From the date of the initial outbreak in Wuhan I watched carefully on a daily basis the dispersion and progression of the coronavirus in China and then abroad, collecting as much data as were available on each location. By late May of 2020, China had been infection-free for many weeks, the concern turning to the identification and quarantine of imported cases. At the same time, the US became once again ‘the leader of the world’, this time in virus infections and deaths, producing 20,000 to 30,000 new cases and around 1,000 deaths per day. At the time, American hostility toward China’s success in stopping the virus was palpable, with many nasty media articles and White House accusations about China’s false statistics and blaming China for “spreading the virus” to the US. CNN stated, “Chinese state media has repeatedly touted China’s effective measures in containing the virus as the number of infections and deaths surged abroad, contrasting its success with the failures of Western governments, especially the United States.” Clearly there was much surprise and bitterness at China’s success and America’s failure, this coated in a sticky layer of resentment based partly on a justified suspicion that the Chinese were not overly distressed at the Americans enjoying the fruits of their own labor.
But even then I had a sense of an apparition, a version of Dickens’ ‘ghost of coronavirus past’, accompanied by an uncomfortable feeling the Americans were sufficiently bitter (and vicious) to deny the Chinese their apparently easy victory. My fear was that the Americans would try to reseed China as they did Russia, and it would seem my fears were not unjustified. The new virus that broke out at the Xinfadi market in Beijing was a different strain than any previously existing in China, one that existed only in the US and Europe and could only have been brought in from the outside. And once again at a seafood market with no identifiable patient zero, no clear epidemiology (source and distribution) of a virus that did not exist in China. It almost had to be deliberately seeded, the odds against being infinitesimally small.
In terms of what I am calling COVID-20 (to differentiate it from the initial outbreak), China may have been fortunate to detect and corral this new pathogen before it could spread.