Professor Steve Tsang also warned there was “zero chance” China’s President Xi Jinping would ever allow the necessary investigation into the disease’s origin – meaning the truth will likely never be known. Prof Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London, was speaking the day after emails emerged suggesting leading experts believed “a likely explanation” was that Covid evolved from a Sars-like virus in human tissue kept at a low-security laboratory.
A message sent by Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, to Dr Anthony Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s Chief Medical Adviser, and Dr Francis Collins of the US National Institutes of Health on February 2, 2020, theorised such evolution had “accidentally created a virus primed for rapid transmission between humans”.
But Dr Collins, who is the former director of the US National Institutes of Health, feared a public debate centred on the claim risked damaging “international harmony”.
Speaking about the revelations, Prof Tsang told Express.co.uk: “Western scientists (and scholars in other disciplines more generally) are unwilling to incur the wrath of the Chinese party-state as the potential damages to science (and other work they do as scholars) that the party-state can and is likely to impose are sufficient to deter many if not most.
“In this case, some of the scientists’ concern may not be on what reprisal the party-state may impose but on public confidence and thus support for scientific research generally if it should be established that COVID-19 originated from scientific research.”
Prof Tsang said in his view, it is the wrong issue to focus on, even if it was possible to establish the source of Covid as a scientific lab.
He explained: “The issue should be one of research ethics and security of research laboratories as well as process.
JUST IN: Polling guru analyses Johnson’s apology – key is what PM did not say
“In other words, I consistently think that we do not have enough evidence to rule out a lab leak theory.”
The only way to prove its origins would be for the Chinese Government to permit scientists to investigate, and even then there were no guarantees, he warned.
However, Prof Tsang stressed: “There is at the moment no chance for that, as the Chinese Government uses everything at its power to prevent such a free and independent investigation.
“As long as Xi Jinping is in power, there is zero chance.
“It looks like that Xi intends to stay in power for life, and he is only 68.
“So, barring events unexpected, the prospect that we will be able to ascertain the origins of COVID-19 beyond doubt is very dim.”
Talking to the Telegraph on Wednesday, Viscount Ridley, co-author of Viral: the search for the origin of Covid, said: “These emails show a lamentable lack of openness and transparency among Western scientists who appear to have been more interested in shutting down a hypothesis they thought was very plausible, for political reasons.”
The first cases of Covid were linked to a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 – since when speculation about the identity of so-called Patient Zero has raged incessantly.
As of Thursday, COVID-19 has infected 317,389,048 people, and resulted in the deaths of 5,515,446, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.