In a roughly 10-minute segment, Limbaugh criticized the media for overhyping the virus in “an effort to get Trump,” repeated a debunked fringe theory linking the outbreak to Chinese biological weapons research and found time to attack Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Critics accused the recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient of “spreading bad information” about coronavirus to the millions who tune into his show, calling the remarks “wildly irresponsible” in light of the potential pandemic. Though more than 80 percent of current coronavirus cases are mild, the new strain that originated in Wuhan, China, in late December has since sickened 77,658 people with a cumulative death toll of 2,663, according to the most recent official figures Tuesday.
“Stunningly reckless,” tweeted Charlie Sykes, founder of the Bulwark, a conservative news site.
On Monday, Limbaugh kicked off his coronavirus monologue by attacking media coverage of the outbreak.
“It’s really being hyped as a deadly Andromeda strain or Ebola pandemic that, ‘Oh, my God, is going to wipe out the nation. It’s going to wipe out the population of the world,’ ” the host said.
“The survival rate of this is 98 percent,” he continued. “You have to read very deeply to find that number, that 2 percent of the people get the coronavirus die. That’s less than the flu, folks.”
The estimated death rate of the new virus that causes the disease covid-19 is about 2 in 100 confirmed infections, The Washington Post recently reported. But researchers have expressed concern about containing the rapidly spreading disease, which does not yet have a vaccine.
While Limbaugh stressed to listeners that he wasn’t “trying to get you to let your guard down,” the host argued that panicking about coronavirus is unwarranted.
“There’s nothing unusual about the coronavirus. In fact, coronavirus is not something new,” he said, later adding, “We’re not talking about something here that’s gonna wipe out your town or your city if it finds its way there.”
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which infected more than 8,000 people in 2003, according to the WHO. The coronavirus at the center of the ongoing outbreak is a strain that had not been identified in humans until cases started cropping up in Wuhan last year, the WHO reported.
Limbaugh went on to reference the fringe theory that the virus originated from a Chinese laboratory in the city where the outbreak began — an idea that has been widely dismissed by experts.
“Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus,” Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, told The Post’s Adam Taylor.
In another interview with The Post, Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the suggestion that a lab accident caused the outbreak was “highly unlikely,” citing a lack of evidence.
“It’s a skip in logic to say it’s a bioweapon that the Chinese developed and intentionally deployed, or even unintentionally deployed,” said Narang, a political science professor with a background in chemical engineering.
Still, Limbaugh appeared convinced Monday that the virus was probably “a Chicom laboratory experiment.”
“I’m telling you, the Chicoms are trying to weaponize this thing,” Limbaugh said, using a slang term to refer to Chinese Communists. He later added, “Well, every nation is working on things like this, and the Chicoms obviously in their lab are doing something here with the coronavirus — and it got out.”
But then Limbaugh suggested the virus was being “weaponized” another way: by the media to target Trump.
Limbaugh, a staunch ally of the president, claimed media coverage was scaring investors and people in business to cash out of the stock market as part of a larger effort to suggest “Trump and capitalism are destroying America and destroying the world.”
On Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average plummeted more than 1,000 points for its largest drop in two years, prompting Trump to tweet “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” adding, “CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
To conclude his remarks, Limbaugh sought to remind his listeners of the virus’s origin.
“It came from a country that Bernie Sanders wants to turn the United States into a mirror image of, Communist China,” he said, attacking the self-described democratic socialist who has taken a commanding lead among Democrats vying for the presidential nomination. “That’s where it came from. It didn’t come from an American lab. It didn’t escape from an American research lab. It hasn’t been spread by Americans. It starts out in a communist country.”
Social media erupted with a flurry of reactions Monday as transcriptions of Limbaugh’s comments went viral.
Parker Molloy, an editor-at-large for the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America, fact-checked Limbaugh’s “common cold” comparison.
“Rush Limbaugh is telling his listeners not to worry about the coronavirus covid-19 because ‘it’s just the common cold’ and ‘there’s a 98% survival rate,’” one person tweeted. “If he has an audience of, say, 10 million listeners and they all caught it, 98% survival rate means 200,000 dead listeners.”