Controversy over Swiss ‘scientist’ criticizing investigation into origin of Covid-19


Published newspaper The Independent British journalist Adam Taylor reported that a Facebook user named Wilson Edwards wrote on July 24 a post criticizing America’s position on the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origin of the emerging corona virus.

The user claimed to be a Swiss biologist, and said the investigation had been politicized. He wrote that the Biden administration “has spared no effort in rebuilding American influence in the organization.”

With this post he was in contention, as China rejected new efforts to learn more about how the Corona virus was transmitted to humans, which is what prompted America and the World Health Organization towards it. Only a few Western scholars have adopted the Beijing cause.

Wilson said that it was America, not China, that was seeking to influence the investigation into the origin of the Corona virus, citing WHO sources who allegedly told him that “America is so obsessed with attacking China in the issue of tracing the origin of the virus that it refuses to open its eyes to the data and results.”

The post received widespread attention from Chinese state media, which used it to justify China’s position on the investigation. CGTN, China’s state broadcaster, wrote that the post referred to “intimidation” by a WHO advisory group that has been tracking the origins of the coronavirus.

But Swiss diplomats on Tuesday raised an uncomfortable detail: Wilson Edwards does not appear to be a real person. Indicating that the account was likely a “fake news” source, the Swiss embassy in Beijing asked Chinese media companies to delete their reporting. CGTN and other media appear to have quietly complied with the request.

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The row over the supposed Swiss biologist and his prominence in Chinese state media came amid continuing disagreements over the origin of the coronavirus and a renewed push for the World Health Organization to push for further investigation. More than a year and a half after the virus was first discovered in Wuhan, China, before it killed millions around the world, the exact path the virus took remains unclear.

Although similar epidemics have emerged as a result of the transmission of a virus found in animals to humans, in what is known as the spread of zoonotic diseases, scientists have not yet found an animal that appears to have infected humans directly. But some have argued, internationally, that the virus could have inadvertently infected humans while searching for coronaviruses in bats in a Wuhan laboratory.

A joint investigation by the World Health Organization and China into the origins published a report this year that concluded that the outbreak was likely zoonotic and dismissed the idea that the virus had escaped from a laboratory as unlikely and not worth further investigation. The report faced immediate criticism from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In May, President Biden gave the US intelligence community 90 days to re-search for clues about the origins of the coronavirus. Tedros also called on the WHO to continue its own investigation, although Chinese officials said last month that it would be “impossible” for Beijing to accept a continuing China-focused investigation.

A Facebook post by user Wilson Edwards was serving this discourse. But even before the embassy intervened to request that news about him be deleted, it was suspicious, as the account appeared to have been newly created and had only three friends. There was no identifying picture or other information, other than the exact location of Bern, Switzerland. The Independent did not receive a letter requesting comment from the account holder.

Chinese state media have been accused of using false identities before. For example, a French journalist named Laurène Beaumond contributed to CGTN’s coverage of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, to paint a brighter picture of events there in the face of allegations of mass oppression of the Uyghur people.

In March, Le Monde reported that no such French journalist had been found. The Chinese Foreign Ministry later argued that it exists, although it is not officially registered, but it did not say whether she used her real name or wrote under a pseudonym.

Chinese state-backed media have suggested, without confirmed evidence, the possibility that America is where the coronavirus originated. An article in the English version of the Global Times published on Monday quoted an unnamed “informed source” that America is now considered “the main suspect responsible for the leakage of Covid-19.”


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