A virologist's remarks on his experience with H1N1 in 2009 were misrepresented to show that he trained world leaders to manipulate people on COVID-19.
A video posted on Instagram alleges that a European virologist prepared world leaders to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2019, months before the first case of the infection was reported. At the beginning of the video, a text states that the virologist presented how to incite fear in public by inflating fatality statistics and manipulating the public into being vaccinated. The same video was shared on different social media platforms without the initial opening text, with captions suggesting that the pandemic and vaccination were pre-planned, and world leaders were trained beforehand to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast to the claim and captions, we found that the video was taken out of context and was a compilation of scenes from the Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst’s 23-minute speech. We found that the video was an excerpt from a more extended version using a reverse image search. The official site of the European Scientific Working group on Influenza (ESWI) uploaded the original version of the video. It depicted a lecture by Marc Van Ranst, Belgian virologist, at the Pandemic Influenza Stakeholders meeting in London on January 22, 2019. The conference was conducted to celebrate the centennial of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which included a review of the previous 100 years of progress, an assessment of present preparation levels, and a look ahead at policy participation prospects. Ranst, speaking at the event, highlighted the strategies he used to address the media space while serving as Interministerial Commissioner for Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Planning during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu epidemic. Extracts from his lecture at the event were widely circulated with a misleading narrative implying that this was evidence of COVID-19 pandemic training. The ESWI also released a report on the session that included Ranst's contribution, which can be found on page 20 of the report. In front of an audience, Ranst explained how he made sure he was the contact point for the media during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak, using the slogan "one voice, one message'' and saying ''You have to be omnipresent in the first day or days.'' He continues, "In order to attract the attention of the media, you make an agreement with them, you will tell them everything, and if they call you, you pick up the phone. He also outlined the need to point out daily mortality caused by influenza and maintains that discussing deaths is critical because it causes people to contemplate the possibility of fatalities. Furthermore, Ranst discusses the HINI immunization rather than the COVID-19 vaccine at about 12:52 timestamp in the video. "Remember folks, it's important that we let the weaker members of the society be first in line to get the HINI vaccination," says the presentation slide. He talked about prioritizing vaccines for high-risk groups, women and children. He also remarks that the fact that the vaccine was given to soccer players was used to imply that it was effective. The entire presentation is focused on how to effectively communicate during the onset of a pandemic rather than training for COVID-19. COVID-19 is commonly misrepresented by conspiracy theorists, who contend it was planned ahead of time. However, there is no evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic was preplanned. Anti-vaccination advocates repurposed this video to support such claims that the pandemic and vaccine drives are government propaganda. Contrary to what Ranst is accused of, he did not train world leaders for the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence we have marked this claim as false. The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.