- The coronavirus origin story is still a mystery, as the joint WHO-China investigation is yet to start.
- A series of reports have recently detailed China’s missteps during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan and the lack of transparency about the illness’s seriousness.
- The New York Times and Associated Press published two additional extensive reports that further explain China’s delayed response in the early weeks of 2020, as well as the country’s censorship of its own efforts to find the origin of the virus.
The most important question about the novel coronavirus remains unanswered. How did it start? After more than a year since China confirmed the discovery of a new illness, we still have no idea who Patient Zero was. The consensus among scientists is that the virus grew inside an animal, probably a bat. It then mutated in the same animal or an intermediary host before jumping to humans. China has never directly answered the question, nor did it allow anyone else to help with the investigation. The upcoming WHO-China investigation is the result of intensive negotiations, with China offering and agreeing to terms.
The answer to that question isn’t important for assigning blame. Nearly 85 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, and over 1.85 million people have died. Many thousands more will die until some level of herd immunity is reached, and vaccines could get us there by the end of 2022. Knowing how COVID-19 started is important for developing more treatments and safety protocols. We’ll need to know whether those animals are immune to the virus and whether they can be a reservoir of infection in the future. Not to mention that other unknown coronavirus can behave similarly in the future and lead to a different pandemic.
It’s not China or any other country’s fault for the emergence of the novel coronavirus or any virus. But the country could have been more transparent about the early days of the pandemic. That much we know of from CNN’s huge “Wuhan Files” leak from a few weeks ago that showed the various problems that lead to a poor response to the initial Wuhan outbreak. It wasn’t just unpreparedness and failure to act quickly. It was also China’s tendency to cover up the truth that came up in that report.
The Times’ 25 days that changed the world: How COVID-19 slipped China’s grasp explains in great detail the inner workings of China’s early response to the health crisis in Wuhan. The report shows how China failed to act decisively and share timely data of the imminent threat with the world. The report indicates that China knew or suspected the virus was spreading from human to human well before confirming it to the world, highlighting the censorship in place and the fears of officials to infringe directives from Beijing. The report also explains the failed public health partnership between the US and China could have allowed the US to have boots on the ground in the pandemic’s early days.
If The Times focuses on those lost days, AP’s China clamps down in hidden hunt for coronavirus origins story looks at the scientific efforts to find the COVID-19 source. The report details Beijing’s immense pressure on researchers from the early days of 2020. The government prevented researchers from publishing unvetted COVID-19 studies. The papers would have to serve the overall narrative that China put in place. The government prides itself on how it handled the Wuhan crisis, and the truth is that China’s actions in Wuhan did allow the country to contain the outbreak and return to regular life. No Western country was able to do what China did.
The story shows Beijing is still looking for answers, but it’s not necessarily keen on sharing any of the findings if those would put China in a bad light. In recent months, Chinese officials have tried to use international studies to indicate that the virus could have originated from somewhere else, with Wuhan being just a victim. They pointed to European countries like Italy and Spain, and then to India and Bangladesh as potential origin points for the Wuhan epidemic. The AP story also makes it clear that trying to investigate the COVID-19 origin in China without Beijing’s blessing is practically impossible.