Fake News: 'High-Level Exercise' Conducted 3 Months Ago Did NOT Show That A Coronavirus Pandemic Could Kill 65 Million People

Hoax Alert

  • by: Ryan Cooper
Fake News: 'High-Level Exercise' Conducted 3 Months Ago Did NOT Show That A Coronavirus Pandemic Could Kill 65 Million People

Did a "high-level exercise" conducted three months ago show that a coronavirus pandemic could kill 65 million people? No, that's not true: The organizers of the event, which was held in October 2019, have issued a statement saying that they made no such prediction during the "tabletop exercise."

The claim appears to have originated from an article published by The Economic Collapse Blog on January 23, 2020, titled "A 'High-Level Exercise' Conducted 3 Months Ago Showed That A Coronavirus Pandemic Could Kill 65 Million People" (archived here). It opened:

Just over three months ago, a "high-level pandemic exercise" entitled "Event 201" was held in New York City. On October 18th the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in conjunction with the World Economic Forum and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, brought together "15 leaders of business, government, and public health" to simulate a scenario in which a coronavirus pandemic was ravaging the planet. The current coronavirus outbreak that originated in China did not begin until December, and so at that time it was supposedly just a hypothetical exercise.

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A 'High-Level Exercise' Conducted 3 Months Ago Showed That A Coronavirus Pandemic Could Kill 65 Million People

Just over three months ago, a "high-level pandemic exercise" entitled "Event 201" was held in New York City. On October 18th the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in conjunction with the World Economic Forum

On October 18, 2019, the John Hopkins Center for Health Security teamed up with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to host a symposium called "Event 201." A website for the event described it as a "global pandemic exercise":

The exercise illustrated areas where public/private partnerships will be necessary during the response to a severe pandemic in order to diminish large-scale economic and societal consequences.

Now, many websites and social media posts are claiming the event predicted that a coronavirus pandemic could kill 65 million people. Business Insider reported on the exercise on January 23, 2020, and zeroed in on the "65-million" angle for its headline. The article, and others being shared, described the session as a "simulation."

After receiving questions about the event, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security issued a statement:

Recently, the Center for Health Security has received questions about whether that pandemic exercise predicted the current novel coronavirus outbreak in China. To be clear, the Center for Health Security and partners did not make a prediction during our tabletop exercise. For the scenario, we modeled a fictional coronavirus pandemic, but we explicitly stated that it was not a prediction.

The statement goes on to say the meeting was about how to marshal cooperation among industries, governments and key international institutions in the event of a global pandemic:

Instead, the exercise served to highlight preparedness and response challenges that would likely arise in a very severe pandemic. We are not now predicting that the nCoV-2019 outbreak will kill 65 million people. Although our tabletop exercise included a mock novel coronavirus, the inputs we used for modeling the potential impact of that fictional virus are not similar to nCoV-2019.

As the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, and has so far killed 42 people, continues to spread, so do the conspiracy theories. Chief among them, according to Rolling Stone, is the suggestion that Bill Gates is somehow responsible for this outbreak:

Gates's presentation was in the context of a wider argument that governments need to work better with the private sector to develop the technology to fight a potential pandemic. "The world needs to prepare for pandemics in the same serious way it prepares for war," Gates said. To a rational person, this would clearly indicate that he was arguing for better preparedness in fighting pandemics, not gleefully anticipating a potential future one -- yet on social media, the article was widely cited by conspiracy theorists as a globalist billionaire ominously predicting the engineering of a global catastrophe, for no reason other than personal profit.

BuzzFeed reported that QAnon supporters and vaccination opponents are spreading hoaxes online that Gates created the coronavirus.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is the former Director of Programming at CNN International, where he helped shape the network's daily newscasts broadcast to more than 280 million households around the world. He was based at the network's Los Angeles Bureau. There, he managed the team responsible for a three-hour nightly program, Newsroom LA.

Formerly, he worked at the headquarters in Atlanta, and he spent four years at the London bureau. An award-winning producer, Cooper oversaw the network's Emmy Award-winning coverage of the uprising in Egypt in 2011. He also served as a supervising producer during much of the network's live reporting on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, for which CNN received an Edward R. Murrow Award.

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