If you Google the name ‘Maatje Benassi’, you’ll find entry after entry containing the same phrase: coronavirus patient zero.
The mother of two and United States Army reservist has unwittingly found herself at the centre of a major COVID-19 conspiracy theory.
Posts on Reddit, YouTube, social media and a host of other sites, falsely accuse Benassi starting the pandemic, which has so far infected more than 2.8 million people worldwide.
Why? Ask a vlogger named George Webb.
In a video posted to his YouTube channel (to which he has 98,000 subscribers), Webb alleged — without any concrete evidence — that Benassi took the virus to Wuhan when she attended the World Military Games there in October 2019.
His accusation is rooted in a baseless conspiracy theory that the U.S. military manufactured and deliberately released the novel coronavirus into China to cripple its economy.
There is currently no conclusive evidence about the origins of the novel coronavirus, which was first detected among workers and shoppers at a wet market in Wuhan in late 2019.
But as Professor Nigel McMillan, Director in Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Menzies Health Institute Queensland said, “All evidence so far points to the fact the COVID-19 virus [SARS-CoV-2] is naturally derived and not man-made.”
‘A nightmare, day after day.’
Benassi, a civilian security officer at the U.S. Army’s Fort Belvoir in Virginia, did compete in a cycling event at the games in Wuhan, but told CNN Business she has never been diagnosed with COVID-19 or experienced any symptoms.
Since Webb plucked her name from among the American competitors, his utterly false allegations have spread across YouTube, forums and social media, and have even been amplified by state-run media in China.