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 caused the reimposition of travel restrictions by several countries, including the United States. But it has also reignited an old conspiracy theory on social media.
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 spread across social media since July, shows a chart written in Spanish with purported "launch" dates for the different COVID-19 variants. It references omicron with a date of May 2022.
"Check their websites they got variants already named till (sic) 2023," reads the image's caption.
The image shows the logos of three organizations, alluding to them being in charge of the chart's creation: Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum.
The list includes currently-unidentified variants, and the purported release dates are attached to each month until February 2023.
But there's no evidence supporting claims that the pandemic was planned. And the organizations whose logos appear in the image say it is in no way connected to them.
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USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.
Organizations didn't create chart
But that's not correct.
Jill Rosen, the director of media relations at Johns Hopkins University, told USA TODAY in an email the university had no role in creating the image or sharing it.
"These claims have already been proven to be patently false," Rosen said.
Amanda Russo, head of media content at the World Economic Forum, told USA TODAY in an email the organization is not connected to the graphic and said the image "goes against the mission and purpose" of the organization.
The WHO told the Agence France-Presse in August the image was not produced by the organization.
Some versions being shared online also show the logo of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While the foundation didn't immediately reply to USA TODAY's comment request, representatives have told the Associated Press, Reuters and FactCheck.org it did not create the image.
USA TODAY didn't find the image on either of the organization's websites. Reverse image searches did not identify an origin for the image.
'Launch' dates don't match actual discovery of variants
The image asserts the variants are expected to be "launched" on a monthly basis, but the dates on the chart don't 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 the WHO. It was designated a "variant of interest" on April 4 and a "variant of concern" on May 11.
To be a "variant of interest," the WHO states the mutation must have genetic changes that could change the transmissibility and severity of the virus among other characteristics. It also must have been identified to "cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters in multiple countries."
Those identified as a "variant of concern" are variants of interest that have also been found to have higher transmissibility or a change in the virus' epidemiology, the clinical disease presentation or the resistance to public health measures.
The epsilon variant, which the chart predicted to be "launched" in July, was actually designated a variant of interest in the U.S. in February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The zeta and eta variants, listed to be "launched" in August and September respectively, were given the "variant of interest" designation by the CDC in February as well.
The theta variant was documented for the first time 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 "variants of interest" by the CDC in February and May respectively. They were downgraded to a monitoring status in September.
Lastly, 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 was documented in Colombia in January.
The rest of the variants listed in the image have not been discovered as of Dec. 6.
Pandemic not planned
The recent unclassified findings of an assessment from the U.S. intelligence community said that COVID-19 was not genetically engineered. The findings confirmed the virus was not created as a biological weapon.
The exact origin of the virus remains unclear, however.
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 experimentation and animals at the China's Wuhan Institute of Virology, which could have happened given the "inherently risky nature of work on coronaviruses."
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that the WHO and other organizations are linked to a chart of "planned" COVID-19 variants and their "launch" dates. It's unclear where the image originated, but Johns Hopkins University, the WHO and the World Economic Forum have said they had nothing to do with the image. Many of the purported release dates of the variants are far different than when the strains were actually detected. And while the exact origin of COVID-19 is still unclear, there's consensus it wasn't planned.
Our fact-check sources:
USA TODAY, Nov. 26, What to know about omicron, the new COVID-19 variant in South Africa
USA TODAY, Dec. 1, First omicron variant case discovered in US in California: 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 on decades of vaccine research
Director of National Intelligence, accessed Dec. 1, Unclassified summary of assessment on COVID-19 origins
National Geographic, Sept. 10, Why it's so tricky 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, Dec. 23, 2020, Fact check: COVID-19 pandemic is not a simulation
Jill Rosen, Nov. 30, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Amanda Russo, Dec. 2, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Sandra J West, Nov. 28, Facebook post
Associated Press, July 29, Schedule of 'planned COVID-19 variants' is fake
FactCheck.org, July 29, Flawed Variant Information Fuels Vaseless COVID-19 Theory
WHO, accessed Nov. 30, Tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants (variants of concern)
WHO, accessed Nov. 30, Tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants (variants of interest)
WHO, accessed Nov. 30, Tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants (formerly monitored variants)
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Image falsely ties organizations to COVID-19 theory