors, Benassi and others from the US team were intentionally infected by the CIA. 

Chinese media claim the inattentive attitude and disproportionately below-average results of American athletes in the games indicate they might have been in for other purposes and they might actually be bio-warfare operatives, and that their place of residence during their stay in Wuhan was also close to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the virus was first identified. 

According to China’s anti-US narrative, the coronavirus was developed in a US military laboratory. On April 23, Global Times, a media outlet of China’s ruling Communist Party, published a story claiming that Fort Detrick laboratory in Fredrick, Maryland which handles high-level disease-causing materials such as Ebola, may have been the origin of the coronavirus. The lab was shut down in July 2019, a fact which the Chinese government claims is suspicious, hinting at complicity.

Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, has repeatedly promoted the idea via social media that Covid-19 might have originated in the US. In May, Twitter placed fact-check labels on two of the Chinese government tweets which had falsely suggested that the virus originated in the US and was brought to China by the Americans.

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Lijian’s claim was based on an article published by the Center for Research on Globalization, a website known for perpetuating baseless conspiracy theories. In fact, the article, which has since been deleted, made no such claim, simply suggesting that the virus did not originate in China. In a subsequent interview, the author claimed that in its early stages, COVID-19 was “Chinese-specific” and did not infect peoples of other origins and racial backgrounds.

Another article in Global Times deflects blame to the US.

“As a country with the highest number of infections and deaths and more early cases revealed, the US’ role in the origin and spread of the coronavirus has become a major concern,” the article in Global Times read. “[Wuhan in] Hubei Province had only a few thousand confirmed cases a day even at the peak of the epidemic, while New York State with much fewer population than Hubei had more than 10,000 new cases a day, and other parts of the world have seen far more severe numbers.”

The article claimed that blaming China for the pandemic was part of Trump’s reelection campaign.

Similarly, various Arab media outlets, as well as media in Iran and Turkey, accused Israel and the United States of creating and spreading COVID-19. 

Russia has even joined the coronavirus conspiracy train. One of Russia’s major national TV networks, Channel One, launched a regular slot devoted to coronavirus conspiracy theories on its main evening news program, Vremya (“Time”). One program suggested that the name ‘corona’, referring to ‘crown’, hints at the virus’ originator, Donald Trump, who used to hand out crowns at beauty pageants. The program features an “expert”  who says that the Chinese coronavirus strain was artificially created and that US intelligence agencies or American pharmaceutical companies are behind it. The report also reiterates debunked claims by Kremlin media and officials that the US ran a laboratory in Georgia where it tested a biological weapon on humans.

Initially, early reports claimed the spread of the virus began in Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where 27 of the 41 earliest cases were clustered as a naturally occurring virus in wild bats. The Trump administration has openly claimed that there is evidence the pandemic began in the Wuhan Institute of Virology microbiology laboratory. The WHO claims the US has yet to provide it with proof supporting these claims. 

The conflict is clearly coming to a nexus. China has increased its allegations, claiming a new outbreak was caused by a tough new mutant strain imported from Europe in contaminated food products. 

And the US position was made less tenable last week after President Trump sent a letter officially notifying the United Nations that it is leaving the WHO effective on 6 July 2021. Trump has repeatedly criticized WHO for being slow to respond to the pandemic and for being too “China-centric.”

Perhaps coincidentally, one day after the WHO received the letter from the US president, China announced it would allow a team from the WHO to visit the country to trace the origins of the coronavirus. Until now, Chinese authorities have not allowed foreign experts, including investigators from the World Health Organisation, to take part in the investigation into the origins of the virus nor have they shared the results of their own internal investigation into the origins of the pandemic. 

But China has not dropped its accusations against the US. On Friday, the Chinese government demanded that a parallel investigation be carried out investigating their claims that the coronavirus originated in the US. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian explained that a WHO investigation into the US role was more valid.

“Now that the US has announced its withdrawal from the W.H.O., what right do they have to dictate China’s cooperation with the W.H.O.?” Zhao asked rhetorically in a statement to the media.

 


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