Italy’s Far-Right Leaders Are Pushing Debunked Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories

At the time, many politicians across the political spectrum, including on the left, were pushing similar messages, encouraging residents to go for aperitivos.

Then came the lockdown. Salvini pivoted. His new attack line: the lockdowns don’t go far enough. #chiuderetutto — shut everything down — his social media headers read.

Inevitably, as lifelong eurosceptics, Salvini and Meloni began attacking the EU’s response to the crisis, even arguing, without evidence, that some member states wanted to exploit the pandemic to their benefit.

But with attention still running thin, the attacks have become relentless — and the content posted by Salvini and Meloni increasingly extreme.

On Wednesday, the two leaders took a conspiracy theory doing the rounds in some WhatsApp groups and pushed it to their millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. The discredited and unsubstantiated theory claims that a news programme aired in 2015 about a Chinese lab’s experiments and research on other coronaviruses was proof that the novel virus had originated in that same lab.

“INCREDIBLE!!!” Salvini tweeted, in all caps, “2015, the Chinese created a supercoronavirus with bats and mice!!!”

“WE WANT THE TRUTH!” Meloni said on the social networking platform.

Both leaders called for the government to answer questions in parliament.

The conspiracy theory has been debunked by Italian fact-checkers and several news outlets, including Il Post and La Repubblica. In short, the 2015 research had nothing to do with COVID-19.

A director at the Italian National Research Council (CNR) told La Repubblica: “The current virus does not originate from the first version of Sars, and not least did it come from mice. Therefore it [COVID-19] absolutely cannot be the virus created in the Chinese lab that is discussed in the [2015] programme.”

The magazine Nature, which published the 2015 study on which the TV programme was based, has also said that the novel coronavirus did not originate in a lab.

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