Under the name Wilson Edwards, a Facebook user on July 24 penned a post critical of the US position on the World Health Organisation’s investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus. Claiming to be a Swiss biologist, Edwards argued that the probe had been politicised. The Biden administration had “spared no efforts in rebuilding U.S. influence in the organisation,” he wrote.
He was wading into hot water: China has rejected new efforts to learn more about how the coronavirus spread to humans, for which the United States and WHO have pushed. Few Western scientists have taken up Beijing’s cause.
It was the United States, not China, that was seeking to influence the investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, Wilson argued, citing sources at the WHO that he claimed had told him: “The US is so obsessed with attacking China on the origin-tracing issue that it is reluctant to open its eyes to the data and findings.”
The post drew wide attention from Chinese state media, which used it to vindicate China’s stance on the investigation. CGTN, China’s state broadcaster, wrote that the post indicated “intimidation” on the part of a WHO advisory group tracing the origins of the coronavirus.
But on Tuesday, Swiss diplomats raised an inconvenient detail: Wilson Edwards does not actually appear to exist. Suggesting that the account was likely a source of “fake news,” the Swiss Embassy in Beijing asked Chinese media companies to take down their stories. CGTN and other outlets appear to have quietly complied.
The dispute over the supposed Swiss biologist and his prominence in Chinese state media came amid continuing disputes about the origin of the coronavirus and a renewed push for the WHO to investigate further. More than a year and a half since the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, before going on to kill millions around the world, the exact path it took remains unclear.
Though similar epidemics have started when a virus found in animals made the leap to humans, in what is known as zoonotic spread, scientists have not yet found an animal that appears to have directly infected humans. Internationally, some have argued that the virus could have inadvertently infected humans during research on bat coronaviruses in a Wuhan lab.