Chinese state media and social media influencers in China have claimed that the monkeypox virus originated in a U.S. laboratory. They've also made claims that monkeypox will cause the next pandemic, even as European and U.S. scientists point out that the possibility of a pandemic is extremely small because of the close contact needed to transmit the virus.
Those scientists also said that, at present, patients are infected with a natural monkeypox virus with no links to a laboratory.
"Jimu News," a subsidiary of state-run Hubei Daily Group, published an article on May 23 implying that monkeys that escaped from a truck involved in a traffic accident on Jan. 21 in Pennsylvania have something to do with the recent monkeypox outbreak in the United States and Europe.
The monkeys that escaped, among the 100 being transported on the truck, were recaptured the next day.
The first confirmed case of monkeypox in the United States appeared in Massachusetts on May 18. The patient was diagnosed after returning to the United States from Canada. Cases have since appeared in New York City, Florida, and Utah.
Chinese social media influencers who are supportive of China's ruling communist regime have echoed claims similar to those made by official state media outlets.
On May 20, a blogger named "Guyan Muchan" posted a few screenshots on the Chinese social media website Weibo of a document that's claimed to be a "monkeypox biochemical pandemic plan leaked by the United States," implying that the U.S. government was aware of the outbreak in advance.
"Guyan Muchan" has 6.41 million followers on Weibo, and the post has been liked by more than 7,500 users and received more than 660 comments. Influenced by this post, someone even commented that the United States is "evil beyond human imagination."
The document actually is from a hypothetical biohazard scenario published in a 2021 research report by U.S. think tank Nuclear Threat Initiative. The document is available for viewing on its website.
Although the claim was debunked, "Guyan Muchan" has continued to spread similar assertions, blaming the United States for the spread of monkeypox.
A self-proclaimed "patriotic" cartoonist, "Sweet Potato Bear Lao Liu" also posted claims that the spread of the monkeypox virus was related to a U.S. laboratory. On May 21, he posted on his Weibo account that the United States may have modified and upgraded the monkeypox virus to develop a more virulent and transmissible variant to lead to the next pandemic.
Zhao Shengye, an internet technology blogger, claimed on his Weibo account that, after researching the monkeypox virus that appeared in Europe and the United States, he believes the probability of the monkeypox having been produced in a laboratory through virus gain-of-function research is greater than 99.9 percent. Zhao has 4 million Weibo followers.
Such claims have been refuted by international scientists.
Richard Ebright, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, echoed the point.
“All indications are that the monkeypox outbreak involves a natural monkeypox virus,” he said.
Daniel Bausch, an infectious disease expert and president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, told Axios that the risk of a monkeypox pandemic is extremely low.
"I don't think there's a reason for panic; I don't think we're going to have tens of thousands of cases,” he said.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, monkeypox isn't known to spread easily between people, requiring direct contact with bodily fluids, lesion fluids, or prolonged face-to-face contact.