The claim: WHO, other organizations linked to chart of ‘planned’ COVID-19 variants and ‘launch dates’
The spread of omicron, the latest variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, around the world has led to the re-imposition of travel restrictions by several countries, including the United States. But it has also revived an old social media conspiracy theory.
The latest mutation of the virus, first discovered in South Africa in late November, has now been confirmed in more than a dozen countries, including the United States.
Some social media users have taken the opportunity to spread an image rooted in a conspiracy theory about the virus being planned.
The image, versions of which have circulated on social media since July, shows a chart written in Spanish with alleged “launch dates” for the various COVID-19 variants. It refers to ommicron with a date of May 2022.
“Check their websites, they already have variants named until (sic) 2023,” reads the image’s caption.
The image shows the logos of three organizations, indicating that they are in charge of the creation of the map: Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum.
The list currently includes unidentified variants, and the purported release dates have been added to each month until February 2023.
But there is no evidence to support the claim that the pandemic was planned. And the organizations whose logos appear in the image say it is not affiliated with them in any way.
Special access for subscribers! Click here to sign up for our fact check text chat
USA TODAY contacted the poster for comment.
Organizations did not create a diagram
The social media post claims that the chart being shared online was created by several organizations, all of which have been the target of pandemic-related misinformation.
But that’s not right.
Jill Rosen, director of media relations at Johns Hopkins University, told USA TODAY in an email that the university had no role in creating or sharing the image.
“It’s already been proven that these claims are patently false,” Rosen said.
Amanda Russo, chief of media content at the World Economic Forum, told USA TODAY in an email that the organization is not affiliated with the image, saying the image is “contrary to the mission and purpose” of the organization.
The WHO told Agence France-Presse in August that the image was not produced by the organization.
Checking facts:COVID-19 vaccines safe for children, not linked to deaths
Some versions shared online also display the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation logo. While the foundation did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment, representatives told the Associated Press, Reuters and FactCheck.org that they did not create the image.
USA TODAY did not find the image on any of the organization’s websites. Reverse image searches did not identify an origin for the image.
The ‘launch dates’ do not match actual variant discovery
The image claims that the variants are expected to be “launched” monthly, but the dates in the chart do not match when many of the variants were actually detected and confirmed.
The chart says the delta variant was “launched” in June 2021, but the first case was documented in October 2020, according to WHO. It was designated as a “Variant of Interest” on April 4 and as a “Variant of Interest” on May 11.
To be an “interesting variant”, the WHO states that the mutation must have genetic changes that can alter the transmissibility and severity of the virus, among other things. It must also be determined to cause “significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters in multiple countries”.
Those identified as a “variant of concern” are interesting variants that have also been found to have higher transmissibility or change in virus epidemiology, clinical disease presentation, or resistance to public health measures.
The epsilon variant, which the chart predicted would “launch” in July, was in fact designated as an interesting variant in the US in February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The zeta and eta variants, which were to be “launched” in August and September respectively, were also given the CDC’s “variant of interest” designation in February.
The theta variant was first documented in January, not October as the image claims, according to the WHO.
The iota and kappa variants, predicted for November and December in the image, were designated as “interesting variants” by the CDC in February and May, respectively. They were downgraded to monitoring status in September.
Finally, the lambda and mu variants are both listed under dates in 2022, but both have already been identified. The first case of the lambda variant was documented in Peru in December 2020 and the mu variant in Colombia in January.
Checking facts:Mexican priest passed out during live stream, didn’t die from COVID-19 vaccination
The rest of the variants listed in the image were not discovered on December 6.
Pandemic not planned
The image’s caption is a continuation of a long-running false claim that the pandemic was planned, which USA TODAY and other fact-checking organizations have debunked.
The recent unclassified findings of a US intelligence community assessment said COVID-19 was not genetically engineered. The findings confirmed that the virus was not created as a biological weapon.
However, the exact origin of the virus remains unclear.
According to the findings, some agencies believe it was “most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with (SARS-CoV-2)” or an extremely similar virus.
Others believe the first human infection was the result “of a laboratory-associated incident” involving experiments and animals at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, which could have happened given the “inherently risky nature of the work on coronaviruses”.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate the claim that WHO and other organizations are linked to a chart of “planned” COVID-19 variants and their “launch dates” as FALSE. It’s unclear where the image came from, but Johns Hopkins University, the WHO and the World Economic Forum have said they have nothing to do with the image. Many of the alleged release dates of the variants are very different from when the strains were actually detected. And while the exact origin of COVID-19 is still unclear, there is consensus that it was unplanned.
Our fact-checking resources:
- USA TODAY, Nov 26. The ommicron variant has introduced new travel restrictions. Are there more COVID rules in the offing?
- USA TODAY, November 26, What you need to know about omicron, the new COVID-19 variant in South Africa
- CNN, Nov 30. These countries have found cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant so far
- US TODAY, December 1 First case of ommicron variant discovered in US in California: COVID-19 updates
- USA TODAY, July 7, Global death toll exceeds 4 million; delta variant dominant strain in the US: latest COVID-19 updates
- Michelle Moore, July 27, Facebook Post
- @Axiia6.0, July 26, Instagram Post
- USA TODAY, Aug 5, Fact Check: Video Misrepresents Biden’s Words About Decades of Vaccine Research
- Reuters, April 12, Fact Check- Sevent-point list provides false ‘evidence’ that the COVID-19 pandemic was planned
- Director of National Intelligence, consulted on December 1. Unclassified summary of assessment on the origin of COVID-19
- National Geographic, September 10, why it’s so hard to trace the origin of COVID-19
- USA TODAY, March 26, 2020, Fact check: A Bill Gates-backed pandemic simulation in October did not predict COVID-19
- USA TODAY, December 23, 2020, Fact check: COVID-19 pandemic is not a simulation
- Jill Rosen, Nov. 30, E-Mail Exchange with USA TODAY
- Amanda Russo, December 2, Email Exchange with the US TODAY
- AFP, August 11, Coronavirus variants not released as part of a phased pandemic
- Sandra J West, November 28, Facebook Post
- Associated Press, July 29, Schedule of ‘Planned COVID-19 Variants’ Is Fake
- Reuters, Aug. 2, Fact Check-Bogus document claims to show ‘release dates’ of COVID-19 variants
- FactCheck.org, July 29, flawed variant information fuels Vaseless COVID-19 theory
- WHO, consulted Nov. 30, monitoring SARS-CoV-2 variants (variants of concern)
- WHO, consulted Nov. 30, monitoring SARS-CoV-2 variants (interesting variants)
- CDC, Oct. 4, SARS-CoV-2 Variant Classifications and Definitions (Variants Under Control)
- WHO, consulted Nov. 30, monitoring SARS-CoV-2 variants (previously controlled variants)
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact-checking work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.