US rapper Pitbull wrong to claim Event 201 was ‘rehearsal’ for coronavirus pandemic

18 February 2021
What was claimed

Event 201 was a complete rehearsal of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our verdict

Event 201 was a real exercise to simulate how those in government, business and public health might respond to a global pandemic. It was not based on Covid-19 and does not mean the organisers had prior knowledge of the pandemic.

What was claimed

Event 201 was run by the Johns Hopkins University in cahoots with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Our verdict

It was run by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

What was claimed

Flu and heart attacks went away this year.

Our verdict

A drop in flu cases in both the US and UK was likely down to measures brought in to stop Covid-19. Heart attacks have not gone away.

A video of the US rapper Pitbull claiming that the pandemic was planned out during ‘Event 201’ has been widely shared on UK Facebook. Event 201 was a real pandemic planning exercise that took place in October 2019. This does not mean its organisers had prior knowledge of Covid-19, or that it was a “rehearsal” for the coronavirus pandemic. 

The video shows Pitbull (real name Armando Christian Perez) discussing the pandemic, which has been identified by the fact-checkers at AFP as being from an American TV show and podcast called Drink Champs. The full episode featuring Pitbull was uploaded online on 26 September 2020, but it is the short clip where he talks about the pandemic which has gone viral. 

Event 201 was a real pandemic planning exercise which took place in October 2019. We’ve written about it before. Global business, government and public health leaders took part in a simulation that looked at a number of scenarios and issues that might occur in the course of a real pandemic. 

Pitbull described Event 201 as “a complete rehearsal of what we are doing now”. This is not accurate. Although the virus in Event 201 does spread around the world, there are a number of differences between the practice scenario and what has actually occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Event 201 was based on a fictional coronavirus spreading from infected pig farms in Brazil and the scenario involved there being “no possibility of a vaccine being available in the first year”. 

Whereas the Covid-19 pandemic is believed to have begun in China and vaccines were first administered in December 2020, almost exactly a year after the first Covid-19 cases were reported in Wuhan.

The Event 201 scenario ended after 18 months, with 65 million deaths. No predictions have suggested the Covid-19 death toll will be this high. After 14 months, the reported global death toll is 2.4 million.

Pitbull also claimed Event 201 was run by the Johns Hopkins University “in cahoots” with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It’s correct the event was put on by the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Johns Hopkins has said the participants “did not make a prediction during our tabletop exercise. For the scenario, we modelled a fictional coronavirus pandemic, but we explicitly stated that it was not a prediction. 

“Instead, the exercise served to highlight preparedness and response challenges that would likely arise in a very severe pandemic [...] although our tabletop exercise included a mock novel coronavirus, the inputs we used for modelling the potential impact of that fictional virus are not similar to [Covid-19].”

Pitbull also described various “segment[s]” in Event 201, detailing plans to do with travel, online communications and finance. These segments, which involved discussions on these topics based on hypothetical scenarios, can be watched online

Johns Hopkins has run similar disaster-planning simulation events in the past: Clade X in 2018 also focused on pandemics, while Atlantic Storm in 2005 and Dark Winter in 2001 simulated biological attacks.

Pitbull also claimed “recovery numbers” suggest that “the flu went on vacation this year. Heart attacks went on vacation this year.”

As we’ve written before, although the UK has experienced a mild flu season in the last year that does not mean flu has been eradicated. There are many plausible reasons for this, including the high flu vaccination rate, as well as increased handwashing and reduced movement that could have minimised transmission. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention noted that: “In the United States, influenza virus circulation declined sharply within 2 weeks of the COVID-19 emergency declaration and widespread implementation of community mitigation measures, including school closures, social distancing, and mask wearing.”

If Pitbull is implying that Covid-19 cases are actually flu, and flu deaths are being mislabelled as Covid-19 deaths, then we know this is not plausible. The worst flu season in the past five years, 2017/18, saw 22,000 deaths in England associated with flu. So far, there have been 105,000 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test in England.

We also know heart attacks and other heart issues have not disappeared during the pandemic. In November, the British Heart Foundation warned there had been 4,622 excess deaths from heart and circulatory diseases during the pandemic up to mid-October. 

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because Event 201 was not a rehearsal of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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