January 12, 2022 - 11:20am

Very few private individuals have had a bigger impact on the global fight against the Covid pandemic than Bill Gates. Through the work of his foundation, the tech billionaire is a major player. What he has to say on the issue is worth our attention.

However, his Twitter “conservation” this week with Devi Sridhar is more interesting for what he doesn’t say. You can read the whole thing here, but the key bit comes when Sridhar asks Gates a “tough question”: “where do you think SARS-CoV-2 came from? What data do you want to see? And is this information important to preventing future spillovers & pandemics?”

That’s three questions, but look how Gates answers them:

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes Covid. In asking Gates where it came from, I’m assuming that Sridhar was alluding to the serious scientific debate over a possible lab-leak origin for the pandemic.

Gates replies with a weirdly content-free statement: “the data is pretty strong that it came from another species which is true for most pandemics.” Well, yes — but no one is seriously disputing that. The issue is whether the virus spilled-over directly from wild animals to humans via a wet market or similar point of contact; or whether a virus was taken from the wild, experimented upon (or even genetically altered) in a laboratory from which it subsequently escaped. 

It is absolutely vital that we have an answer to this question — and not solely because a death toll of millions demands the truth. If the lab-leak hypothesis is correct and similar experiments are still being conducted then preventing future outbreaks doesn’t just depend on “being ready”, it requires an unrestricted international investigation into what really happened in China.

This is the information that influential figures like Gates should be demanding at every opportunity. Anodyne remarks like “we should make sure labs are careful” will not do.

Earlier in the interview he complains about conspiracy theories. One can understand why he’d be infuriated by nonsense claims that he wants to inject us all with microchips. However, he should understand why so many people have so little trust in the authorities. 

Those in charge of our lives show far too little interest in the origins of this calamity — and until they do they’re unlikely to get our complete confidence.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.