Was the Covid-19 pandemic actually planned? Unpacking the conspiracy
The world changed forever when face masks, hand sanitiser and social distancing suddenly became part of our everyday lives after the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic in March 2020.
Now, after two years of lockdowns and "new normals", we're seeing more and more restrictions ease off, but the many conspiracy theories that took hold during the pandemic remain.
The idea that greedy pharmaceutical giants orchestrated the outbreak and that microchips were being embedded into vaccines have been two of the most prolific theories, and interestingly, they both have ties to an obscure exercise known as "Event 201".
What is Event 201?
In October 2019 - two months before the first cases of Covid-19 were officially detected in Wuhan - the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in the United States organised an exercise to simulate what would happen in the event of a global pandemic.
"Event 201", as it was called, didn't get much mainstream media coverage at the time but it has since been seized upon by conspiracy theorists because the simulation was designed to test how governments, healthcare bodies, businesses and the general public could respond in the event of a hypothetical coronavirus outbreak.
"The planning for this particular event started a couple of years previously and they're looking at what would need to happen to contain a pandemic, so they're going through various scenarios in order to rehearse what would have to happen to contain it," futurist and philosopher Dr Richard Hames tells Yahoo News' Conspiracies Unpacked.
Big profits for big pharma
Conspiracy theorists have suggested that Event 201 was something of a dress rehearsal in preparation for the deliberate release of a coronavirus orchestrated by big pharmaceutical companies as a way to increase revenue.
While Dr Hames doesn't think this is a likely scenario, he concedes it is not entirely improbable, especially when you consider what the tobacco corporations were capable of when trying to increase profits from the sale of deadly cigarettes.
"The conspiracy theory is really about the collusion around how the pharmaceutical industry can make more money," he explains.
"There is a big question to be answered there because prior to the pandemic, only three to five percent of revenue came from vaccines, in fact, most of the revenue came from treating animals and animal diseases."
There's no doubt big pharma and its principal shareholders have greatly profited from the Covid-19 vaccines with Pfizer alone doubling its revenue in 2021 after making close to US$37 billion from its vaccine.
While it must be said that the global population has also enjoyed significant benefits thanks to the protection these vaccines have provided, Pfizer and other big companies like Facebook and Visa, have been accused of pandemic profiteering by Oxfam.
Microchips in vaccines
Along with the idea that big pharma orchestrated the pandemic, another conspiracy that weaves its way into the Event 201 theory is that the new vaccines contained microchips to monitor and track our every move.
In an interview in early 2020, Bill Gates suggested that in the future "we will have some digital certificates" that would tell us whether a person previously had Covid or been vaccinated. No mention of microchips was made but it sparked a wild conspiracy theory with Mr Gates at its centre.
Coincidentally, one of Event 201's organisers was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but Dr Hames gives absolutely no credit to the microchip theory, saying, "the possibility of putting microchips in vaccines is just silly".
Timing of Event 201: Coincidence or something more sinister?
The Event 201 simulation was organised to prepare for a "hypothetical but scientifically plausible" scenario.
In its statement of purpose, the Event 201's organisers said, "in recent years, the world has seen a growing number of epidemic events... experts agree that it is only a matter of time before one of these epidemics becomes global - a pandemic with potentially catastrophic consequences."
The choice of a coronavirus for the simulation is also a logical one given the deadly SARS and MERS outbreaks were both caused by coronaviruses.
Is Donald Trump a Russian spy? Unpacking the conspiracy theory
Was JFK assassinated by the CIA? Why the conspiracy theory lives on
Was the Moon landing faked? Conspiracy theorists point to key reasons for NASA 'hoax'
The fact that something similar to the hypothetical scenario later happened is a testament to the necessity of such exercises, and Dr Hames believes we actually need more planning exercises to help prevent future disasters from occurring.
"We need to be doing more planning because we know that we're going to be beset with more pandemics of this nature," he says, "So I would say that we need to be doing more in order to get the money to fund the research so that we're better prepared."
Distrust at an all-time high
Dr Hames does not believe there is any merit to the conspiracy theory that the Covid-19 pandemic was planned, but he does note that one of the reasons it has been so prolific is because of the erosion of trust that previously existed between the general public, our politicians and the scientific community.
"We're believing less and less what we're being told," he says.
"Fear in the population is driving that kind of conspiracy theory and it's natural; we want an answer, we want to find solutions that make sense to us, and the truth is not apparent from those we've been told we can trust."
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.
You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.