Fact check: Post falsely claims there were no COVID-19 restrictions at the G-7 summit

·7 min read

Editor's note: This story was updated June 21 to include comments from Conservative News Today, which were provided after this story published.

The claim: There were no COVID-19 restrictions at the G-7 summit

As President Joe Biden and other world leaders held their first in-person talks since the start of the global pandemic, some took to social media to claim coronavirus guidelines were ignored at the G-7 Leadership Summit.

The Group of Seven – an organization consisting of leaders from the world's largest economies that meet annually – gathered on the southwest coast of England from June 11 to 13 to discuss recovery from the coronavirus, climate change and foreign policy, among other topics.

The formal session looked different this year, with fewer participants and G-7 leaders posing for a socially distanced group photo on the beach. But some online posts claim otherwise.

"No masks, no social distancing no quarantine before.....They've all come in from other countries. Are you getting it yet? One massive scam on humanity," reads a June 12 Facebook post from Conservative News Today with more than 5,200 shares.

The text is accompanied by an image of Biden, first lady Jill Biden and Queen Elizabeth II chatting without face masks at a reception held at the Eden Project, an environmental center in Cornwall, England.

One user on Instagram shared a similar photo on June 12 and wrote: "Why do the people who make the rules think they can get away breaking those same rules?"

But the Bidens and the queen have been vaccinated against the virus, along with other world leaders that were in attendance. The G-7 summit also had coronavirus restrictions in place such as daily testing requirements, social distancing and outdoor gatherings.

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USA TODAY reached out to the Instagram user for comment.

The meme defense

Michele Kirk, editor in chief of the BizPac Review, which runs the Conservative News Today page, said in an email the post was an "opinion/commentary meme" and was addressing only the moment in the picture, not the G-7 as a whole.

"The meme's intent is to point a finger at what we believe is the hypocritical nature of a) world leaders publicly conveying concerns about the pandemic (hence, the socially-distanced beach photo) while b) ignoring them to engage in close-quarters co-mingling when participants are out of the public's view," Kirk said in an email.

However, this moment wasn't "out of the public's view," since it was at an event covered by pool photographers, who captured the image in the meme that was also published by numerous news organizations.

And the meme's assertion that this proves a "massive scam" ignores that many of the world leaders gathering at the G-7 had been vaccinated, meaning maskless outdoor interaction is in line with guidance from health officials.

Memes became popular in the early 2000s in the form of a picture with Impact font text placed on the bottom and the top of the photo. They can play a prominent role in the spread of misinformation, experts say.

Daily testing, fewer participants and face coverings

The three-day summit was hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Carbis Bay Hotel, in St Ives Cornwall, where participants had to follow the United Kingdom's coronavirus restrictions and other safety measures that were put in place for the gathering.

Some Twitter users used photos of world leaders crowding together at an outdoor barbecue in close proximity to claim there were no restrictions. Johnson spokesman Max Blain disputed that, telling the Associated Press the event was "done in an entirely COVID-secure way within the existing rules" and that there were fewer than 30 guests.

Photos from the G-7 summit, captured by pool photographers, show world leaders greeting each other with elbow bumps, socially distancing and wearing masks, however, face coverings were removed at times and some leaders gathered in close proximity. For example, Biden was seen wrapping his arm around French President Emmanuel Macron, who announced in May that he received one dose of the vaccine.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told USA TODAY that the government worked with Public Health of England and local health officials to ensure a safe gathering amid the ongoing pandemic. Measures included regular testing for the virus and social distancing.

"All attendees and delegations have been required to follow UK public health regulations throughout the meeting," the spokesperson told USA TODAY in a statement. "We have required them to respect strict Covid-secure measures, including daily testing before arrival and regularly throughout the Summit."

Coronavirus guidelines in the U.K., where there has been a rise in COVID-19 cases linked to the Delta variant, include wearing a face covering in enclosed areas, regular testing for the virus, and limiting outdoor gatherings to 30 people.

All leaders at the summit have been at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus, and the number of reporters allowed access this year was significantly reduced, according to AFP. Journalists were kept at a media center 23 miles from Carbis Bay and were also required to undergo regular testing prior to the event.

Those who recently traveled to a country considered high risk by the U.K. were required to quarantine upon entry, however, some delegations received waivers and were allowed to enter and leave without self-isolating, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Additionally, all attendees were required to take a daily self-administered coronavirus test and show proof of a negative result to get through security checkpoints. Checkpoints also had signs warning participants to wear masks and socially distance.

COVID-19 safety restrictions at the Tregenna Castle resort, where Biden and other G-7 leaders stayed, also include face coverings in all indoor public areas, enhanced cleaning procedures, contactless payments and takeout food options.

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The response to several positive coronavirus tests also illustrates the seriousness with which G-7 approached the topic.

A separate hotel hosting media and security staff for the G-7 temporarily shut down for deep cleaning after hotel staff tested positive for coronavirus, per BBC. Two G-7 summit police officers also tested positive and five others were asked to isolate as a precaution. Cornwall Council says on its site that the county has had "relatively low levels of cases" compared to other areas of England.

Our rating: False

The claim that there were no coronavirus restrictions at the G-7 summit is FALSE, based on our research. Participants at the gathering were required to undergo coronavirus testing, and all world leaders at the meeting were at least partially vaccinated. Some events were held outdoors and limited to 30 people or less.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Pandemic precautions were in place at 2021 G-7 summit