A Chinese-linked social media campaign is falsely blaming the origins of the coronavirus on Maine lobsters that are imported from the U.S., according to a disinformation researcher from the University of Oxford who has been following the messages.

Marcel Schliebs had been tracking messages on Twitter from state media and Chinese diplomats for 18 months when he uncovered a claim in September that a batch of Maine lobsters shipped to a seafood market in Wuhan in November 2019 from the U.S. caused the virus to start in China, NBC News reported.

Schliebs first discovered the lobster theory in a tweet from Zha Liyou, the Chinese consul general in Kolkata, India, according to USA Today.

It read, “Major suspect of covid via cold chain identified: A MU298 of Nov. 11, 2019 carrying food from Maine, US to Huanan Seafood Market, Wuhan, Hubei via Shanghai. During the next few weeks, many workers around moving this batch of seafood got infected.”

Since then, Schliebs found more than 550 Twitter accounts that are pushing the lobster theory, the news outlet said. 

Schliebs, who called the messages "a coordinated effort" to push "a pro-Chinese narrative,” has been proactive about reporting the false claims by contacting Twitter about the misinformation. The site said it suspended the accounts under its manipulation and spam policy.

Kai Yan, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the U.K., told NBC News that “China is the biggest victim of disinformation, and the perpetrators are some politicians and media outlets eager for China bashing in the U.S. and a few other Western countries.”

Yan maintained that China urges “all members of the international community to work together in opposing and resisting such disinformation, which will inevitably disrupt global cooperation in fighting the pandemic.”

Despite Twitter removing the bad actor accounts, the Maine lobster COVID origin theory is still spreading, and new Chinese accounts spreading the false information have cropped up on the social media platform.

“We slowed it down significantly, but we still see some coordinated effort to spread the message,” Schliebs told NBC News. “It seems like accounts are being set up now to replace the ones taken down in response to our investigation.”

Lobsters are one of a number of products from Australia that China has restricted imports of as relations between the countries plunged Lobsters are one of a number of products from Australia that China has restricted imports of as relations between the countries plunged Photo: AFP / TREVOR COLLENS