Like this site? Help us to make it better.

Conspiracy theorist's allegation that US cyclist was coronavirus Patient Zero of Wuhan outbreak sweeps China

Claim prompts calls for US servicewoman who competed at October's Military World Games in China to be tested for virus...

A claim by a self styled, US-based, “investigative journalist” (according to his Twitter biography) that ‘Patient Zero’ in the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak was American cyclist, Maatje Benassi, who competed in the CISM Military World Games there last October is making waves among internet users in China.

Washington, DC-based George Webb has claimed that Sergeant First Class Maatje Benassi, who represented the US in cycling in the 50-mile road race at the event, could have carried COVID-19 to China.

According to the caption of a photo tweeted by Webb of Benassi in action during the race in China last October, she is a security officer at the Fort Belvoir Military Hospital in Virginia, although a separate screengrab of her LinkedIn profile says that since August 2017, she has been an armed diplomatic security officer at the Department of State.

However, a US Department of Defense report on the race, much of whuich Benassi spent in the lead before a final-lap crash, says that she is an "Army Reserve noncommissioned officer from the 312th Observer-Controller-Trainer unit at Fort Meade, Maryland."

Confusion over her role aside, the reasons for Webb singling out Benassi, whom he says was born in the Netherlands, are not entirely clear, but in another tweet, he said that it was “Interesting her relative in Holland also has CoronaVirus,”

While the DJ Benny Benassi, whose 2002 track Satisfaction reached number 2 in the UK singles charts and number 1 in the UK Dance charts, shares her surname, he was born in Milan and has Italian citizenship.

And, as is made clear in the article Webb linked in his tweet, his cancellation of his upcoming North American tour was due to travel restrictions imposed due to Italy being in lockdown, with Benassi reassuring fans that he was in good health, but confined to his home, together with the rest of the Italian population.

Two, and if in the absence of proof of a familial relationship, possibly three factual inaccuracies in a single tweet trying to prove a theory is pretty impressive, though.

With diplomatic tensions high between the United States and China not least because of President Trump’s insistence that COVID-19 originated there and calling it the “Chinese virus,” as well as allegations in the US Senate that it originated in a Chinese chemical weapons lab, Webb’s claims have unsurprisingly been seized upon not only by some internet users in China, but also academics and government officials.

According to The Global Times – a Chinese tabloid newspaper and website published by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily – there are calls for Sgt Benassi to be tested for COVID-19, as well as other members of the US delegation to Wuhan last October.

The newspaper said that Li Haidong, professor of US studies at the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, had urged the US government to publish the results of such tests in order to establish the origin of the virus.

It also highlighted a claim made earlier this month on Twitter by Chinese diplomat Zhao Lijian that US military personnel competing at the Military World Games may have brought the virus to Wuhan.

Last week, an article appeared in the New York Post under the headline, How the movie ‘Contagion’ perfectly predicted the 2020 coronavirus crisis.

The 2011 movie, about a global pandemic that originated in Hong Kong, and which was made with expert input from the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control, has surged towards the top of the download and streaming charts in the past week or two due to its parallels with the current crisis.

If there were one thing missing, it was someone slotting into the role of the conspiracy theorist with a large online following hanging on his every word, as portrayed by Jude Law in the film.

Speaking to the New York Post, health expert Laurie Garrett, formerly a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, who acted as a consultant on the film, said: “I’ve been in more than 30 epidemics, and the same things happen over and over again. We always get scumbags off the Internet claiming to have a cure.”

Garrett, who is also the author of the 1994 bestseller, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, added: “There’s always a conspiracy theory, and it’s always to blame the CIA or blame the Pakistanis, or whomever.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

Add new comment


RT_OneZer0 | 4 years ago

Maatje Benassi was allegedly Covid-19 Patient Zero of Wuhan. How in the world did she compete in a gruelling 50-mile road race when she had Covid-19? She crashed after being hit by another racer, fell down and cracked her helmet. She picked herself up and still managed to finish in the 8th position.

There are currently about over 500 thousands people infected with the virus and developed Covid-19. Ten of thousands have been admitted to hospitals and many have died. ​That was humanly impossible for a person with Covid-19 to participate in  a road race competition. It's far-fetched for Maatje Benassi to come to Wuhan as Patient Zero and took part in the 50-mile road race. 

fukawitribe replied to RT_OneZer0 | 4 years ago
1 like

Ignoring for a second the origin of the rumours, and how that might effect any thought of taking it seriously, the rest of what you say just doesn't pan out. You can carry and have no appreciable effects - that's part of the problem, not just with COVID-19 but many infections, viral or otherwise.

Philh68 | 4 years ago

I know those right wing extremists like Webb hate cyclists because we must all be socialists, but blaming us for causing a global pandemic is taking the ridiculous hate to absurd new levels.

HoarseMann | 4 years ago

Oh no, that's just added fuel on my conspiracy theory. The missing link was 'were there US soldiers from Maryland at the Wuhan athletic tournament'. Now it's a perfect chain starting mid 2019...

The Maryland flu outbreak doesn't look quite as virulent though...

Derk Davies | 4 years ago

I heard some theorey it came from bats or something even more unbelievable.yes 

brooksby replied to Derk Davies | 4 years ago
1 like

No - that's vampirism 

ktache | 4 years ago
1 like

It's always good to muddy the water.

I thought, and I haven't really looked into it, but didn't they find similarities to coronoviruses in bats sold at a wet market, the Huanan Seafood Market.

There was definitely a massive growth of cases at the market.

As I remember from reading Spillover, several years ago, the new zoonotic pandemic could have come from many different places, Africa or Asia, bats through horses in Australia or from pigs in Europe.  There was a lot about bats.

Hot Zone, was rather rsensationalist, but there was talk near the end about Ebola maybe being in bats, if not originating then as a resevoir.

From various readings I heard that the H1N1 pandemic  of 1918, generally known as "Spanish Flu" may of had a lot to do with US soldiers (doughboys) going to Europe, some of the earliest reported cases seem to have been in US bases, with spreading across continents because of the war.  Much closer contact between populations and animals before slaughter back then, pre refridgeration, at least in the rich west anyway.

Both MERS and SARS, fellow coronoviruses, seem to have heavier symptoms, and indeed higher death rates, which meant that they could be tracked and stopped more effectively, whereas Covid 19 can be passed on a lot easier, with transmission occuring before symptoms present and many remaining asymptomatic.  A bit pesky this one, got the right transmissability vs mortality to gain a proper hold and stay around a bit, hopefully a vaccine should be produced soon.  Maybe both MERS and SARS stayed so small that there might not have been the massive determination to get one.

the little onion replied to ktache | 4 years ago

Similar coronoviruses have been discovered in horseshoe bats, and in pangolins, both of which are sold in 'wet' markets in Wuhan. Ebola has also been linked to bats in west Africa, quite convincingly if I recall the research.

brooksby | 4 years ago

No country or government is going to want to have the finger pointed at them, when this whole thing has finally passed and all the government inquiries start (how, who, why, how many, etc?).

I suspect that the Chinese state media is just taking an opportunity to get their justification and retaliation in first, and wouldn't be at all surprised if this George Webb is connected to one or other state actor rather than being a genuine "independent investigative journalist".

(Has anyone seen my tinfoil hat...?)


Philh68 replied to brooksby | 4 years ago
1 like

State actor? Wasn’t George Webb the actor who played Hyacinth Bucket’s father in Keeping Up Appearances? It’s a fine performance for a man who died over 20 years ago!

brooksby replied to Philh68 | 4 years ago

Wikipedia: "In United States law, a state actor is a person who is acting on behalf of a governmental body, and is therefore subject to regulation under the United States Bill of Rights, including the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibit the federal and state governments from violating certain rights and freedoms."

I just meant that I suspect that a lot of governments are now out there taking the opportunity - while everyone else's eyes are off the ball - to do a bit more behind the scenes stuff.  Getting someone to pretend to be a conspiracy theory nut to spread disinformation on t'Interweb seems like something that would be done.

mdavidford replied to brooksby | 4 years ago

You mean like this?

brooksby replied to mdavidford | 4 years ago
1 like

Exactly like that yes

Latest Comments