AN OXFORD university study has revealed one in five people believe to some extent that coronavirus is a hoax.

The research, led by clinical psychologists, was published today in the journal, Psychological Medicine.

The findings indicated that: 

  • 60% of adults believe to some extent that the government is misleading the public about the cause of the virus
  • 40% believe to some extent the spread of the virus is a deliberate attempt by powerful people to gain control
  • 20% believe to some extent that the virus is a hoax

From May 4 to 11, 2,500 adults, representative of the English population for age, gender, region, and income, took part in the Oxford Coronavirus Explanations, Attitudes, and Narratives Survey (OCEANS).

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Results indicate that half of the nation is excessively mistrustful and that this reduces the following of government coronavirus guidance.

Daniel Freeman, professor of clinical psychology at the university, and consultant clinical psychologist at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Those who believe in conspiracy theories are less likely to follow government guidance, for example, staying home, not meeting with people outside their household, or staying 2m apart from other people when outside.

"Those who believe in conspiracy theories also say that they are less likely to accept a vaccination, take a diagnostic test, or wear a facemask.

"There is a fracture: most people largely accept official COVID-19 explanations and guidance; a significant minority do not.

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"The potential consequences, however, affect us all.

"The details of the conspiracy theories differ, and can even be contradictory, but there is a prevailing attitude of deep suspicion.

"The epidemic has all the necessary ingredients for the growth of conspiracy theories, including sustained threat, exposure of vulnerabilities, and enforced change.

"The new conspiracy ideas have largely built on previous prejudices and conspiracy theories.

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"The beliefs look to be corrosive to our necessary collective response to the crisis.

"In the wake of the epidemic, mistrust looks to have become mainstream."

The project was funded by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.