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CORONAVIRUS – Debunking the Conspiracy Rumors

It’s quarantine days. Things are not so different for me; I am almost always home, quarantine or not. But for most others, this lock-down has severely impacted their social lives. And they are not happy. In the midst of sitting at home doing nothing, many are now glued to their phones, hooked on to social media and the vast amount of content that it generates. One that I found most hilarious is ‘the conspiracy theory’ triggered by a Korean TV series!

I was vastly amused when Sree showed me the clip. The video was approximately three minutes long. It showed a man pinpointing to a Korean TV series on Netflix, My Secret Terrius – an attempt to establish that he is not making this up. He then plays a specific episode and forwards the video to a scene where the actors are discussing the coronavirus. Incidentally, there are a number of parallels between what the show reveals and what is actually going on today. For instance, this is a quote from the footage – “the coronavirus has an incubation period of 2 – 14 days". 14 days is in fact the quarantine duration advocated today by the experts. Now this would seem entirely commonplace, except that My Secret Terrius was out in 2018, around two years before today.

How would a show that was out in 2018 know of a novel virus that would affect the earth in 2020? And this is the subject of the day. Everyone’s sharing the video clip across Twitter and WhatsApp and Facebook and commenting and discussing and debating about it. The most common sentiment that I came across – the Chinese must have known about the coronavirus by 2018 because they developed it! Enter conspiracy theories on bio-warfare.

This theory is wrong on so many levels that I cannot even begin to explain. But I’ll try. Let’s begin with this – the virus was first observed in patients in Wuhan, China; the TV series is Korean, Yes, they are both Asian. But different countries, people!

Next – and please pay attention, because this is important – the entire globe (at least, the well-read) knew about the coronavirus since even before 2018. How come? Because coronavirus isn’t a new deal. Coronavirus is the name given to a group of viruses, not one single kind. And here is where things get technical. Bear with me.

Remember the SARS epidemic in 2003? That was caused by a coronavirus too. There are many coronaviruses. Scientists know of coronaviruses that affect pigs and rabbits and birds and bats… all different ones. The current 2020 outbreak is caused by a specific coronavirus that the science guys have dubbed ‘2019-nCoV’; ‘n’ stands for novel and ‘CoV’ is coronavirus. 2019-nCoV is new, Coronavirus is not. 2019-nCoV causes COVID-19 (corona virus disease 2019), the pandemic that we are now encountering.

So, when the Korean series talks about “coronavirus”, they are discussing a mutant variety of coronavirus that, interestingly enough, causes a condition quite similar to COVID-19. Every detail is not consistent though. For instance, the mortality rate caused by the coronavirus in My Secret Terrius was mentioned as 90 percent. Fortunately, in the current pandemic, the number is nowhere close.

What you must appreciate here is the beauty of Science Fiction. Sci-Fi writers know and understand scientific concepts. For example, they know of the existence of Coronavirus and they know of its characteristics. They extrapolate this knowledge to a conceivable reality that impresses their audience. In My Secret Terrius, the plot involved the generation of a mutant class of lethal coronaviruses as a bio-weapon. That’s just fiction.

In reality, nature conceived the 2019-nCoV by a series of random genetic mutations and the mutant virus inadvertently encountered a human body where it could thrive and replicate; it also had the potential to transmit itself to other human beings that it came in contact with and infect those bodies. What’s occurred is a random string of biological events, and that has led to this catastrophe. For those who are not yet convinced, virology experts have analysed the genome of 2019-nCoV and have concluded that this virus arose from natural evolution and was not engineered in a lab. So, there.

For these reasons, and for the fact that it is simply absurd, can we stop with conspiracy theory and the blame games and just focus on staying safe, living healthy and being kind? Try.

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