Social media is polarised between alarmists and non-believers. One hears horror stories and claims of wonder drugs being discovered as well as forebodings of some “futurists” who did see the pandemic coming.

Conspiracy theories are dominating the discourse.

The most popular theory dished out by politicians and foreign experts is that this virus is the handiwork of China and is a bio-weapon against the world.

President Trump has called it an external threat brought to American shores by a dangerous enemy. The conspiracy theory of the virus was lent further credence by Luc Antoine Montagnier, the 2008 Nobel Laureate for medicine from France. He recently endorsed the theory that the virus has been made by man.

The French virologist’s assertion added to the charged debate over the origin of the virus, which US officials consider to have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan. According to another source, both the coronavirus and the Hantavirus, which have surfaced in China during the recent outbreak, were developed by the US bio-warfare programme that came to a climax in the 1960s.

Quite naturally, many in China subscribe to this belief. And there are historical precedents. Various countries, including the United States, have stockpiled anthrax since the early 1930s, constantly experimenting and refining the disease to make it more effective as a biological weapon.

During World War I, German agents used anthrax, as well as glanders, in attempts to infect animals in Argentina, France, Norway, Romania, and the United States. A collaborative research conducted by 30 scientists at institutes in the USA, the UK, China, Europe ruled out that SARS-CoV-2, the seventh coronavirus known to infect humans, is man-made or a ‘laboratoryconstruct’.

The study finds that it “is not derived from any previously used virus backbone” and that it has a counter-intuitive feature that makes its binding capacity with the human receptor lower than ideal. It rules out the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARSCoV-like coronavirus.

Yet the debate persists. Conspiracy theories often verge on the bizarre. Claims have been made on social media that Bill Gates helped create the nCoV with the plan to sell a particular vaccine. In America, there are Big Pharma, Black Helicopters, the Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Grove which have been blamed for cataclysmic events.

Many Russians believe that America faked the moon landings. In Brazil, a popular conspiracy theory asserts that the American military is planning to invade the Amazon rain forest and take control of its rich natural resources. Therefore, theories such as Ancient Atlanteans built the pyramids, or Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on the orders of his Vice-President, Andrew Johnson, or Elvis Presley was alive, relaxing by the pool with Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe, and Princess Diana in some secret resort for aggressively reclusive stars, or our very own urban legends about Netaji are legion. It has been argued that climate change is a scientific hoax.

In his sensational book titled Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola: Nature, Accident or Intentional? Leonard G. Horowitz, the Harvard graduate in public health contextualised some conspiracy theories. First, he traced Erich Traub’s movements to the US Naval Medical Research Institute, where he conducted experiments on animals to determine the lethal doses of more than forty strains of highly infectious viruses. Traub, the Nazi virologist known for carrying out a number of experiments with viral and bacterial diseases during World War II worked directly under Heinrich Himmler and held the position of lab chief at the leading bio-weapons facility of the Nazis on Riems Island.

Besides weaponising the foot-and-mouth disease, Traub provided Hitler with advanced chemical and biological weapon capability and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Horowitz tracks how within ten years, the US Navy’s Biomedical Research Laboratory, in association with the University of California, along with Litton Bionetics, became a chief supplier of viruses and cell cultures for the famous National Cancer Institute (NCI) researchers throughout the world, funding for which was largely controlled by the NCI, Rockefeller and Sloan Foundations. His claims to have reprinted for the first time US government documents that prove that a branch of the US Army bioengineered AIDS and Ebola-like viruses was really sensational.

In that book, Horowitz published the relevant contracts to tell us what was done with the $10 million Congress gave the United States Department of Defence (DOD) for the development of AIDS-like viruses. Horowitz also tells us that Robert Gallo, the famous National Cancer Institute (NCI) molecular biologist, pardoned by President Clinton for scientific fraud and misconduct, and credited with the discovery of the AIDS virus, set about to develop the immune system ravaging, AIDS-like viruses, along with other Litton Bionetics researchers.

According to Horowitz, AIDS was invented at Fort Detrick and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research by protégés of the Nazi eugenics scientists brought to the US after World War II.

The purpose of AIDS, Horowitz claimed, was to reduce the numbers of blacks, gays, Hispanics and Jews in the world in line with a 1974 memo by Dr Henry Kissinger, then US National Security Adviser ~ “Depopulation should be the highest priority of US foreign policy towards the Third World. Reduction of the rate of population in these States is a matter of vital US national security. The US economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals from abroad, especially less developed countries.”

By the time SARS struck, due to its short presence on a global scale, its role in conspiracy theories kept on shifting. SARS was created to kill the elderly, the Chinese, and eventually everyone.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, theories attempting to explain the origin of the disease ranged from the comic to the bizarre: a deadly germ escaped from a secret CIA laboratory; God sent the plague down to punish homosexuals and drug addicts; it came from outer space, riding on the tail of a comet.

Today, the official line traces HIV to a population of African apes that were infected with a similar virus, which somehow jumped the normal “species barrier” to attack human beings.

What remained unexplained was how a mutated simian disease suffered by heterosexual black Africans spanned the Atlantic in the 1970s to infect predominantly gay, Caucasian victims in North America. Quite naturally, such gaps in medical knowledge feed sinister speculation and conspiracy theories.

But the existence of conspiracy theories does not mean that countries never use pathogens as bio-weapons. The practice of sending infected individuals into enemy territory was known more than three thousand years ago among the Hittites; “Poison Maidens” were sent to assassinate Alexander the Great and other military commanders; Roman historians decried “man-made pestilence”; archers in antiquity created toxic projectiles with snake venoms, poison plants, and bacteriological substances. Contaminating an enemy’s water and food supplies or forcing foes to camp in mosquito-infested marshes has been considered as strategically legitimate.

Nineteenth-century activists claimed that the smallpox vaccine contained “poison of adders, the blood, entrails, and excretion of bats, toads and suckling whelps” and fought for their right to remain “pure and unpolluted.” Even during Covid-19 we hear murmurs of a vast international conspiracy to trump up the dangers of unknown diseases so that vaccines can ensure profits for Big Pharma and the government without highlighting the side effects.

We will perhaps never know the game at play, if at all. But the psychological drama unfolding around Covid-19 is that it comes with a body count. Perhaps the biggest conspiracy theory is playing out right inside our mind in the shape of a new paranoia. Everybody is suspecting everybody to exist as a viral bomb.

Almost anything that is susceptible to human contact is looked at with suspicion which, till the other day, was considered too benign to pose a threat to our immune system.

Today the novel cornoravirus is proving itself to be a civilisational enemy because it is militating against touch, a common form of human communication. Could there be a grander conspiracy than this? The new virus has forced us to take a very different view of the body ~ not as a well-ordered machine, but as the site of an ongoing conflict at the cellular level, which ends in death. Until our body learns to mount a pitched battle against it, or fails us the conspiracy theory will win because, as of now, the fight is not against China or America but against the disease.