Covid in Wuhan: Will the burning questions about what caused the pandemic ever be fully answered?

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Debi Edward

There hasn’t been a case of Covid-19 reported in Wuhan since May last year. You might remember at that time the city’s entire population of 11 million people was tested after a handful of new cases were detected. This week as we returned, a year on from our first visit, we found its streets and markets are bustling again, life appears back to normal.

Only the wearing of masks and heightened health and movement checks mark the obvious differences the pandemic has made in the city where it all started. It was on January 20, 2020, that we arrived in Wuhan to report on a flu-like virus.

An infection being compared to SARS, but at that time thought to be less deadly.

A worker in protective clothing waits to guide passengers from Wuhan. Credit: AP

That night China’s top virologist went on state television to confirm that there was human to human transmission.

Two days later Wuhan entered what would be the first of the world’s Covid-19 lockdowns.

That lockdown lasted 76 days and, in that time, people were confined to their homes and the grounds of their apartment buildings.

British Wuhan resident and YouTuber 'Jackie In the Middle' talks to Debi Edward about life in the city one year on from the start of the lockdown

We returned this week with the details surrounding when, how and in who the virus first emerged remaining a mystery. But last week a team of World Health Organization investigators were finally allowed into China to try to begin their search answers.

Among them is Professor Dominic Dwyer, a virologist from Australia.

He has nine days left in hotel quarantine before he can get on the ground in Wuhan but told me they have already begun video conferencing with their Chinese counterparts and so far, it is going well.

He said they are building better relations every day and that the authorities have been open, saying once the team emerge from lockdown they will be free to visit whatever places they want.

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As that WHO investigation into the origins gets underway, evidence continues to mount that China initially lied about the outbreak, concealed cases and failed to act quickly enough to prevent a pandemic.

In recent months, we’ve experienced the obstruction of information getting worse.

The police have warned several people we’ve been in contact with in Wuhan not to talk to foreign media.

Some of them just wanted to share their story of grief with the outside world, others were prepared to challenge the conduct of the government.

All of them were left in no doubt about the consequences of having a conscience and daring to speak out.

In December, Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison for the forthright video blogs she posted during Wuhan's lockdown.

The former lawyer was charged with ‘’picking quarrels’’ and ‘’provoking trouble’’. Some of her supporters risked talking to us about her, and their views on the World Health Organization investigation.

They compared the WHO mission to an archaeological dig, suggesting there would be nothing to find, or it would be buried too deep.

None of them were in any doubt that there were vital weeks lost at the beginning and that the authorities concealed the severity of the outbreak to them and the rest of the world.

When I asked them about what happened to Zhang Zhan there was outrage but no shock.

They’ve seen the government fail to hold itself accountable while punishing those who dared to speak out about what they see happening around them.

  • Professor Dominic Dwyer on Wuhan market 'amplifying' the virus

When the World Health Organization team emerge from quarantine to finally begin their onsite investigation in Wuhan, the access they are given will give us an indication of just how open China really is prepared to be. Which in turn will ultimately determine whether the burning questions about what caused the pandemic are ever fully answered.