Internet personality Jake Paul has fuelled conspiracy theorists by claiming that Covid-19 is a hoax and calling for an end to lockdowns across the US.
The 23-year old, who rose to fame on video app Vine and Disney Channel comedy Bizaardvark before amassing more than 20 million followers on YouTube, acknowledged that while it was a “controversial subject” it was “time for our nation to open up and go back to normal”.
“Covid cases are at less than 1 per cent, and I think the disease is a hoax,” he told the Daily Beast.
“There are people losing jobs, there are small businesses who are going bankrupt, there are millions of people who are unemployed right now, people are turning to alcohol and drugs to cope with everything that’s going on. This is the most detrimental thing to our society.”
US Covid-19 cases rising
Coronavirus cases and hospitalisation rates are currently rising across the US, with 2,046 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The number of people hospitalised for the virus reached a record 89,954, the Covid Tracking Project has reported, marking the 16th consecutive day the figure has risen to new heights.
Conspiracy theorists and online posts promoting misinformation have repeatedly called the coronavirus outbreak a hoax, a dangerous claim the World Health Organisation and other health authorities have disputed, explaining the pandemic is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.
When Mr Paul was told the virus has killed 260,000 people in the US throughout 2020, he responded: “Ugh. Yeah, and so has the flu,” and appeared unsure whether a Covid-19 vaccine was currently available.
The Brothers Paul
Mr Paul initially gained internet fame for his willingness to participate in zany stunts but has turned his attention to amateur boxing following his elder brother and fellow YouTuber Logan Paul’s success in the ring.
The older Paul, who fought British YouTuber KSI in a widely-watched match last year, is best known for posting footage of a dead body in a Japanese forest to YouTube in 2018.
Jake Paul was heavily criticised for holding an all-day party at his Californian mansion in July where guests were filmed without masks and failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines, prompting the mayor of the city of Calabasas to say attendees were “acting like Covid does not exist“.
Mr Paul appeared reluctant to curtail his playboy lifestyle by following anti-virus measures following the backlash to the widely-publicised gathering.
“No one has answers, our leadership is failing us, and everyone kind of just doesn’t know what to do,” he told Insider in August. “But I personally am not the type of person who’s gonna sit around and not live my life.”
The FBI raided Mr Paul’s home and seized several guns the same month, which it said was part of an investigation.
In June he was arrested in Scottsdale, Arizona, during a protest at a shopping centre in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
He was charged with criminal trespass and unlawful assembly but claimed he was only there to meet and interview protesters “as a reporter”.
“Obviously in hindsight I don’t think I should have been there, but I’m a content creator, and at the time I was like, ‘Damn, these people are going f***ing apeshit. This is some great content. I want to show this to the world,” he said.