Fact Check: Viral post on Covid XBB variant is misleading

Post warning that the Covid-19 subvariant Omicron XBB is ‘five times stronger’ and deadlier than the Delta variant is misleading.

  • By Vishvas News
  • Updated: December 22, 2022
XBB is not deadlier than Delta

New Delhi (Vishvas News): India is again grappling with the fear of the pandemic amid rising COVID cases in the country, news reports suggest. In such times, mis/disinformation spreads at lightning speed. 

Amid the Covid scare in China, a message is circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp warning that the XBB subvariant of Omicron, first discovered in August, is ‘five times stronger’ and deadlier than the Delta variant.

However, Vishvas News, in its investigation, found the claim to be false. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), in a tweet on December 22, 2022, termed the post ‘fake and misleading’. 


Facebook user Radha Rani shared a long social media post on Facebook, which claimed, “COVID-Omicron XBB is five times more toxic than the Delta variant and has a higher mortality rate than the Delta.”

The viral message is also circulating in WhatsApp groups.


Amid the Covid scare in China, a message was circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp warning that the XBB subvariant of Omicron is deadlier than Delta.

XBB, a hybrid between two descendants of the BA.2 version of Omicron, has led to heightened concerns in India. There is so far no evidence of significant differences in its virulence compared with its ‘parent’ lineage. However, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) research suggests the variant is more transmissible than earlier versions of Omicron. It also appears to cause less severe disease.

Vishvas News first began the search on social media using keywords from the post and found many iterations on Facebook here, here, and here.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) press release on October 27, 2022, XBB states, “While further studies are needed, the current data do not suggest there are substantial differences in disease severity for XBB infections. There is, however, early evidence pointing at a higher reinfection risk, as compared to other circulating Omicron sublineages.”

Next, Vishvas News decided to break up the post into claims and analyse it step-by-step from the viewpoint of specialist doctors in the country.

For the first part of the viral message, we contacted Dr Nikhil Modi, a Critical Care Medicine and Pulmonologist who practices at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in Sarita Vihar, Delhi. He said, “It’s a piece of incorrect information. For the same, I would say that this variant may have higher transmissibility, but for the time being, neither the data nor the cases we have seen have shown any severe illness. The majority of them are presenting with symptoms of cough, fever, and runny nose.”

Second, we spoke to Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, MD, DNB, MRCP (UK), ABIM (Medicine, New York) and a former president of the Cochin Chapter of the Indian Medical Association. He called the viral message fake and shared a screenshot of the message he received on his WhatsApp groups. 

He pointed out, “This post is supposed to have originated in Eastern countries, and now people are sharing it in India. Please be aware, don’t unnecessarily panic. This post will only mislead people.”

“It is true that many cases of Omicron infection Test negative on antigen testing in the initial few days. That’s not only with the XBB version. There is no evidence of increased pneumonia with this sublineage alone. Pneumonia is rare with Omicron when compared to the Delta. It is even rarer among vaccinated people,” he added.

While doctors said the claims made in the viral message are misleading, they advised the use of masks and covid-appropriate behaviour.

Microbiologist Dr. Lavanya Jagadish, Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology Chikkamagaluru Institute of Medical Sciences, Karnataka, said, “We are yet to get data regarding mortality. But there are chances that it is highly resistant and has a strong ability to reinfect vaccinated individuals. The new variant is emerging and re-emerging. It has a short incubation period and can infect even those vaccinated. BF.7 is a sublineage of the BA. 5 Variant; in India, about 4 cases have been detected, two from Odisha and two from Gujarat. It’s time for everyone to follow covid-appropriate behaviour like wearing a mask, maintaining six feet distance and hand hygiene.”

Anurag Agrawal, MD PhD, Dean Biosciences and Health Research, Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University, Haryana, supported the sentiment by replying in an email, “This is wrong information and thus fake.”

Dr Edmond Fernandes, a physician and Founder of CHD Group & Director of Edward & Cynthia Institute of Public Health, commented, “The fact that users claim the virus to be stronger is a castle built in the air. It is very crucial not to fall for social media posts without checking out with physicians or professionals working in the healthcare industry. What affects another country cannot be a determinant to conclude that India or South Asia will also go through the same process.” 

After the message went viral on social media, the MoHFW also issued a statement on Twitter: “#FakeNews. This message is circulating in some Whatsapp groups regarding the XBB variant of #COVID19. The message is #FAKE and #MISLEADING.”

You can find the current data on COVID cases reported in India here.

On performing a social scan, we found that the user is a digital creator and has 19k followers on Facebook.

Conclusion: Post warning that the Covid-19 subvariant Omicron XBB is ‘five times stronger’ and deadlier than the Delta variant is misleading.

  • Claim Review : Omicron XBB is 'five times stronger' and deadlier than the Delta variant
  • Claimed By : Fb User: Radha Rani
  • Fact Check : Misleading
Symbols that define nature of fake news
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