explainer

How to have a conversation with someone who thinks the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax.

For many readers, the sheer premise of this article might seem ridiculous. 

But it's becoming harder and harder to ignore the very loud minority that believe the pandemic that's infected 19 million people worldwide, killing 710,000 - including 255 in Australia - is a hoax.

There are a small number of people who wholeheartedly think COVID-19 is a 'scamdemic' that has been conjured up by the world's governments to control us. They're in groups all over the internet, and they're getting sucked deeper and deeper into rabbit holes that 'explain' the reasons behind the conspiracy. 

In this article, we're going to debunk the COVID-19 misinformation theories that are being shared right now, to give you the arsenal you need to have a conversation with a loved one or friend who just won't let these bizarre - not to mention dangerous - explanations go. 

WATCH: Thank you to masks. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia

First, it's important to consider why your mum/uncle/best friend might be buying into these conspiracy theories. 

The marriage of pandemics and conspiracies actually have a long history together, and as Chris Fleming, Associate Professor at the School of Humanities at Western Sydney University and author of Modern Conspiracy: The Importance of Being Paranoid, told the ABC, "there's a sense of inevitability about this stuff". 

For example, in the 14th century the Black Death killed tens of millions of people. It also led to the persecution of the Jews, who were blamed for the plague. Why? They needed a scapegoat to explain the tragedy. 

When something terrifying is happening that's difficult to process and explain, we naturally feel the need for answers. As humans, it seems we're determined to find a "reason", even when there isn't one.  

ADVERTISEMENT

"People want to believe these conspiracy theories largely out of fear and distrust," Dr Darren Saunders, Associate Professor of Medical Sciences at the University of NSW told Mamamia's news podcast The Quicky.

"There's such a complex thing going on and there's a lot of disorder and chaos. Sometimes we're psychologically primed to want to believe more simplistic ideas about what's going on.

LISTEN: To Dr Saunders' chat in full. Post continues after podcast.

"By believing in these wacky ideas, it can make people feel better. Like they're in on the secret and they're really the only ones that know what's going on. It makes them feel a little more clever than the people around them," he added.

But Dr Saunders says simply laughing at those in our lives and spluttering something along the lines of, "because it's just real, okay!?" isn't going to get you far. 

In fact, it might actually make them tighten their grip on their beliefs.

So, let's get into the theories that are floating around and give you some hard evidence to... gently debunk them.

"The pandemic is a government plot to control us."

This is the theory fuelling a "March For Freedom" protest that's being planned for Melbourne CBD this Sunday, which police are calling a blatant breach of COVID-19 rules put in place to protect us.

Firstly, control what? For what purpose? 

The coronavirus pandemic doesn't have a clear advantage for the government. COVID-19 has placed us in the worst economic recession since The Great Depression. 

By closing down our economy and asking us to stay at home to stop the spread, the government has lost money. Lots of money.

Coronavirus is as bad for Morrison as it is for the rest of us. No one is having a good time right now. Image: Getty. 

The Morrison government is now $850 billion in debt, a deficit that will take us a decade to repay. 

It means they can't spend money on a lot of the things they promised during the election, to make us keep voting for them. (Because remember, in a democracy the people have the authority. They're only there because we voted them there...and we can vote them - and their supposed plot - out.)

Instead, they're just going to be putting out fires, and continuing to plug gaping holes in the economy to keep our country afloat. Our Prime Minister can't even go on a sneaky little holiday right now without being asked why the hell he isn't focused on stopping the pandemic. There is nothing economically, personally or politically positive about COVID-19. 

ADVERTISEMENT

One of the major pieces of evidence being used to prove this theory is the fact that hospitals are "empty," and therefore the number of deaths and infections are being deliberately falsified to scare us into submission. 

Videos have flooded social media under the hashtag #FilmYourHospital to show that the "pandemic is not as out of control as we're being told." 

But the reason hospital carparks are empty is because in those areas still under threat from coronavirus (like Melbourne) the hospitals aren't allowing visitors, there's no non-essential employees, and elective procedures are cancelled. They are empty because we've deliberately made them empty.

"Even if you’re recording in a hospital foyer, I'd expect it to be empty. All the action is happening in the Emergency Department and in the Intensive Care Unit, where medical staff limit access to the public because of patient privacy, confidentiality, and infection control," GP Dr Brad McKay told Mamamia.

And again, if it's a "government plot" does that mean all of the doctors, nurses, police officers, epidemiologists, and those who have had/have lost people to coronavirus - are all part of the plot too?

I don't think our nurses and doctors risking their lives, pulling huge shifts and being forcibly quarantined away from their families would be thrilled with how the plan is going so far. Image: Getty.

When it comes to the theory that the world's governments are working together on one big mega plot, there's also significant evidence to the contrary: every single country has responded to the virus in a different way. Whether it be the exact nature of the restrictions, or economic and social initiatives, there's no unified approach here. 

"Bill Gates has an evil plan to use mass vaccinations to implant microchips into us to track our movements." 

ADVERTISEMENT

During a TEDTalk in 2015, Bill Gates predicted, "if anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles but microbes."

In February 2020, his foundation donated $100 million to help fight COVID-19, and Gates repurposed all the work he's been doing into diseases in general to focus solely on the race for a vaccine. 

Gates is helping to find a cure for coronavirus, sure. But he is in no way the person in charge of their worldwide development. 

Bill Gates' connection to a vaccine isn't as simple as we think. Image: Indraneel Chowdhury/NurPhoto/Getty

He might be rich and influential, but he doesn't run a pharmaceutical company, or a biotech firm, who are the ones who will play a part in getting a vaccine from development into our bloodstreams.

There are also 140 potential vaccines being tested globally right now, including here in Australia. So there are plenty of other cooks in this game - it's not just Gates. 

Many claim the microchip will in fact be inside the syringe itself. But again, that's not Gates' job. He doesn't make or distribute syringes. Most countries in fact, will probably either make or supply their own.

As Dr McKay adds, it's also simply impossible. 

"Microchips are small, but still about the size of a grain of rice using current technology. Vaccines are injected using small needles, and a microchip just isn’t going to fit through," he told Mamamia.

ADVERTISEMENT

"A typical injecting needle used for immunisations is a 24 Gauge. This needle has an inner diameter of 0.311mm where fluid easily passes through, but a solid object with a diameter of 2mm will be more than six times larger than the hole it’s trying to get through."

Another version of this theory is that the nasal swabs used to test for COVID-19 are being used to implement microchips.

AFP Fact Check, the world's leading fact checking organisation, says this theory has no basis whatsoever in fact. BBC, Reuters and Fullfact are among dozens of other organisations to fact check these claims, and all have determined they are entirely false.

Then there's the mutation of this theory that if you've "ever been injected with a flu vaccine, you were injected with coronaviruses," which was a claim made in the 26-minute conspiracy theory documentary Plandemic

But the flu shot protects against influenza, not coronavirus. There are currently no human coronavirus vaccines, hence why it's such a big deal that we're trying to make one. 

Likewise, getting a flu shot will not cause you to test positive to the coronavirus. If the coronavirus was a dormant virus in our bodies, the COVID-19 test would show it. This means that if this theory was true, there would be no negative COVID-19 test results from anyone who has ever had the flu shot.

"The virus is caused by 5G radiation."

There has been an anti-5G movement bubbling away long before the coronavirus pandemic, with people worried about "5G poisoning".

In fact some groups go as far as to suggest that every major health pandemic in the last century has been linked to increases in radio waves from telecommunications – from the Spanish flu in 1918 to SARS in 2003. (For clarity's sake: they are completely unrelated.)

5G is the new and improved 4G, and uses millimetre waves on a higher frequency than we've used before, hence the need for a bunch of new antennas which are being built around the world.

Anti-5Gers used to focus on the fear it would lead to cancer, but now that fear appears to have moved to the virus and the belief that the symptoms are a result of radiation. 

READ: For a debunking of the whole cancer theory, we've got you covered.

The myth supposedly gained traction after a Belgian doctor linked the "dangers" of 5G technology to the virus during an interview in January. The article has since been deleted. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The comments weren't actually based in any scientific fact, and have since been debunked by scientists and medical professionals all around the world.

This is a Berlin 5G tower. Only 34 countries have installed them as of yet. Image:  Christoph Dernbach/picture alliance/Getty

"There is very good evidence that the virus exists. We've isolated the virus multiple times from different patients. We've even got the genome sequence from the virus. We can even grow the virus in the lab, and use bits of the virus to make the vaccine - so there's lots of very, very good evidence that the virus exists. To say that it doesn't exist and that it's caused by some sort of 5G radiation, would also have you believe that all of the scientists and public health officials and people like me have bought into this same conspiracy which is a little hard to get your head around," Dr Darren Saunders told Mamamia.

This theory can also be debunked by the fact that 5G currently only exists in 34 countries. The coronavirus has infected 213 countries and territories around the world, as you can explore here.

"The mainstream media is working together to spread fear amongst the community."

We at Mamamia are considered a part of the mainstream media. 

Do you know what makes us part of that 'club'? We are held to a professional journalistic standard and a code of ethics. For example, we are not allowed to report information that doesn't have a basis in fact, and if we write a story that has a personal or financial benefit - we have to disclose that.

We are in fact the opposite of "fake news." It's part of our job to be truthful, honest and transparent. 

Also, we don't have any association with any other media organisations. We are completely separate companies, with different audiences, goals and teams. There's no Monday morning huddle where we decide how we're going to deceive the Australian public of today. 

We promise. 

Feature image: Getty.

00:00 / ???