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Pandemic War Games

There are numerous examples of published “war games” that bear striking similarity to the COVID-19 crisis. In some cases - and despite official denials - some elements of these exercises, simulations, productions and non-fictional briefing documents imply foreknowledge or planning related to events to come. There were three notable war games completed back to back in the final days before word of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak reached the public: Crimson Contagion, A World at Risk, and Event 201.

Known Examples

Event 201 (October 2019)

On October 14, 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security announced on Facebook that they would be hosting a pandemic exercise called “Event 201”.1)

The in-person and virtual event took place in New York City on October 18. 2019. It was organized in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Participants were primarily leaders in the private and public sector, providing the opportunity to strengthen working relationships between governments, non-governmental organizations, regulatory agencies and corporations.2)

There are extensive exerts (if not the entire thing) available to view on YouTube.

These are all uploaded by the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University.3) This sits within the Bloomberg School of Public Health4), founded in 1916 by William H. Welch 5) and John D. Rockefeller.6)

Michael Bloomberg has been the largest source of funding in recent times, handing over $300m in 2016, (the same year he was appointed WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries), and a further $1.8 billion in 2018 to support undergraduate student financial aid. This was “the largest gift in the history of American higher education. The gift allows admissions at Johns Hopkins to become permanently “need blind,” accepting applicants without regard to their ability to pay.” In 2020 he committed $40m “for Covid-19 prevention and control efforts in low- and middle-income countries”, followed by contributing to the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative, “a $150 million effort to address historic underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)”.7) Bloomberg's vehicle is Bloomberg Philanthropies.8)

Notable Similarities to COVID-19

Due to questions surrounding the similarities between the narrative of Event 201 and the real-life COVID-19 pandemic, the JHCHS released a statement denying any foreknowledge of the latter. The statement, dated January 24, 2020, clarified that the centre was “not now predicting that the nCoV-2019 outbreak will kill 65 million people. Although our tabletop exercise included a mock novel coronavirus, the inputs we used for modeling the potential impact of that fictional virus are not similar to nCoV-2019.”9) However, less than two months later, Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London predicted 2,710,000 deaths in the United Kingdom and United States alone.10)

Crimson Contagion (2019)

Crimson Contagion was a series of multi-format pandemic preparedness exercises conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services under US President Donald Trump.11)

The series of exercises was created in response to “the need for the nation to better prepare for incidents in which DHS/FEMA is not the lead federal agency.” It included two tabletop exercises, a seminar, and a functional exercise to examine issues related to response structures, information exchange, coordination of resources, and policy decisions.

A World at Risk (September 2019)

A World at Risk: Annual report on global preparedness for health emergencies” was the inaugural document published by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board - an organization run by the World Health Organization and the World Bank on September 18, 2019.12) “This report provided a snapshot of the world’s ability to prevent and contain a serious global health threat. It also called for seven urgent priority actions leaders must take to prepare across five areas: leadership, building multisectoral country systems, research and development, financing, and robust international coordination.”

A Spreading Plague (February 2019)

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, Georgetown University's Center for Global Health Science and Security, and the Center for Global Development hosted a pandemic war game in Munich, Germany, simulating “command, control, and coordination of an international response to an unusual and rapidly spreading biological event.”13) A report was published with the findings and recommendations, titled “A Spreading Plague”.

SPARS Pandemic Scenario (October 2017)

In October 2017, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security released a document entitled “The SPARS Pandemic Scenario- a Futuristic Scenario for Public Health Risk Communicators”.14) It was described as “a self-guided exercise scenario for public health communicators and risk communication researchers eager to deepen their understanding of the communication dilemmas that could arise when medical countermeasures are developed and distributed during a pandemic.”

Notable Similarities to COVID-19

By the very first word, a similarity in naming is obvious - “SPARS” vs “SARS”. Both also have similar extended names, “SPARS-CoV” and “SARS-CoV-2”, which are acronyms for “St. Paul Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” and “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2”, respectively. 15)

Lock Step Scenario (2010)

In May 2010, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Global Business Network published a document titled “Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development”.16) Four hypothetical scenarios are explored, titled “Lock Step”, “Clever Together”, “Hack Attack”, and “Smart Scramble”.

Lock Step's official description reads: “A world of tighter top-down government control and more authoritarian leadership, with limited innovation and growing citizen pushback”.

Notable Similarities to COVID-19

The premise of the scenario involves “the pandemic that the world had been anticipating for years”, which is a phrase often used to describe the COVID-19 outbreak.

Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague (2010)

Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague was a documentary film produced by the National Film Board of Canada and PMA Sciences Inc. on May 11, 2010.17) 18)

The film “juxtaposes a 21st century scenario against the cautionary history of Montreal's 1885 smallpox epidemic to depict a modern city under siege. Featured interviews include epidemiologist Michael Libman; Theresa Tam, head of Canada’s Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response; André Picard, public health reporter at The Globe and Mail; and Michael Bliss, author of Plague: How Smallpox Devastated Montreal.” A copy is stored at the Public Safety Canada Library19) and in its entirety on BitChute.20)

Official Description

Patient Zero is a flight attendant, stricken with what she thinks is chickenpox. She goes to ground in a Montreal hotel room. A few weeks later, she’s back on the job — unaware of her role in an impending public health catastrophe. Pandemics have killed more people throughout history than all wars combined. They are unpredictable — and inevitable. Are we ready for the next big one?

Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague juxtaposes a 21st century scenario against the little-known story of the 1885 smallpox epidemic that devastated Montreal. Revisiting North America’s last major encounter with the dreaded “Red Death,” it vividly evokes a modern city under siege.

By the late 19th century Montreal was Canada’s leading metropolis, and smallpox was preventable. So when an inbound train conductor displayed symptoms of the disease, authorities should have been able to contain the infection. But a string of fatal errors and mishaps would muddy the waters — and a tainted batch of vaccine would sow panic and mistrust in a city already divided by language, religion and class. Epidemics feed on chaos — and by the time it had run its terrible course, the 1885 plague had claimed over 2500 lives, mostly children from the city’s impoverished French-speaking slums.

This cautionary history injects Outbreak with dramatic urgency, as Dr Teresa Tam — who oversees Canada’s Federal Emergency Response Team — joins epidemiologist Michael Libman and other experts to speculate on the possible trajectory of a contemporary pandemic. Echoing the events of 1885, authorities struggle to contain the infection in the face of social unrest, ethnic scapegoating and economic ruin. Strikingly conceived re-enactments present disquieting scenes of over-crowded emergency wards, shuttered shopfronts and police coercion.

Addressing renewed fears of bio-warfare and recent experience with SARS and AIDS, Outbreak deftly blends fiction with popular history to tailor a timely and engaging reflection on what can happen when pandemics strike. Based on Plague: How Smallpox Devastated Montreal, by Michael Bliss.

Notable Similarities to COVID-19

Theresa Tam served as the top Canadian public health official in the documentary (as Director General of the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response), and during the COVID-19 crisis (as Chief Public Health Officer).21)

In the film, Tam discusses “being able to enforce mandatory quarantines, using tracking bracelets, and only 'worry later' about questions of an overreach.”22)

Dark Winter (2001)

Dark Winter was a bioterrorism exercise conducted on June 22-23, 2001 at Andrews Air Force Base in the United States.23) The script for the exercise was published by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense, Center for Strategic and International Studies, ANSER, & Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

Participants in the exercise played roles as “National Security Council (NSC) members responding to the smallpox crisis, exercise participants were given information about unfolding events in four important ways: briefings, memos, newspaper summaries, and video news clips.”

Implementing the GHSA: Progress and Impact from U.S. Government Investments 2017:

Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. (2019, October 14). Event 201 Facebook Event Announcement. Facebook.
J. H. C. H. S. website. (2019, November 11). Event 201, a Pandemic exercise to illustrate preparedness efforts.
JHCHS. (2020, January 24). Statement about nCoV and our pandemic exercise. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Ferguson, N. M., Laydon, D., & Nedjati-Gilani, G. (2020, March 16). Report 9: Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand. Imperial College London.
Department of Health and Human Services. (2020, January). Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Crimson Contagion 2019 Functional Exercise After-Action Report, 2020.
A World at Risk. (2019, September 18). Global Preparedness Monitoring Board.
A Spreading Plague: Lessons and Recommendations for Responding to a Deliberate Biological Event. (2019, June 13). The Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Alexopulos, N. (2017, October 23). Center for Health Security releases risk communications exercise scenario focused on medical countermeasures in a pandemic. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Wu, Y., Ho, W., Huang, Y., Jin, D.-Y., Li, S., Liu, S.-L., Liu, X., Qiu, J., Sang, Y., Wang, Q., Yuen, K.-Y., & Zheng, Z.-M. (2020). SARS-CoV-2 is an appropriate name for the new coronavirus. The Lancet, 0(0).
Rockefeller Foundation, Global Business Network, Rodin, J., & Schwartz, P. (2010). Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development. Academia.
Government of Canada. (2012, October 11). Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague. National Film Board of Canada.
Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague. (2010, May 11). Amazon.
Public Safety Canada. (2015, November 24). Outbreak [videorecording (DVD)] : anatomy of a plague / written & directed by Jefferson Lewis ; produced by Kenneth Hirsch = La variole : anatomie d’un fléau / écrit et réalisé par Jefferson Lewis ; produit par Kenneth Hirsch. Government of Canada.
TheCovidReport. (2020, November 29). OUTBREAK: ANATOMY OF A PLAGUE - 2010 National Film Board of Canada Documentary - Pandemic Fearporn. BitChute.
Ricard, A. (2020, May 11). Dr. Theresa Tam and COVID-19 - Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science and Technology. Simon Fraser University.
Ronnie. (2020, April 27). CV #13: Corona Planned-emic; Lobbying; Deleted Resources; CL Listings; Theresa Tam, Canada’s “Hoaxer Zero.” Canuck Law.
Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense, Center for Strategic and International Studies, ANSER, & Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. (2001, June 22). Dark Winter Bioterrorism Exercise. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Retrieved December 1, 2021 from
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