One in five Kiwis believe COVID-19 virus was lab made - survey reveals

A new survey has revealed some "very dangerous" figures about the extent of Kiwis who believe conspiracy theories regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey found one in five Kiwis believe the virus behind COVID-19 was created in a lab and one in 10 believe the virus' danger has been exaggerated by health officials.

The survey was carried out by Research NZ at the weekend, and released on Wednesday afternoon, to "establish to what extent New Zealanders believe there is any truth in various facts, and alternative (or conspiracy) theories around COVID-19".

Scientists who have analysed the SARS-CoV-2 virus' RNA code have deduced there's no way it could have been made in a lab, as US President Donald Trump once suggested. 

A study carried out by a Chinese virologist also recently claimed to have found evidence it was manufactured but mainstream experts dismissed it as almost "entirely fictional" and the conclusions "unsubstantiated".

Research NZ managing partner Emanuel Kalafatelis told Newshub it was "very concerning" 20 percent of Kiwis believe COVID-19 was lab-made.

"We, as researchers, are very evidence-based people so to reach our conclusions we look at data … My concern with the 20 percent is I'm sitting here wondering where that opinion has come from? What evidence have these people sought in order to come to that particular conclusion? Or have they just listened to other people's opinions and latched on to those?"

In the online survey, 1000 people were questioned and the results were weighted to match the demographics of the New Zealand adult population.

Kalafatelis told Newshub the survey's results indicated many Kiwis believed in conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19.

"It's very dangerous when you stop and think about it. We are not talking about one or two people here, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Of those surveyed, 6 percent said they believed a vaccine would do more harm than good, and another 6 percent believed hydroxychloroquine was an effective treatment, despite studies suggesting otherwise. 

One in 20 feared the vaccine would contain microchips "used to track and control people", and 4 percent that it's spread by 5G mobile phone networks. 

Four percent said it was a hoax.

Perhaps most worryingly, 18 percent didn't believe washing hands and social distancing would help stop the spread of the disease, which has killed nearly 1 million people worldwide since the start of the year. 

Kalafatelis said social media is a "huge, huge factor" in facilitating the spread of conspiracy theories and help to shape people's opinions.

"There are all types of people out there and we don't all operate or base our opinions on the same information and there are some people out there who, frankly in my opinion, are reasonably extreme and they will latch on to anything that helps support their theories and their way of life almost."