DEBUNKED

This image does not prove that a biowarfare exercise is behind monkeypox cases

This screenshot does not prove that the WHO organised a "pandemic simulation" of monkeypox in May 2022.
This screenshot does not prove that the WHO organised a "pandemic simulation" of monkeypox in May 2022. © Observers

Since May 20, Twitter and Facebook accounts have been claiming that an NGO organised a "monkeypox pandemic simulation" which is said to be behind the recent discovery of several cases of this disease. Their proof: a screenshot of a report published by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. In reality, this simulation was entirely virtual and took place last March. It has no connection with the recently discovered cases of monkeypox.

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  • Since May 20, people online have been sharing a photo allegedly showing the plans for a simulated monkeypox pandemic drill on May 15. The exercise would coincide with the real-life discovery of monkeypox cases in several countries.
  • But, although it was a real exercise, it took place completely online and had nothing to do with the current outbreak.
  • The vice president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that the simulation occurred in March 2021, more than a year before the first cases of monkeypox appeared. 

The verification in detail

“A biowarfare exercise took place on November 2021 for a potential #monkeypox outbreak on the exact date of the outbreak here in the UK [...] The people in power are deliberately trying to murder us."

This is just one of the alarmed captions shared on Facebook and Twitter to claim that the recent discovery of monkeypox cases is in fact part of a "biowarfare exercise". As proof, these users shared a screenshot of a report published by the American NGO, Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). The screenshot features a calendar predict several events, among them the "Monkeypox outbreak" on May 15, 2022. 

Screenshot of a Tweet published on May 20, 2022, claiming that the monkeypox pandemic was manufactured in a "biowarfare exercise".
Screenshot of a Tweet published on May 20, 2022, claiming that the monkeypox pandemic was manufactured in a "biowarfare exercise". © Observers

A completely fictional exercise

To find the origin of this screenshot, we went to the website of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. There we found the report from which this timeline was taken. It was published on November 23, 2021. It states that NTI, an NGO whose aim is to prevent attacks caused by weapons of mass destruction such as biological weapons, did organise an exercise to examine the consequences of a "pandemic involving an unusual strain of monkeypox virus".

The introduction to the NTI report.
The introduction to the NTI report. © Observers

However, the introduction to this report tells us that this exercise actually took place on March 17, 2021, and more importantly, that it was held virtually. It was in fact an exercise simulating a hypothetical pandemic in the "fictional nation of Brinia". The 19 participants were invited to react at three different times corresponding to the evolution of this mock pandemic, which was punctuated by fake news clips. These three steps are detailed in the simulated timeline that is now being broadcast on Twitter and Facebook.

Screenshot of one of the fake newscasts broadcast by NTI during the exercise.
Screenshot of one of the fake newscasts broadcast by NTI during the exercise. © Observers

We also contacted Jaime Yassif, a doctor of biophysics and vice-president of NTI. She was the co-organiser of the event and confirmed that it was a mock exercise that took place online. 

Yassif also told us: "NTI created this fictional scenario so that participants could discuss the improvements needed to better prevent and respond to potential pandemics such as Covid-19."

As for the choice of May 15, 2022 as a starting date and the recent discovery of monkeypox: "For the purposes of the exercise, we chose a pathogen that would be relevant to our fictional scenario. So we chose monkeypox from among other possibilities," Yassif explained. "Our virtual exercise took place on March 17, 2021, so the date of May 15, 2022 was just the starting point of our fictional scenario timeline."

So this calendar actually corresponds to a simulated exercise that took place online in March 2021 and has no relation to the recent discovery of monkeypox cases. Yassif explained that the purpose of the simulation was "to draw leaders' attention to the urgent need to improve international pandemic prevention and response capabilities".