The emergence of Covid-19 was first reported by the authorities in China on December 31, as acknowledged by the World Health Organization. But that emergence does not necessarily mean the pandemic originated in China.
By January 30, 2020, a WHO situation report cited nearly 8,000 cases of the respiratory disease globally in 18 different countries. The vast majority of the infections at that stage were in China. It has since exploded to four million cases in virtually all 194 nations with the United States hosting by far the majority of infections and deaths (80,000 fatalities as of this week).
The early pattern of the disease spreading may suggest that China and its central city of Wuhan was the origin of the pandemic. It is widely speculated that the novel coronavirus residing in bats or some other mammal infected humans.
However, the report this week that a hospital in France detected Covid-19 in a patient as early as December 27, 2019, raises questions about the global origin. The French man, who went on to recover from the disease, was previously thought to have been suffering from pneumonia. The Paris hospital retested biomedical samples of patients and found that the man had in fact contracted Covid-19.
Curiously, the French patient had not travelled from abroad before he became ill at the end of last year. So, how does this finding square with claims that the disease originated in China? It has been speculated that the man's wife who worked near Charles De Gaulle international airport may have been exposed. But she did not show symptoms of the disease. Her link as an "asymptomatic" disease carrier and her presumed contact with air travelers from China is therefore tenuous speculation.
French doctors are not certain if the case of the cited man represents that country's "patient zero", that is, the first case of Covid-19 in France. But the detection of the disease in France on December 27 is a full month before it was officially recorded as having arrived in France. In other words, the suspicion now is that Covid-19 may been circulating undetected in France and perhaps other European countries, as well as the United States, at the end of last year. Many of these infections and accompanying deaths may have been misidentified as due to seasonal flu or pneumonia.
It is understandable why the Chinese authorities are "defensive", as the New York Times snidely headlines, about China being described as "the origin" of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This week China was accused of "censoring" an article penned by the European Union's ambassador to the country. The article was published in news outlet China Daily but mention of "the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world over the past three months..." was edited out. That led to recriminations in Western media about the EU pandering to Chinese state "censorship".
Yes, the disease appears to have first emerged in large numbers in China at the end of December. But it is not yet determined how and where the virus originated. That will require further scientific study. Thus, for China to bridle at assertions about being "the origin" is not necessarily sinister censorship, but rather prudence to not prejudge.
What we have seen is an unseemly haste to politicize the pandemic with a view to blame China for infecting the rest of the world.
U.S. President Donald Trump is the most vocal in blaming China. But Australia, Britain and the EU have also antagonized Beijing by demanding an "independent" investigation into the origin of the disease. The inference is that China is at fault. Given the way, Western so-called "independent" investigations are prone to political bias to achieve preconceived conclusions (the Dutch-led MH17 airliner crash, for example), one can hardly object to China's wariness about such calls.
Why should China submit to Western demands for "investigation" into Covid-19 when these Western demands are all one-way?
Why limit it to China? Surely international investigations would be merited for determining the actual appearance of Covid-19 in Europe or North America. The French case of Covid-19 in December misidentified as pneumonia suggests the disease was present contemporaneously with cases in China's Wuhan.
Then there is the case of unidentified and deadly respiratory disease outbreaks in Fairfax, Virginia, in July 2019. Why shouldn't international investigators be allowed into the U.S. to determine the precise nature of those disease outbreaks. Where they early incidents of Covid-19, a new unknown disease which happened to be first identified in China only months later?
The Trump administration has made unsubstantiated allegations that Covid-19 may have been released by a laboratory in Wuhan. No evidence has been provided by Trump or his bullish secretary of state Mike Pompeo. International scientific consensus has dismissed Trump's allegations as a "conspiracy theory". The Wuhan Institute of Virology has a solid reputation for safeguards over its study of infectious diseases.
The same cannot be said for the United States' top biowarfare laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland, which was ordered to close last August by the federal Center for Disease Control due to concerns about substandard safety controls and danger of releasing deadly pathogens. Were U.S. army scientists studying novel coronaviruses?
If China's Wuhan laboratory can be fingered and smeared for no sound reason, then why can't a Pentagon biowarfare center that had to be shuttered for lack of safety? Chinese officials have already made an accusatory link to American personnel attending the Military World Games in Wuhan in October 2019 as being a possible cause of infection.
The origin of Covid-19 is far from clear. Trump wants to scapegoat China for obvious cynical reasons of distracting from his own disastrous mishandling of the disease. The same scapegoating instinct applies to other Western states where governments have been derelict in protecting the public from tens of thousands of deaths.
Investigations are indeed due. But determining the origin of Covid-19 will not be made by politicized probes that presume China's fault for the pandemic.