As Europe’s Coronavirus Cases Rise, So Do Voices Crying Hoax

A study released in early September by Fondation Jean Jaurès, a Paris-based research institute, found that many opponents of mask-wearing believed it was useless or dangerous to their health and a tool of oppression by the government. As many as 90 percent of the anti-maskers surveyed — and 43 percent of the wider French population — believed that the country’s Health Ministry was colluding with pharmaceutical companies to hide information about the harmfulness of vaccines.

“There is a significant part of the population that does not believe or no longer believes in the noxiousness of the virus,” said Antoine Bristielle, the sociologist who conducted the study.

Mr. Bristielle said that the pandemic had provided “an extremely fertile ground” for conspiracy theories because of its many uncertainties.

Around 200 people demonstrated in Brussels against coronavirus restrictions in early September, taking particular aim at mask requirements. The protest was the second organized in the Belgian capital by a fringe group called “Viruswaanzin,” or “Virus Madness,” and was quickly dispersed by the police.

The group, which staged similar protests in the Netherlands, does not deny the existence of Covid-19 but believes that measures taken by the governments are “disproportionate to the scale and threat of the disease,” said Michael Verstraeten, one of the organizers, in an interview with Radio 2, a public radio station.

Mr. Verstraeten, a lawyer, is representing a group of Belgian citizens who sued the government for infringing on their freedoms by imposing coronavirus restrictions. The presiding judge dismissed the case in July, saying that “the intellectual poverty of their argument is mind-boggling.”

An estimated 50,000 people attended a protest in Berlin last month, among them some far-right extremists and QAnon conspiracy theorists. Yet the group that organized the event, Querdenken-711, tends to be more moderate, for the most part claiming that the severity of the virus is overblown, though some call it a hoax.

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