Coronavirus and the plague: The disease of viral conspiracy theories, Health, DW

Coronavirus and the plague: The disease of viral conspiracy theories


As countless coronavirus rumors circulate online, DW takes a look at some of history’s biggest conspiracy theories during pandemics.

Contrary to what you might have heard, the novel coronavirus was not developed in a Chinese or US military lab. Albanians are not genetically immune to the virus. And Bulgarian Prime Minster Bojko Borissov does not have a mystical aura that protects him from contracting COVID-19 — even if a fortune teller has claimed so on national television.

Countless unsubstantiated coronavirus claims have been circulating lately, ranging from the entertainingly absurd to the shockingly outlandish. YouTuber Dana Ashlie, for example, recently posted videos online to explain what she claimed was the real reason behind the virus outbreak. Ashlie, who has hundreds of thousands of YouTube and Facebook followers, claimed that COVID-19 emerged because 5G mobile technology was rolled out in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the center of the outbreak.

How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

Food donations drop

Panic-buying has left empty shelves in supermarkets — and food banks. With Germans snapping up canned goods and toilet paper to weather the outbreak, stores have fewer supplies left over to donate to the needy, said Jochen Brühl, head of Tafel Deutschland, which supports more than 1.5 million people with surplus groceries and other donations. Brühl encouraged those who had overreacted to donate.

How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

Bundesliga suspended

After playing one match behind closed doors, the Bundesliga has suspended its season until at least April 2. The Germany football league had considered playing matches behind closed doors until Paderborn’s coach Steffen Baumgart and defender Luca Kilian tested positive for COVID-19.

How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

Cultural cancellations

Cultural life has also taken a hit, with major fairs and trade shows canceled or postponed. Among the casualties were the Leipzig Book Fair and the Musikmesse Frankfurt, Europe’s biggest music trade fair. Numerous clubs, galleries and museums have closed across the country, and the gala award show for the annual German film and television award, the Goldene Kamera, has been moved to November.

How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

Not the ‘Wuhan flu’

The Chinese origin of the virus has led to an increase in xenophobic sentiment in the places worst hit by the outbreak. Asian restaurants and stores — not just Chinese — have reported empty tables in countries hard hit by the pandemic, and people with Asian features have experienced discrimination. At a recent Bundesliga game in Leipzig, a group of Japanese fans was ejected from the stadium.

How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

Flights grounded

German airline Lufthansa has massively reduced its flight capacity as business and personal travel is cut back. The flagship carrier is now seeking state aid, according to a report from Germany business newspaper Handelsblatt. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr will be attending a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to government sources.

How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

Car production crippled

Car plants in China have been shut down since January, and major German automakers like Volkswagen and Daimler have said both sales and production have been hit by the epidemic. And with many automakers sourcing electric car parts from China, work at plants in Germany has also hit a stumbling block. Berlin has said it plans to financially support companies suffering coronavirus losses.

How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

Fewer tourists

«The consequences for the German tourism sector are serious,» warned Guido Zöllick, head of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association. Already by the second week of March, 76.1% of members had reported a sharp decrease in bookings and a drop in revenue. The German parliament has banned tourists from visiting the glass dome of the Reichstag building until further notice.

How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

Border checks

In an effort to prevent further spread, Germany has closed its borders with France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark. Authorities in Poland and the Czech Republic had already begun spot checks, measuring the temperature of travelers crossing main road borders out of Germany.

How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

School closures

Preschools and primary schools across Germany have shut. The closures have affected more than 2.2 million children up to age 16 countrywide, according to Germany’s Federal Statistical Office. German television stations have adjusted their programming in response to the school closures.

Author: Martin Kuebler

With COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2, dominating the headlines, it is hardly surprising that coronavirus misinformation is on the rise. That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a dedicated website to dispel unsubstantiated claims about coronavirus cures and how the pathogen spreads.

Long history of conspiracy theories

Historically, the outbreak of pandemics has always been accompanied by the dissemination of rumors and conspiracy theories.

But what, exactly, defines the latter? Professor Michael Butter, who teaches at the University of Tübingen, says conspiracy theories tend to claim that a group is clandestinely plotting to control and destroy an institution, a country or the entire world.

The Black Death

In the 14th century, when the plague ravaged Europe, nobody knew how the illness had originated. Soon after, unfounded rumors surfaced that Jews caused the outbreak by poisoning wells in a bid to control the world. Jewish people were accused of being behind the plague — and were subjected to deadly pogroms and forcefully displaced.

‘Spanish flu’: Patients in Fort Riley, Kansas (USA), in 1918

1918 influenza pandemic

Between 1918-1920, the so-called Spanish flu killed between 25 and 50 million people — making it more lethal than World War I, which ended the same year the influenza pandemic began. As the origins of the virus outbreak remained a mystery until the 1930s, some people believed the pathogen had been developed by the German army to use as a weapon.

East Germany’s beetle infestation

When a Colorado potato beetle infestation in 1950 threatened to wipe out all of East Germany’s potato crops, the country’s socialist leadership was quick to blame the US. In an attempt to distract from its own failures, East Germany accused the US of having orchestrated the beetle infestation to sabotage its economy.

Operation Detrick

The onset of the AIDS epidemic in the US during the 1980s was accompanied by an elaborate Soviet disinformation campaign. In 1983, the Soviet secret service KGB spread the rumor that the US had developed AIDS at Fort Detrick as a biological weapon and tested it on prison inmates, ethnic minorities and gay people. It also claimed the US was deliberately deflecting blame by saying the disease had originated on the African continent.

In 1985, Russian-born German biology professor Jakob Segal even published a pseudo-scientific study to back up the conspiracy theory. And even though many biologists and medical experts dismissed the unfounded claims as nonsense, the conspiracy theory remains popular today.

Ticks getting under the skin of conspiracy theorists?

Once again, the US is blamed

By the mid-1990s the Soviet Union had collapsed, and national health agencies had largely gotten the AIDS outbreak under control. At this time, however, Africa experienced a major Ebola outbreak. Many conspiracy theorists who had falsely claimed AIDS was created in US military labs, now claimed the Ebola virus was a bio-weapon developed by the US or Great Britain.

Another conspiracy theory in the US military and ticks. In 2019, Republican Congressman Chris Smith called on the Pentagon to release classified documents about a supposed weaponized ticks program. Smith referred to a recent book that claimed the program, which supposedly ran between 1950 and 1975, had allowed the tick-borne Lyme disease to get out of control.

Digital age amplifies misinformation

A whole host of diseases has been blamed on secret US biological weapons programs. Although some conspiracy theorists have suggested that COVID-19 is an artificially engineered Chinese bioweapon.

These, and other conspiracy theories, however, rely on arguments that are never weighted in evidence. The conspiracies tend to emerge in the early stages of a pandemic — when little is known about a pathogen’s origin and spread.

The digital revolution, meanwhile, has amplified the dissemination of rumors and disinformation. Online posts are shared much quicker on social media and through messenger apps than any medical or health authority can refute them. The digital age has allowed conspiracy theories to go viral.

COVID-19 can only be contained by studying it scientifically, practicing good hygiene and ensuring those infected receive adequate medical treatment. Similarly, education and media literacy, as well as good mental health, should be promoted to be in line with how we consume information in the digital age.

Some online trolls have even suggested downing a Corona beer to combat irrational coronavirus-related fears. While this has not been proven to help, it may provide a soothing effect in the meantime.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Empty chairs a warning from restaurant owners

Gastronomes have set up empty chairs in central locations in Germany, such as here in Düsseldorf, to draw attention to their situation in the coronavirus crisis. «Without direct financial aid, most of our businesses will not survive,» says Guido Zöllick, President of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association. «Suppliers and partners are also increasingly being drawn deeper into economic crisis.»

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Travel between Austria and Germany will soon be possible again

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is confident that the border between Austria and Germany will soon be opened again for tourists. Both countries are on the right track in containing the spread of the coronavirus, Kurz told ARD television on Wednesday (April 22). This is the precondition for a revival of tourism. He did not name an exact date for the opening of borders.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Not a normal holiday season this summer

«A normal holiday season with crowded beach bars and busy mountain huts will not be possible this summer. That would be unacceptable,» German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday (April 21). However, he did not rule out the possibility that borders for tourists could be reopened before the summer and that holiday travel with certain restrictions might be possible.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

The Oktoberfest in Munich has been cancelled

The Oktoberfest has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bavaria’s premier Markus Söder and Munich’s mayor Dieter Reiter announced the decision on Tuesday (April 21). «It pains us, and it is a great pity», said Söder. But in times of the coronavirus, the danger of infection at the folk festival, which attracts about six million visitors annually, would just be too great.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Schleswig-Holstein hopes for summer tourism

The Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein, Daniel Günther, hopes that tourism on the North and Baltic Seas will be revived in the summer. Despite the coronavirus crisis, he «definitely did not write off the summer tourism business,» he said on April 19. While they are now proscribed, stays in secondary residences, holiday homes and finally hotels could be made possible again in three steps.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Poor outlook for tourism

The government resolutions (April 15th) stipulate that people in Germany should continue to refrain from making private trips. The worldwide travel warning is to be upheld. Accommodation offers are only available for necessary and explicitly non-touristic purposes. Restaurants will also remain closed. Tourism is one of the industries that has been hit hardest in the coronavirus crisis.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

US entry ban from Europe to remain in place for the time being

The entry ban imposed by the USA on foreign nationals from Europe will remain in place for the time being. Italy and Spain are still struggling with the coronavirus crisis and France has just extended measures to contain infections by the virus, US President Donald Trump said on Monday (April 13). The entry ban will remain in force until the countries show signs of improvement, Trump said.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Mallorca worried about the summer

Hotels, cafes and souvenir shops are closed. It is unusually empty outside the Royal Palace in Palma (picture). The Easter season on the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca has been cancelled. The Majorcan hotel association now fears that due to the uncertain situation in the main markets of Germany and Great Britain, some hotels will remain closed even during the peak season.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

More Germans brought back from abroad

By Sunday (April, 5) 205,000 travelers had been brought back to Germany, according to the federal government. Airplanes from Peru and Colombia were the most recent to take off. More than 40,000 Germans however are still stranded abroad. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter. «We will continue our efforts to find solutions for the travelers who have not yet been able to return.»

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

New Zealand lets tourists leave

Thousands of foreigners stranded in New Zealand because of the coronavirus crisis will be able to leave the Pacific state from Friday (April 3). On Thursday, the New Zealand government announced that it would allow the «safe and orderly departure of tens of thousands» of stranded people. Earlier it had stopped return flights by foreign governments.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

A symbol of hope

A light installation on the Matterhorn in Switzerland is giving a sign of solidarity and hope in the fight against the corona virus. Encouraging messages are also being projected on to many other tourist landmarks around the world. «Stay safe», «Stay at home» could be see on Monday evening on the Great Pyramid in Giza near the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Repatriation mission will take at least two more weeks

The repatriation process for Germans stranded abroad is ongoing. Until now, main destinations such as Egypt or Morocco have been addressed. «It will be more difficult with countries that only have small groups of scattered adventure vacationers,» said the crisis manager of the German Foreign Office. Tourists in the Pacific Islands must first be rounded up in New Zealand and then flown out.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Thailand closes its borders

After long delays Thailand closed its borders on Thursday (March 26). The authorities had delayed the decision for a long time to safeguard the tourism sector. Now tens of thousands of tourists are stuck in the Southeast Asian tourist country. The German government has so far not organized a repatriation for German tourists, as Thailand is not considered a risk region.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Huge repatrition drive

The German foreign ministry announced on Wednesday (March 25) that, together with tour operators, it had brought back more than 150,000 Germans from abroad. Tour operator TUI added that almost 95 percent of the tourists who were stranded because of the coronavirus pandemic are now back in Germany. They were mainly flown out from Egypt, Spain, Portugal and the Cape Verde Islands.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Travel warning extended

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said that the warning against traveling abroad will remain in effect until the end of April. «This includes the Easter holidays,» he said on Twitter. «Stay at home! Protect yourself and your fellow human beings,» he appealed to the population. Many tour operators have also extended their travel ban until the end of April.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

EU pays for return to Europe

The EU Commission is supporting the return to Europe of tens of thousands of long-distance travellers. It intends to cover a large part of the costs, since most of the flight connections have been cancelled. «We are here to help them return,» Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a video message.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Africa’s measures to deal with the pandemic

African countries have also ordered numerous measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. South Africa, for example, has banned access to the country for people coming from risk areas. Nigeria is monitoring the temperature of travelers at airports, ports and borders. Cameroon has closed its borders indefinitely.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Australia bans foreign travel

The Australian government has imposed an indefinite ban on all foreign travel by its citizens. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also called on all Australians who are abroad to return home. A 14-day compulsory quarantine for all people entering the country has already been in place for some time. Here, too, it has become quiet in the cities.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Tourism in Germany comes to a halt

The coronavirus crisis is impacting travelers and the tourism industry with full force. Several tour operators, including TUI, has cancelled trips, and some airlines are shutting down. Germany’s federal and state governments decided that overnight stays should only be used for «necessary and explicitly not for touristic purposes». Germans are to «no longer take holiday trips at home and abroad».

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

EU external borders closed

The EU has closed its entire external borders for 30 days as from Tuesday (March 17, 2020). «All travel between non-European countries and the European Union will be suspended for 30 days,» French President Macron said in a television address on Monday (March 16,2020) evening. The Schengen Area, which includes several non-EU countries, has also closed its external borders.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Germany brings travelers back home

More and more countries are sealing their borders, and many flights are cancelled. With special flights Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings want to bring up to 6,500 stranded holidaymakers from the Caribbean, the Canary Islands and on Mallorca back to Germany. In Morocco, the German government is assisting German tourists who are stranded there due to their return flights being cancelled.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Germany partially closes its borders to tourists

On Monday morning (March 16, 2020), Germany introduced entry controls at the borders with the five neighboring countries: France, Denmark, Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland. Border crossings will be reduced to what is strictly necessary. Goods can continue to pass through, including commuters, but not travelers without good reason. The duration of the measures remains open.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

North German islands closed for tourists

Whether Spiekeroog, Sylt or Rügen: Vacation on the northern German islands in the North and Baltic Sea is no longer possible as of March 16, 2020. Those who had already moved into their accommodation have been asked to return home. The health systems of the islands are not equipped to deal with large numbers of infected people. Regulations are to follow for mainland tourism.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Disneyland Paris closes

Disneyland Paris and Disney World Florida have closed until the end of the month. Disney Cruise Line have also suspended all new departure through the same period. The company said the decision was made «with great caution» to protect guests and employees. The company said the parks in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai, which had already been closed, will also remain shut.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Austrian ski regions end season early

All ski areas in the Austrian provinces of Salzburg and Tyrol are ending the winter season early. Cable car operation will be discontinued as of Sunday (March 15, 2020). Hotels and accommodations will be closed from Monday. The provincial governments said that this should slow down the spread of the virus in the Alpine country. The two provinces account for most leading Austrian ski areas.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

USA: Entry ban for Europeans

Due to the spread of the coronavirus, the USA is imposing a general 30-day travel ban on people from Europe. The entry ban comes into force on Friday (March 13, 2020) at midnight (local time). It does not apply to US citizens residing in Europe who have tested negative for the pathogen.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

India imposes entry ban

India has declared all tourist visas invalid for 1 month because of the corona virus. Only travelers who are already in the country are allowed to stay, the Indian Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday (March 11, 2020). The entry ban is to last until April 15 for the time being.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

China closes access to Mount Everest

Climbing Mount Everest via the north side has been forbidden by Chinese authorities. The necessary permits for expeditions to the world’s highest mountain were withdrawn on Thursday (March 12, 2020).

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Italy increasingly sealed off

In order to reduce the spread, the border into neighboring Austria can only be crossed from Italy with a medical certificate. Slovenia has closed its border, and Albania has banned Italian air and ferry traffic. Many airlines have cancelled flights to Italy until at least 3 April. Germany, the UK, and Ireland tightened travel recommendations and called on their citizens to leave.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Mediterranean cruises put on hold

The Costa Crociere shipping company is cancelling all cruises in the Mediterranean for the time being. The cruises will be suspended until April 3, the Italian company announced on Tuesday (March 10). The measure affects thousands of passengers. Ships still operating in the Mediterranean will only call at Italian ports to let passengers disembark.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Reichstag dome closed for visitors

The dome and roof terrace of the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin have been closed to visitors since Tuesday (March 10, 2020) until further notice to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus. The walkable dome and the roof terrace are visited by more than 2 million people every year, according to the Bundestag.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Winter sports season in Italy ended early

All ski facilities in Italy have been closed since Tuesday (March 10, 2020) due to the corona crisis. Prior to this, hoteliers and cable car operators in the South Tyrol region (photo) had already agreed to close their facilities. South Tyrol is particularly popular with winter sports tourists from Germany and Eastern Europe. The closure is effective until at least April 3.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Travel warnings and border controls

The Czech Republic (picture) and Poland are carrying out checks at the border with Germany to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Since Monday (March 9), travelers have faced random temperature checks. The German government has warned against travelling to risk areas. And air passengers from China, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Italy will have to expect controls when entering Germany.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Italy in crisis

On March 8 the Italian government issued an entry and exit ban for the more than 15 million inhabitants of the northern Italian regions, which include the key business center Milan and the tourist magnet of Venice (photo). Cultural, sporting and religious events are also banned for visitors. Museums, cinemas and theaters remain closed nationwide.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Cruises a risk factor

Repeatedly cruise ships have to be quarantined or prevented from docking. After cancellations in Thailand and Malaysia, the Costa Fortuna (photo) with 2,000 passengers, including 64 Italians, has been allowed to enter the port of Singapore. In Oakland, California, 2,000 passengers and 1,100 crew members of the Grand Princess are quarantined because 19 of them have tested positive for COVID-19.

Coronavirus: The consequences for tourism

Asia fears dramatic setbacks

Sights in Asia are particularly affected by travel restrictions for Chinese tourists. Hotspots such as the Senso-ji temple (picture) in Tokyo and the temple complexes of Angkor Wat in Cambodia are reporting a sharp drop in visitors. On March 9, the Ministry of Tourism in Thailand reported a 44% drop for February. Tourism accounts for 11% of the gross domestic product.

Author: Andreas Kirchhoff, Susan Bonney-Cox

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