Vijaya Laxmi Tripura
A video clip is creating buzz in the social media, claiming a professor of Harvard University has been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for collaborating with China in creating coronavirus. But this newspaper has independently investigated the matter and found the rumor was spread by India Today, an Indian news journal, which has extreme intimacy with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to an India Today report, a message with a video clip is circulating on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp claiming that the US authorities have arrested Dr. Charles Lieber, a Harvard professor, for ‘creating coronavirus and selling it to China’.
Facebook users like ‘Alex Alvarez’ and ‘Meera Singh’ have posted the video – a clipping of US news channel ‘WCVB’ – with the caption, ‘USA just discovered the man who manufactured and sold the #coronavirus to #China. Dr #CharlesLieber, head of the chemistry and biology department at #HarvardUniversity, USA. He was just arrested today according to American department sources’.
The claim has gone viral on Facebook and Twitter.
In January, Harvard professor Charles Lieber was charged with lying to US federal authorities about payments he allegedly received from Wuhan University of Technology and concealing his participation in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a state-run program that recruits elite scientific talent.
Given that the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, however, Lieber’s apparent connections to the Chinese city quickly sparked internet rumors that he had in fact been arrested on suspicion of playing a part in manufacturing the virus.
In a statement, the state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology said “internet rumors” had “received close attention from all walks of life” and “caused great harm to our research staff on the front line of scientific research”.
It said its staff had been working around the clock since the end of 2019 to trace the source of the coronavirus and improve detection rates, but the conspiracies had “seriously interfered” with their efforts.
The institute has been accused of “artificially synthesizing” the coronavirus in one of its laboratories, it said. It also referred to other claims circulating online that the “patient zero” in the current outbreak was a graduate student from the institute, and that one of its researchers had also died after the virus “leaked”.
Conspiracy theories often prosper during epidemics, and have sprung up during recent outbreaks of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), avian flu and Ebola, said Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney.
“If there is an infectious disease lab in a city where an outbreak starts, it usually gets the blame.”
Many of the rumors circulated domestically and overseas claim the coronavirus was engineered by local scientists and leaked, deliberately or by accident, in Wuhan where the virus was first detected and is the epicenter of the epidemic.
A team of 27 scientists published a statement in the Lancet medical journal condemning the conspiracy theories, which “do nothing but create fear, rumors and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.”
They said scientists from around the world “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife”. The current consensus is that it emerged from a seafood market in Wuhan that also sold exotic wild animal products.
China usually cracks down heavily on “rumors”, and it even arrested Li Wenliang, a doctor who first disclosed the existence of a SARS-like disease in Wuhan at the end of last year and subsequently became its most prominent casualty.
But it has been unable to silence the vast number of outlandish claims circulating on social media channels.
Shanghai government newspaper Liberation Daily had published a regular round-up of misinformation, including allegations that large numbers of infected patients are coming to the city for treatment, and a claim the virus can be cured by strong curry.
A video is making a lot of buzz which claims that the US has found the man who made and sold coronavirus to China. Doctor Charles Lieber, a Harvard professor, was blamed in the video for sending the coronavirus which has become humanity’s greatest tragedy since the second world war.
However, it turns out, that the video is fake and old and BLiTz confirmed the video’s veracity was before on January 29.
Lieber is a nanoscientist, who develops small or nanomaterials. He heads Harvard University’s Chemistry and Biology department and has been affiliated with the university since 1991.
The doctor was arrested, but not on April 5 as claimed in the video but this January.
He has been charged not for coronavirus, but for aiding China in a case of financial conflict of interest.
In China, there is an assistance program called “Thousand Talent Plans” for aiding foreign experts, who bring knowledge to the country.
Reportedly, the program also rewards individuals who steal proprietary information.
The complaint against Lieber says that he lied to Harvard and the government about his involvement with the Talents Plan. It says that Lieber was associated with the program from at least 2012 to 2017. His contract included a salary as high as $5000 a month, living expenses of nearly $150,000 per year and another $1.5 million for the establishment of a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Technology.
It may be mentioned here that, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been making frantic bids in putting the accusation on China for spreading Coronavirus, clearly with the agenda of putting Beijing on odds as well as sabotaging President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a brainchild of the Chinese leader, which will connect Asian nations with Europe, Africa and beyond. India considers BRI as a threat to its ambition of emerging as regional superpower.