The crazy things copping the blame for COVID-19
Conspiracy theories surrounding the coronavirus are spreading as fast as the virus itself thanks to religious extremists who believe the disease is a hoax created by "Satanic global elites".
It comes as experts warned the pandemic had created a fertile breeding ground for religious and political extremists to spread misinformation about the bug in Australia.
Their wide-ranging delusions, which tie the virus to wild theories about 5G, Donald Trump, paedophile celebrities and clones, have gathered pace in a social media underworld.
One Australian group, which has more than 4000 members, was overtly Christian and asked prospective members only one question: "Do you believe in God and the Value of Creation?"
It has since removed a crucifix emoji from its logo but its rapidly growing community still posts constantly about how Australia's attempts to stop the coronavirus are "Satanic".
One member last week said the virus infection rates were all "fraud" and the tests were all "rigged". He said people should not give into the tyranny of masks.
"Masks don't even f***ing work, if I farted in front of you and you could smell that rot then it ain't working!" he said.
"I'd be more worried about what Bill Gates/WHO/UN are gonna drop on us next."
Another member posted a picture of a sheep mask, calling it the "new COVID-19 mask" to mock those who think masks work to halt the virus' spread.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard urged residents to stick to the public health advice and ignore misinformation being spread by trolls online.
"At this one-in-100-year crisis people have a choice between evidence-based medicine and whacko conspiracy theories," he told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.
"My strong suggestion is that, if they want to stay alive and keep their family safe, stick with the medicine and the health advice."
But the scepticism around coronavirus treatments is not confined to the Christian faith - a popular chainletter is being shared among Islamic online communities in Australia.
The post, which appeared repeatedly under posts about sermons at Sydney mosques, says the disease was created by Allah and can only be cured by him.
Another Facebook user denied the virus existed under a post about coronavirus testing being available at Lakemba Mosque, which was urging people to get tested and stay safe.
"Wake up there is no virus the test kits do not work, the corrupt government up to no good," they wrote.
Another social media troll wrote: "We have Allah to protect us".
Parramatta Mosque chairman Neil El-Kadomi said the Muslim community was strongly advised to wear masks given places of worship were open and called for responsibility among members.
"It's silly to think God will choose who gets the virus and that you should not wear masks if your destiny is mapped out - if you see a bees' nest do you walk towards it and provoke it?"
Meanwhile, in Victoria more than 10,000 people refused to take a coronavirus test in one week and that state's health minister said it was disappointing conspiracy theories were circulating about the bug.
Queensland University social science lecturer Timothy Graham said the coronavirus had provided a fertile breeding ground for political and religious extremists to spread misinformation.
"There has definitely been a rise in conspiracy theories of fundamentalists, both political and religious, believing that the coronavirus has been sent to track people through vaccines and theorists who believe a chip is inserted in the brain through swabbing," he said.
"Religion and politics are the perfect tool to push out misinformation and it's dangerous, it leads to rebellion and can have a devastating blow to the community which is trying to prevent a virus that can spread wildly.
"There's a lot of paranoia and anxiety, people tend to believe what they read in crises."
Originally published as The crazy things copping the blame for COVID-19 as conspiracies rise