Fact Check: Did 1981 book predict Wuhan’s coronavirus?

Buddhist monks in Malaysia pray for those affected by the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak. [Reuters]

You may have come across claims on various social media platforms that Dean Koontz’s 1981 fictional novel The Eyes of Darkness predicted the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus.

The 312-page book focuses on a mother who sets out on a quest to find out if her son, who was on a camping trip, really died a year ago or if he’s still alive.

Sections of the book have been widely shared in the past week, alleging eerie similarities between the Covid-19 virus and Wuhan-400, a fictional outbreak in the book.

In the book, Wuhan-400 was made in a Chinese military laboratory and aimed at eliminating some sections of the world’s population before China takes over.

The Standard Fact Check Desk found the earliest post drawing similarities between Wuhan-400 and Covid-19 on Twitter on February 16.

 “… it was around then that a Chinese scientist named Li Chen defected to the United States, carrying a diskette record of China’s most important and dangerous new biological weapon in a decade,” an excerpt of the book shared online reads.

“They call the stuff Wuhan-400 because it was developed at their RDNA labs outside of the city of Wuhan.”

Biological weapon

But while the book does mention Wuhan, which is believed to be the epicentre of Covid-19, the similarities between the fictional and the current outbreak have been rather stretched.

In fact, in the book’s earlier version, the fictional biological weapon is called Gorki-400, after a Russian city where it was created.

The name was changed to Wuhan-400 in the 2008 paperback re-issue of The Eyes of Darkness.

Further, in the book, Wuhan-400 is a human-made biological weapon. Covid-19, despite numerous rumours and fringe conspiracy theories, is not. We have fact-checked this claim in a past edition of this column that separated fact from fiction on coronavirus.

Other characteristics of Wuhan-400 don’t match Covid-19. First, the fictional outbreak has a 100 per cent fatality rate. The current fatality rate for the novel coronavirus, according to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), is on average 2 per cent. CCDC data additionally suggests the fatality rate is higher among men (2.8 per cent) than women (1.7 per cent).

The fictional Wuhan-400 also has an incubation period (the time it takes for the symptoms to appear after infection) of about four hours. CCDC notes that Covid-19’s incubation period is between two and 14 days.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) adds that it is still “working with an international network of statisticians and mathematical modellers to estimate key epidemiologic parameters of Covid-19”, with the incubation period likely to be updated as more information is made available.

The Eyes of Darkness also talks of a virus that can only affect human beings.

“And like syphilis, Wuhan-400 can’t survive outside a living human body for longer than a minute, which means it can’t permanently contaminate objects or entire places the way anthrax and other virulent microorganisms can,” the book says.

A passage from the crime thriller The Eyes of Darkness.

Third animal

Scientists believe Covid-19 crossed into humans from bats, and possibly via a third animal.

“The current most likely hypothesis is that an intermediary host animal has played a role in the transmission,” WHO notes of the human-animal interface of the virus, adding that they are still investigating the case.

Further, Koontz’s fictional virus affects the brain stem, while Covid-19 is a respiratory disease.

The New York Times bestselling author has not claimed that his book was in any way a prediction of the future – people only started drawing parallels after the outbreak of Covid-19, which has so far killed more than 2,400 people.

By the time of going to press, Koontz had not responded to The Standard Fact Check Desk’s requests for comment.

As such, The Standard Fact Check Desk marks the claim as FALSE.

Another prophecy?

In the book End of Days: Predictions and prophecies about the end times, the authors detail a severe pneumonia-like illness that will spread throughout the world in 2020, attacking the lungs and bronchial tubes, and resisting all known treatment.

However, the book co-authored and published in 2008 by American psychic and spiritual teacher Sylvia Browne, does not pass for a prediction as it was published a few years after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak.

Sars, a fatal respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus, first broke out in 2002 in China. WHO says it hit 26 countries and affected more than 8,000 people. Since the end of the global epidemic in July 2003, Sars has reappeared four times – three of these times as the result of laboratory accidents.

– By @OrindeHillary.

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