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Monkeypox Hoax: Conspiracy theories stir across social media over latest outbreak spreads

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By Rhal Ssan  & Mario Bowden
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Monkeypiox under microscope
Monkeypiox under microscope   -   Copyright  AP/CDC

With monkeypox infections now recorded in over 20 countries, its latest outbreak has now led to erroneous theories that the outbreaks were planned and man-made.

Much like with COVID-19, the spread of monkeypox has led to a host of misinformation emerging on social media, on how and why the outbreak began.

Back in March 2021 The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), an organisation focused on reducing strategic threats, created a simulation of a pathogen outbreak in the world. The virus they chose was monkeypox. In their simulation, a terrorist group released a modified version of it from a lab, which then spread across the globe.

The date they chose for the outbreak was June 5th this year – which some people have erroneously pounced on to argue that this means this is not a simulation but is happening now.

The spreading of false theories on social media forced the NTI to publish a statement.

The NTI said: “Following the recent detection of monkeypox cases across multiple countries, NTI’s report on the exercise has appeared in a number of social media outlets, noting that the associated fictional scenario featured a monkeypox outbreak with a start date that roughly coincides with the current, ongoing outbreak.”

The statement continued to say that the “fact that several countries are currently experiencing an outbreak of monkeypox is purely a coincidence.”

The outcome of the simulation concluded that there is a gap in countries’ preparedness for a pandemic-like outbreak of monkeypox – and that more robust action was needed from the international community.

Pandemic threat simulations are fairly common practice. They are often conducted to test how prepared countries are to combat future viruses.

The NTI reiterated their exercise was created “to draw attention among senior global leaders to the urgent need to improve international capabilities to prevent and respond to pandemics.”

Large parts of the simulation were evidently fictional. For instance, monkeypox was described as being released from a lab after an attack. The NTI’s simulation also revolved around a fictitious country named Brinia, which spilt over from the lab to spread globally.

The NTI has further dismissed the claims that monkeypox is a new disease – reiterating that it has been circulating in Africa, in countries such as Nigeria, with imported cases being reported in the US and UK.

While It’s still early days in the outbreak, experts in infectious diseases are continuing to keep a watchful eye on the infection’s latest circulation.

The World Health Organisation on Tuesday described the recent outbreaks as a ‘containable’ situation and that the likelihood of a rapid increase in infections remained quite low on a whole.

On Wednesday, three more countries recorded monkeypox infections. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first Gulf state to record a case. It follows the Czech Republic and Slovenia also reporting cases.

You can read the full NTI report here.