CW: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism

Oxford study finds belief in COVID-19 Conspiracy theories leads to reduced compliance with lockdown measures

A study from the University of Oxford published on Friday shows that half of the English population hold Coronavirus conspiracy beliefs. These include the belief that the virus is a Chinese bioweapon, was created by Jews or is being spread by Muslims as an attack on Western values. Those who hold such beliefs are less likely to comply with social distancing, the study shows. 

The Oxford Coronavirus Explanations, Attitudes, and Narratives Survey (OCEANS), published in the Psychological Medicine journal, indicates that 60% of English adults believe that the government is misleading the public about the cause of the virus. 

Almost half of respondents believe at least “a little” that the “Coronavirus is a bioweapon developed by China to destroy the West”. One in five respondents believes to some extent that “Jews have created the virus to collapse the economy for financial gain”. One in five also believes that “Muslims are spreading the virus as an attack on Western values”. 

The study finds that those who believe in conspiracy theories are less likely to follow official guidelines of staying home, not meeting with people outside their household, or complying with social distancing when outside. They also tend to state that they would be more likely to dissuade family and friends from having a COVID-19 vaccination. 

Speaking to Cherwell, Professor Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology and study lead said: “The coronavirus pandemic has created almost perfect conditions for conspiracy beliefs to flourish. An invisible threat has visibly altered the world. There is sustained physical, psychological, and financial threat. Governments and key institutions have had to develop and implement decisive responses to the danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Everyday life has changed dramatically, with top-down imposition of explanations and required responses enforceable by law […] Conspiracy beliefs will arise from the heady brew of inescapable threat, enforced change, uncertainty, isolation, and social media.”

Adam Bernstein, President of the Oxford Jewish Society, told Cherwell: “We are disappointed to hear reports of antisemitism and other prejudices linked to Corona. Oxford J-Soc remains determined to stand up to antisemitism and we stress the importance of combating conspiracy theories through education”. 

Chengkai Xie, Brasenose College student and producer of the podcast Leicester Square Tales, which aims to capture the voices of the British Chinese diaspora community, said: “It was sickening to hear Chinese businesses and families in the UK experiencing vandalism and racist remarks when racial hate incidents are surging across the nation. People who suffer from discrimination, especially those in the BAME community, should exercise their legal rights to protect themselves. Public figures should play a decisive role in guiding the public away from ignorance and bigotry”.

The Oxford University Islamic Society and the Oxford University Chinese Society have been contacted for comment.

Cover Image by Ellie Wilkins