The coronavirus has now reached all continents, save Antarctica. The death toll crossed 4,700 on Friday and the number of positive cases rose above 1,20,000. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
Now, even as an increasing number of people test positive and nations rush to curb the virus' spread, many others have come up with conspiracy theories about its origin.
One popular theory seems to be that it is a bio-weapon. Some on the internet claim that it was "lab created and patented in 2015".
And while patents for the coronavirus does indeed exist, one has to keep in mind that the name is a collective one and can refer to a group of viruses. First discovered in the 1960s, there have been other coronavirus outbreaks in the past. These include the at times more deadly SARS-CoV in 2003, HCoV NL63 in 2004, HKU1 in 2005 and the MERS-CoV in 2012.
The current coronavirus outbreak that the world is facing goes by a rather unwieldy set of names including 'novel coronavirus', 'COVID-19', '2019-nCoV' and now, 'SARS-CoV-2'.
Apart from being a very different strain, 'the virus responsible for COVID-19' does not have any patents to its name. The patents that exist at present are for inventions that are connected to other coronaviruses.
People who are firmly against the search for a coronavirus vaccine however suggest that the US government or individuals (such as Bill Gates who is funding research to find a cure through his foundation) have some sort of ownership over the virus.
Now, it must be mentioned that nobody quite knows where and how the virus originated and was passed on to human beings. However, it it was indeed a biological weapon, it most certainly is a rather ineffective one.
While a death toll of nearly 5,000 is not insignificant, the virus has a rather low mortality rate. According to a WHO report, the crude mortality ratio, that is, the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases, is between 3-4%. The infection mortality rate, the organisation opines, will be lower.
Additionally, the virus is more likely to adversely affect older adults and people with existing health problems. For most others, it causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. With a vast majority of people recovering from the virus in a matter of weeks, it does not seem to be the most useful of weapons. Nor does it seem to be targeting the most able-bodied segments of society.
For COVID-19, data to date suggest that 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical infections, requiring ventilation.
In fact, if one were to create a scale of 'deadliness', there are far more harmful viruses out there, including the original SARS strain.
If our original argument, that 'SARS-CoV-2' cannot be a bio-weapon because it is rather selective about its victims and rather ineffective in harming people (relatively speaking), was not enough, consider the fact that the countries that have been mentioned in context with patenting the virus too have victims.
Case in point, the theories that suggest that the virus originated in a lab in China's Wuhan. While no evidence exists to back this theory, this has not stopped officials from lending credence to it.
Take Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist for example. He recently, backed Senator Tom Cotton who continues to call it the Wuhan coronavirus and appears to believe that China should 'pay for this'.
And the pharmaceutical companies that have been mentioned as possible beneficiaries too have come up empty handed so far.