The world has been savaged by a killer virus that escaped a top-secret lab or was unleashed by shadowy forces. It might sound like the plot of a Hollywood film, but a new poll has found it’s also how most Russians see Covid-19.
The study, conducted by The Levada Centre, was published on Monday and found that more than half of 1,600 participants living in the country aren’t afraid of becoming infected, the highest percentage of people holding such a view since the pandemic began in February. At the same time, despite colossal efforts to roll out the Sputnik V jab, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, fewer than one in three told researchers they would consider being immunized with the formula.
The majority of Russians, however, believe that the respiratory virus was unleashed across the globe as an artificially-created bioweapon. 51 per cent of respondents said that matched their view, while fewer than one in four said they believed it originated naturally.
However, that majority public opinion in Russia appears to be at odds with mainstream scientific thought, which maintains that the most likely explanation is that Covid-19 evolved without human help, similarly to other outbreaks of coronavirus variants, such as SARS and MERS. For example, an Ohio State University research team led by virologist Shan-Lu Liu has insisted that there is “no credible evidence” that the pathogen had been genetically engineered.
However, in an editorial for Forbes Magazine last year, infectious diseases physician Dr. Mark Kortpeter asked “how could we determine definitively if Covid-19 was a naturally occurring or bioengineered outbreak?” The simple answer, he concluded, is: “it’s complicated.” Given challenges in obtaining data on the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan province, Kortpeter said “the only way to get closer to understanding its mysterious origin is to send an unbiased international team into China to conduct a formal investigation to determine the earliest humans infected in the outbreak, compare specimens in the Wuhan lab with human specimens, and analyze similar viruses in bat and other animal populations.”
Other academics, meanwhile, have warned of an explosion in conspiracy theories being shared online about the origins of Covid-19 and the vaccines being made available to protect it. One researcher, Jing-Bao Nie of Otago Medical School in New Zealand, wrote that these tie into “damaging trends in the international scene which include deep mistrust, animosities, the power of ideologies such as nationalism, and the sacrifice of truth in propaganda campaigns.”
The Moscow-based Levada Center is registered by the Russian Ministry of Justice as a ‘foreign agent’ due to its receipt of funding from overseas.
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