Video of South African president's temperature check at airport misrepresented as a microchip implant scan

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Conspiracy theories about the growing trend of chip implants abound, exploiting fears surrounding the emerging technology. Recently, a clip emerged online claiming to show South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa getting a chip implant scanned. But this is false: the footage shows him having his temperature checked at an airport, which is a common screening measure. Temperature readings can be taken by pointing handheld infrared thermometers at the forehead or the wrist.

The post was published on Facebook on November 1, 2023, and has since been shared more than 1,700 times.

<span>Screenshot showing the misleading post, taken on November 14, 2023 </span>
Screenshot showing the misleading post, taken on November 14, 2023

The clip shows Ramaphosa disembarking from a South African Air Force plane and being greeted by two military officers. Airport staff with reflector jackets are also present. One of them points what looks like a handheld thermometer at the president, who holds out the back of his hand.

Written in Afrikaans, the post translates to: "See his right hand, it has a microchip implant and is being scanned."

The footage was also shared elsewhere on Facebook and on X (formerly Twitter).

Microchip conspiracies

A microchip implant is a device that can be implanted into the body of a human or an animal without the need for complicated surgery (archived here).

The emerging technology, which is gaining traction in the US (archived here) and elsewhere (archived here), has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories spread on social media.

One of the long-running of these baseless claims is that the Covid-19 pandemic was a cover for Bill Gates to secretly implant microchips in vaccines in order to track people (archived here).

In the comments section of one of the Facebook posts about the South African president, one user writes that Ramaphosa "now belongs to Satan, no wonder our country is in such a state (sic)".

In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the marketing of a microchip implant for medical identification. Some conspiracy theorists then began linking this technology to the "mark of the beast" described in the Bible’s Book of Revelation (archived here).

Routine temperature screening

AFP Fact Check found that the clip was originally posted on TikTok by Athi Geleba, the head of digital communications for the South African presidency. Geleba’s TikTok handle, @AthiGeleba, is visible in the video (archived here).

Geleba told AFP Fact Check the clip was filmed when Ramaphosa returned to South Africa after concluding a working trip to the United States where he led the country’s delegation in the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"That was a routine airport temperature screening when the president recently arrived in the country from the UNGA conference in the US," she said.

In some airports, passengers and employees routinely undergo body temperature scans administered by staff using handheld thermal devices to screen for contagious infections such as Covid-19.

Although it is common for people’s temperature to be taken by pointing these devices at their forehead (archived here), some can also be pointed at the wrist (archived here).

Many brands sell infrared thermometers that work on the wrist, or on both the forehead and the wrist (see examples here and here, archived here and here).

The communications department at South Africa’s Oliver Tambo airport told AFP Fact Check that "arriving passenger temperatures are routinely checked at the airport".

"For VIPs, we normally use handheld thermometers to screen the head or wrist, but for other travellers who use regular passenger tunnels in the airport, we have installed screening devices that automatically check body temperatures."

AFP Fact Check has previously debunked claims related to microchips here, here and here (archived here, here and here).