The claim: COVID-19 is a simulation
Since the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic, many social media users have suggested that the virus is a deliberately planned outbreak or hoax.
Those claims have taken on a new form in a recent Facebook post that claims COVID-19 is a simulation, based off an annual report from the World Health Organization in which all countries in the world allegedly agreed to go into lockdown at the same time.
“We’re now in the 2nd testing of ‘deliberately released airborne AGENT.’ You’ll notice they didn’t say BIOLOGICAL,” the Facebook post with hundreds of shares reads. "The wording ‘Dark Winter’ that you hear tossed around, is no accident. It’s the SECOND SIMULATION all nations agreed to in a September 2019 in the WHO report.”
The post further cites a Dec. 1 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as evidence to claim that positive COVID-19 test results were “completely faked” from laboratory samples to “produce something tangible for the simulation" because the virus had not yet been isolated.
USA TODAY reached out to user behind the claim for comment.
Simulation exercises are routine
The report cited in the claim was created to identify and explore “the most urgent needs and actions required to accelerate preparedness for health emergencies, focusing in particular on biological risks manifesting as epidemics and pandemics.”
The September 2019 report, created by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board and hosted by the World Health Organization, was produced to identify seven actions that leaders “must implement to prepare for pressing threats” and to respond to persistent gaps revealed by previous outbreaks, such as Ebola virus.
According to the World Health Organization's site, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board was created to address the “severe health and economic costs of failing to adequately prepare for and manage disease outbreaks and other health emergencies for countries and communities globally."
The September 2019 report notes that countries must “routinely conduct multisectoral simulation exercises,” but that does not imply that COVID-19 is a simulation. The routine simulation exercises are to prioritize community involvement in preparedness efforts, build trust and engage stakeholders such as representatives of human and animal health, local leaders, youth and more, according to the report.
For example, in November 2019, the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization collaborated to conduct a simulation exercise at an international airport that involved police, civil aviation and health officials to identify areas of improvement.
The WHO's International Health Regulations advise that countries test risk communication and pandemic communication at least every two years.
Virus that causes COVID-19 has been isolated
It is false to claim that the virus has not been isolated or that tests were spiked with positive virus samples.
The CDC document cited in the claim was published to talk about steps involved in diagnostic testing to identify SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The first COVID-19 test was developed in early 2020 in the U.S. using available information from Chinese scientists who had isolated the virus, according to Business Insider.
Shortly after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of the COVID-19 test at any qualified lab, which initially was limited to use at CDC laboratories. The report states that no isolates of SARS-CoV-2 were available at the time that study was conducted; however, the virus has since been isolated in a laboratory, according to the CDC.
A June article in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal discusses the isolation of SARS-CoV-2 from a patient who had COVID-19 and how virus isolates are needed to develop vaccines, test antiviral compounds and perform research.
Our ruling: False
The claim that COVID-19 is a simulation that was planned in 2019, is FALSE, based on our research. The 2019 report cited in the claim includes recommendations to hold simulations to prepare for public health emergencies. It is recommended that pandemic communication is tested at least every two years. Further, SARS-CoV-2 , the virus that causes COVID-19, has been isolated by researchers.
Our fact-check sources:
World Health Organization, September 2019, A World at Risk, Annual report on global preparedness for health emergencies
Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, accessed Dec. 23, What is the GPMB?
World Health Organization, Nov. 27, “Invest in preparedness” – Health emergency readiness lessons from Bhutan
World Health Organization, accessed Dec. 23, Simulation exercises
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dec. 1, CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel
Business Insider, Jan. 31, There is only one way to know if you have the coronavirus, and it involves machines full of spit and mucus
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Feb. 4, FDA Takes Significant Step in Coronavirus Response Efforts, Issues Emergency Use Authorization for the First 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diagnostic
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oct. 27, Viral Culturing
Emerging Infectious Diseases, June 2020, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 from Patient with Coronavirus Disease, United States
USA TODAY, June 29, Fact check: US government did not engineer COVID-19
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: COVID-19 pandemic is not a simulation