A table listing the COVID-19 "variants" along with their alleged "release dates" is being shared widely on different social media platforms. The claim alleges that the variants were a way to fool people.
However, we found that the claim was not true and none of the organisations mentioned in the screenshot had issued a list of future COVID-19 variants. Moreover, the dates mentioned in the screenshot for the corresponding variants were also incorrect.
The caption shared with the viral post read, "These are the PLANNED COVID-19 VARIANTS - just look at the dates when they will be “released” to the media."
The table included two main columns, that were titled, "cepa/variante" and “lanzamiento” which in Spanish means "variant" and "launched" respectively. The table listed out the names of the variants and their "release" dates.
Several social media users used the same caption to share the viral image.
WHAT WE FOUND OUT
Scientists have been studying the different mutations and possible variants from the beginning of the pandemic. It was on 31 May, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it will be labelling the new viral strains after letters of the Greek alphabet.
The variants emerging from the United Kingdom and South Africa were dubbed as Alpha and Beta variant, while the one that was first found in India was called the Delta variant.
We looked up the websites of the organisations whose logos were a part of the viral screenshot – WHO, World Economic Forum (WEF), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Johns Hopkins University.
None of the organisation had put out any such list of future variants.
According to the WHO, 10 variants have been identified so far as variants of interest and variants of concern.
According to the viral list, the delta variant was "released" in June 2021 whereas in reality, the variant was first found in October 2020. It was designated a variant of concern (VOC) by the WHO on 11 May.
The viral list failed to mention the previous variants like Alpha and Beta.
HOW ARE COVID VARIANTS FORMED?
The viral list also ignores the fact that variants are caused naturally by random mutations and not created by humans.
Mutations occur when the virus replicates and makes copies of itself. In most cases, their replication is flawless. But sometimes, there are small changes that occur, which are called mutations. These mutations combine to form a variant.
Additionally, predicting new and emerging variants is difficult and uncertain.
Ed Feil, a professor of microbial evolution at the University of Bath wrote wrote a piece in The Conversation in May 2020, where he said, “Predictions about the evolutionary course of the virus, and specifically changes in virulence, will always be riddled with uncertainty. The vagaries of randomly mutating RNA, chaotic patterns of transmission and expansion, and partially understood forces of natural selection, present challenges to even the most insightful evolutionary soothsayer.”
Evidently, a fake list of COVID-19 variants and their future launch dates was shared by social media users. Neither was it released by any of the institutes it was attributed to nor is there any authentic source for it.