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Debunked: No, countries were not exporting Covid-19 test kits in 2017

It’s been claimed that the World Bank was recording exports of Covid-19 tests up to three years ago.

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A NUMBER OF social media posts circulating in Ireland in recent days have claimed that a World Bank website has been recording exports of Covid-19 tests since 2017.

Screenshots taken from the website, which collates data on trade and tariffs, appear to show that several countries have been exporting tests for the coronavirus for years before the pandemic was officially declared.

However, this claim is not true.

While the images appear to be genuine, the reference to Covid-19 is down to a temporary error in how certain data on the website was labelled.

The claim has circulated on Irish social media accounts in recent days.

One of the most popular posts on an anti-government website has been shared more than 400 times this week, while other smaller pages have also shared it dozens of times.

The claim was posted on 4chan and shared by conspiracy theorist Ben Swann on Facebook last week.

It has already been fact-checked in other countries, where different versions of it such as those above have been debunked. 

The claim centres on two images taken from the World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS) website, which purport to show that test kits for Covid-19 were already being exported in 2017 and 2018:


2018 exports

According to the claim, Ireland exported more than 590 tonnes of Covid-19 test kits in 2017 and 18,000 tonnes of test kits in 2018.

But a closer look at the WITS website, where the images come from, shows that this wasn’t the case.

The code identifying Covid-19 test kits on the website was actually an older code for general medical test kits, which had been re-labelled.

That meant that old information about exports of general medical test kits showed up as exports for Covid-19 test kits instead.

The website is a collaborative project involving the World Bank that aggregates trade databases from across the world.

It displays things like each country’s share of global exports, as well as import and export figures for certain products.

The system used to track exports and imports is called the Harmonised System (HS), which, according to the US Department of Commerce, is a “standardised numerical method of classifying traded products”.

HS is used by customs authorities around the world to identify products when they are assessing duties and taxes and for gathering statistics, and each product on the system has a unique code.

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On the WITS website, these codes allow users to look up a specific product and see how much of it countries around the world imported and exported every year.

There are two codes – which are visible on the images above – for Covid-19 tests: 300215 and 382200.

Covid-19 test kits were assigned these codes in the HS classification reference for Covid-19 medical supplies, in April 2020.

But the codes 300215 and 382200 were based on a pre-existing HS classification from 2017. That’s because the codes are used for medical test kits in general, and aren’t unique to Covid-19 test kits.

Covid-19 test kits Source: World Customs Organisation

The main source of confusion seems to have been an error in the way the WITS website labelled products with these codes on their website. Instead of referring to general test kits, the website included Covid-19 in the description.

That meant that anyone looking at exports for medical test kits in 2018 and 2017 would have seen references to Covid-19 kits, which did not exist at the time.

The website has since altered the entries for both years to correctly state that the products 300215 and 382200 are “medical test kits”, and no longer includes Covid-19 in the product description.

The World Bank also confirmed to Associated Press, who previously debunked the claim, that products with those codes were available before Covid-19 for other uses, but that the codes have recently been designated to support Covid-19 responses.


There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not.


Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie

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