The World Economic Forum did not write about the omicron variant in July
CLAIM: The World Economic Forum published a story about the new coronavirus variant, now named omicron, in July 2021, months before South Africa first reported it to the World Health Organization this week.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The WEF first published an article about detecting variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 in July, but archived versions of the story shows it did not mention omicron. The article was then updated in November after the WHO’s announcement, the archives show.
THE FACTS: Scientists in South Africa identified and first announced the new variant, B.1.1.529, on Wednesday, saying it is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country. By Friday, the WHO had declared it a “variant of concern” and given it the name “omicron.”
But on Saturday, Twitter users circulated posts linking to the WEF article, suggesting that it showed the variant was not new at all.
“They’re starting to make mistakes. WHO just said that ‘Omicron’ was first reported by South Africa on 11/24/21. However, WEF reported this EXACT same ‘variant’—B.1.1.529, out of South Africa—way back in July. Oops,” reads one post that was retweeted over 3,000 times.
Another post shows two screenshots, comparing the WEF article’s timestamp of July 12, 2021, with the WHO’s announcement, dated Nov. 26, 2021.
But previous versions of the WEF article stored by the Wayback Machine, an internet archive, show that it did not mention the new variant until recently, although the forum failed to note that the article had been updated until later Saturday.
An archive of the page from July 12, when the story was first published, contains no mention of the new variant, instead beginning by discussing the delta variant. Another version archived on Sept. 22 shows the article unchanged.
A version from Nov. 26, after omicron was announced, shows the article had then been updated to say “South African scientists have discovered a new COVID-19 variant” and that it is called “B.1.1.529.”
The article, however, still did not note that it had been updated — retaining the July 12 timestamp — as the false claims began circulating on social media early Saturday, an archived version shows. A note was finally added later in the day saying: “This article was last updated on 26 November 2021.”
The WEF did not return a request for comment Saturday.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.