‘Starting in Wuhan in December, the coronavirus outbreak has spread across China, infecting around 64,000 people and worrying the rest of the world. Fueling the panic, media have been printing alarmist scare stories and politicians peddling false information.
One prominent example of this is Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who claimed that the virus was actually developed by the Chinese government. Wuhan, he stated, “has China’s only biosafety level-four super laboratory that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.” He also claimed that the outbreak is “worse than Chernobyl,” referring to the 1986 nuclear meltdown in Ukraine. “The Wuhan coronavirus is a catastrophe on the scale of Chernobyl for China, only Chernobyl was localized. The coronavirus is spreading worldwide,” he said, adding that in one day “confirmed cases increased in China by 30 percent. The true numbers are likely much higher.”
Cotton’s remarks were condemned as unhelpful, at best, and dangerously alarmist fake news, at worse by health authorities. Experts have had to take time off from fighting the virus to debunk his super laboratory conspiracy theories. On the supposed huge increase in cases, Dr. Michael Ryan, the head of the World Health Organization’s (W.H.O.) health emergencies program, said there was a far more mundane explanation for the change in numbers; “This increase that you’ve all seen in the last 24 hours is largely down to a change in how the cases are being reported,” he told media.
The Chinese government has also expressed its consternation at Cotton’s views. “It’s very harmful, it’s very dangerous to stir up suspicion, rumors and spread them among the people. For one thing, this will create panic. Another thing, that it will fan up racial discrimination, xenophobia, all these things that will really harm our joint efforts to combat the virus,” said Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States. “Of course, there are all kinds of speculation and rumors… How can we believe all these crazy things?” he added.’