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Medical experts refute novel coronavirus rumors

By Zheng Qi (People's Daily Online)    08:46, February 19, 2020

Medical experts have worked hard to dispel rumors surrounding the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic in China, there have been various conspiracy theories regarding the source of the novel coronavirus, which have confused the general public, who lack the relevant medical knowledge.

Trevor Bedford, a researcher with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, categorically denied the persistent stories that the epidemic was started by a genetically engineered virus, the Financial Times reported recently.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever of genetic engineering that we can find,” Bedford told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle. “The evidence we have is that the mutations (in the virus) are completely consistent with natural evolution.”

The source of the rumors was a paper posted by Indian scientists, claiming the short insertions in the viral genome were similar to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

According to Bedford, the research was “wrong on many levels.” The genes it (the novel coronavirus) shares with HIV are extremely short sequences naturally shared by other organisms, he explained.

In addition to medical experts, media outlets have also disseminated knowledge about the virus to the public using simpler terms. On The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Chinese Malaysian comedian and actor Ronny Chieng criticized the misinformation and racism surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

He told the audience that it is wrong to claim that drinking bleach, eating garlic, and rinsing your nose with saline solution help prevent the virus, and asked people to stop thinking of the virus as an Asian virus and stereotyping Asian people. The show has been watched by 960,000 viewers and liked by 23,000 viewers as of press time.

In the face of unknown viruses, people often feel anxious and helpless, and the demand for information rises sharply. This has created a market for various rumors and conspiracy theories, according to Dr. Cheng Huang, an associate professor in the Department of Global Health at George Washington University.

Boston’s Chinatown has been severely affected by the rumors, seeing a significant decline in business. To combat the rumors, Boston has launched a social media campaign that encourages residents and tourists to patronize small businesses in Chinatown, and posts photos on the Internet under the tag "Love Boston Chinatown." To show their support, several city councilors have also patronized Chinatown shops.

Currently, false information about the novel coronavirus pneumonia epidemic is spreading, which is not helping the world make an effective response, Professor and Director of Georgetown University's Center for Global Health Science and Security Rebecca Katz told People’s Daily, adding that the world needs to fight the spread of misinformation, and authoritative public health officials should provide reliable information on a daily basis.

The rumors and conspiracy theories have diverted the public's focus from epidemic prevention, and established an imaginary enemy for the people, making them forget that the virus we are fighting against is the enemy of all mankind, Huang said. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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