On August 10, China’s state-run China Daily ran a story saying that “influential figures around the world” are stepping up calls for a scientific approach to finding the origin of COVID-19.
The article cites Wilson Edwards, identified as a biologist in Switzerland. Edwards calls a World Health Organization proposal to continue searching for COVID-19’s origins inside China “largely politically motivated.”
“As a biologist, I've witnessed in consternation over the past months how the origin-tracing of COVID-19 was politicized,” China Daily quoted Wilson as saying.
However, there is no evidence that any Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards exists, according to the Swiss Embassy in Beijing.
China Daily followed the lead of other Chinese state-run media outlets, which extensively cited Edwards in earlier reports.
For example, a July 30 People’s Daily article, “US attempts to overturn report, leveraging WHO into political tool: Swiss biologist,” claimed that Edwards "cited an anonymous WHO source … as saying that the US was so obsessed with attacking China on the origin-tracing issue that it was reluctant to open its eyes to the data and findings.”
A China Global Television Network (CGTN) report, published the same day, was headlined: “COVID-19 origin tracing: Claim emerges of ‘intimidation’.” The report quoted Edwards as saying that “fellow researchers were under ‘enormous pressure’ and ‘intimidation’ from the U.S. and some media outlets after they voiced support for the conclusions of the China-WHO joint study on the origins of COVID-19 in central China's Wuhan.”
On March 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a Global Study of the Origins of SARS-CoV-2, the formal name for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The WHO report said it was likely that the virus was transmitted from bats to humans via an intermediary animal, and “extremely unlikely” the pandemic originated in a laboratory.
However, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted at the time that "all hypotheses" remained on the table.
In July, Tedros went further, saying the WHO’s Wuhan probe had been inhibited by a lack of information from China. He called on China to help get to the bottom of the origins quest “by sharing all relevant data in a spirit of transparency.”
Tedros also said there had been a “premature push” to dismiss the theory that a lab leak could have seeded the pandemic.
On August 10, the Swiss Embassy in Beijing posted a message on Twitter stating that it was highly unlikely Edwards exists. It stated:
- There is no registry of any Swiss citizen with the name “Wilson Edwards.”
- There are no academic articles in the biology field cited under this name.
- The Facebook account cited as having published his commentary was only opened on July 24 and has only a single post and three friends. Somewhat charitably, the embassy said the story may have been spread “in good faith by the media and netizens,” but asked those who had published it to take it down and publish a correction.
Polygraph.info reached out to Facebook to verify if Wilson Edwards is a real person but did not receive a response as of publication.
Chinese media outlets that cited Edwards have since deleted the stories from their websites or scrubbed reference to him. None offered a correction.
The People’s Daily, however, did not delete its July 29 Facebook post, which stated:
“Advisory group proposed by WHO would be succumbed to a political tool: Swiss biologist. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently circulated among its member states proposed plans for the next phase of studies into the origin of SARS-CoV-2 [the virus] that causes COVID-19. After learning of the plans, Wilson Edwards a biologist from Bern, Switzerland commented on his Facebook page that he felt pretty concerned about WHO’s stepback from its previous conclusion that a lab leak is 'extremely unlikely' on the basis of phase he studies conducted in China.”
That post included a screen capture of the July 24 message from Edwards, as well as a link to a story in Sept Days, a weekly Chinese language Chinese newspaper in Montreal, Canada. That article, “Advisory group proposed by WHO would be succumbed to a political tool,” was published on July 27, prior to the Chinese state media reports.
Polygraph.info also contacted China Daily, the People’s Daily, CGTN and Sept Days to clarify whether any attempts were made to contact Edwards or verify his identity prior to the publication of their articles.
None of the media outlets responded by the time of publication.