9 episodes

Cover-ups, coincidences, and conspiracy theories: where did Covid come from?

John Sudworth was the BBC's China correspondent when an unexplained pneumonia started worrying Wuhan doctors in December 2019. Since then, he's been investigating the origin of the virus that would turn into a devastating global pandemic.

From the beginning, there have been claims of certainty. Many scientists say the virus that causes Covid came from nature - probably carried from bats to other animals, and then to humans in a Wuhan market.

But an alternative possibility - that it leaked from a laboratory - has refused to go away. And other scientists claim there's uncertainty. For them, the mystery of Covid's origin remains unsolved.

So, where did Covid come from? For every one of the millions of lives lost, for every long sufferer, for the pain, the isolation, and the incalculable economic cost, the answer matters. It might also help us prevent another - maybe even worse - pandemic.

But it's a debate that's become politicised, toxic, and a bit crazy.

Presenter: John Sudworth
Series Producer: Simon Maybin
Editor: Richard Vadon
Commissioning Editor: Dan Clarke

Fever: The Hunt for Covid's Origin BBC Radio 4

    • Health & Fitness
    • 4.7 • 24 Ratings

Cover-ups, coincidences, and conspiracy theories: where did Covid come from?

John Sudworth was the BBC's China correspondent when an unexplained pneumonia started worrying Wuhan doctors in December 2019. Since then, he's been investigating the origin of the virus that would turn into a devastating global pandemic.

From the beginning, there have been claims of certainty. Many scientists say the virus that causes Covid came from nature - probably carried from bats to other animals, and then to humans in a Wuhan market.

But an alternative possibility - that it leaked from a laboratory - has refused to go away. And other scientists claim there's uncertainty. For them, the mystery of Covid's origin remains unsolved.

So, where did Covid come from? For every one of the millions of lives lost, for every long sufferer, for the pain, the isolation, and the incalculable economic cost, the answer matters. It might also help us prevent another - maybe even worse - pandemic.

But it's a debate that's become politicised, toxic, and a bit crazy.

Presenter: John Sudworth
Series Producer: Simon Maybin
Editor: Richard Vadon
Commissioning Editor: Dan Clarke

    Welcome to Fever: The Hunt for Covid’s Origin

    Welcome to Fever: The Hunt for Covid’s Origin

    Cover-ups, coincidences, and conspiracy theories: where did Covid come from?
    John Sudworth was the BBC’s China correspondent when an unexplained pneumonia started worrying Wuhan doctors in December 2019. Since then, he’s been investigating the origin of the virus that would turn into a devastating global pandemic.
    From the beginning, there have been claims of certainty. Many scientists say the virus that causes Covid came from nature - probably carried from bats to other animals, and then to humans in a Wuhan market.

    But an alternative possibility - that it leaked from a laboratory - has refused to go away. And other scientists claim there’s uncertainty. For them, the mystery of Covid’s origin remains unsolved.
    So, where did Covid come from? For every one of the millions of lives lost, for every long sufferer, for the pain, the isolation, and the incalculable economic cost, the answer matters. It might also help us prevent another - maybe even worse - pandemic.
    But it’s a debate that’s become politicised, toxic, and a bit crazy.
    The series begins on Tuesday 30 May, 2023.
    Presenter: John Sudworth
    Series Producer: Simon Maybin
    Editor: Richard Vadon
    Commissioning Editor: Dan Clarke

    • 2 min
    1. Batshit

    1. Batshit

    As a deadly new virus starts spreading in Wuhan, China, so do rumours about a lab there.
    In the remote, jungle-covered hills of China’s far-southwestern Yunnan Province, teams of scientists have spent years intensively researching one animal: bats. The scientists are virus hunters, trying to better understand and mitigate the threat of new viruses jumping from bats to other animals and humans, potentially setting off a pandemic. Their samples of bat droppings are brought back to labs, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology. So when a new coronavirus begins killing people in that same city, questions are raised about whether the people trying to stop a pandemic could’ve accidentally triggered one.
    Archive: CBS; The White House; NPR; CGTN; NBC.
    Presenter: John Sudworth
    Series producer: Simon Maybin
    Editor: Richard Vadon
    Sound design and mix: James Beard
    Commissioning editor: Dan Clarke
    Science advice: Julian Siddle and Victoria Gill
    Extra production: Eva Artesona and Kathy Long
    Research support: Zisheng Xu and BBC Monitoring
    Production coordinators: Siobhan Reed, Helena Warwick-Cross, Sophie Hill, and Debbie Richford
    Theme and original music: Pete Cunningham, with trumpet by Joss Murray
    Radio 4 Editor of Editorial Standards: Roger Mahony
    Head of BBC News - Long Form Audio: Emma Rippon

    • 30 min
    2. A Question of Trust

    2. A Question of Trust

    A team of top scientists ask where Covid came from. But can they trust data from China?
    As the new virus takes hold in Wuhan, the Chinese state downplays its infectiousness and punishes a doctor who sounded the alarm. It raises the question of trust in what China and its scientists say - a question soon at the heart of a brewing political storm over Covid’s origin. Western scientists offer a response to claims the virus could’ve leaked from a lab. But are they being given the full picture?
    Archive: CBS; The White House; NPR; Weibo; CGTN; Tom Cotton; CBS; MSNBC; Democracy Now!; CNN.
    Presenter: John Sudworth
    Series producer: Simon Maybin
    Editor: Richard Vadon
    Sound design and mix: James Beard
    Commissioning editor: Dan Clarke
    Science advice: Julian Siddle and Victoria Gill
    Extra production: Eva Artesona and Kathy Long
    Research support: Zisheng Xu and BBC Monitoring
    Production coordinators: Siobhan Reed, Helena Warwick-Cross, Sophie Hill, and Debbie Richford
    Theme and original music: Pete Cunningham, with trumpet by Joss Murray
    Radio 4 Editor of Editorial Standards: Roger Mahony
    Head of BBC News - Long Form Audio: Emma Rippon

    • 28 min
    3. Uncertainty and Trump

    3. Uncertainty and Trump

    US President Donald Trump wades into the Covid origins debate.
    It’s April 2020 and at the podium of the White House’s press room, Donald Trump makes a geopolitically incendiary claim: he has a high degree of confidence that the origin of the virus that causes Covid is the Wuhan Institute of Virology - a Chinese government lab. But scientists seem certain that can’t be true. So what is the evidence for both claims? And what were the scientists publicly dismissing a lab leak saying in private?
    Archive: The White House; C-SPAN; CBS.
    Presenter: John Sudworth
    Series producer: Simon Maybin
    Editor: Richard Vadon
    Sound design and mix: James Beard
    Commissioning editor: Dan Clarke
    Science advice: Julian Siddle and Victoria Gill
    Extra production: Eva Artesona and Kathy Long
    Research support: Zisheng Xu and BBC Monitoring
    Production coordinators: Siobhan Reed, Helena Warwick-Cross, Sophie Hill, and Debbie Richford
    Theme and original music: Pete Cunningham, with trumpet by Joss Murray
    Radio 4 Editor of Editorial Standards: Roger Mahony
    Head of BBC News - Long Form Audio: Emma Rippon

    • 29 min
    4. Mission: Impossible

    4. Mission: Impossible

    A World Health Organization team heads to Wuhan. Will they find the truth?
    As the first year of the Covid outbreak draws to a close, a team of international scientists chosen by the World Health Organization is preparing to visit the city where it all started to investigate the virus’s origin. But with the Chinese government closely involved in the mission, how free will they be to find the truth? And is a researcher with links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology the right person to be asking questions about a possible lab leak?
    Archive: CGTN.
    Presenter: John Sudworth
    Series producer: Simon Maybin
    Editor: Richard Vadon
    Sound design and mix: James Beard
    Commissioning editor: Dan Clarke
    Science advice: Julian Siddle and Victoria Gill
    Extra production: Eva Artesona and Kathy Long
    Research support: Zisheng Xu and BBC Monitoring
    Production coordinators: Siobhan Reed, Helena Warwick-Cross, Sophie Hill, and Debbie Richford
    Theme and original music: Pete Cunningham, with trumpet by Joss Murray
    Radio 4 Editor of Editorial Standards: Roger Mahony
    Head of BBC News - Long Form Audio: Emma Rippon

    • 28 min
    5. Labs, Safety, and Risk

    5. Labs, Safety, and Risk

    The lab leak theory goes mainstream. How safe are top-security laboratories?
    After the World Health Organization’s attempts to find the origin of Covid effectively rule out a lab leak, there’s a backlash. A new US president helps bring the lab leak theory into the mainstream. What are the dangers involved in the work being done in virology laboratories? How effective are their safety measures? And do the benefits of their work outweigh the risks? John visit’s a top biosafety lab to find out.
    Archive: CGTN; CBS; The White House; CNN; C-SPAN.
    Presenter: John Sudworth
    Series producer: Simon Maybin
    Editor: Richard Vadon
    Sound design and mix: James Beard
    Commissioning editor: Dan Clarke
    Science advice: Julian Siddle and Victoria Gill
    Extra production: Eva Artesona and Kathy Long
    Research support: Zisheng Xu and BBC Monitoring
    Production coordinators: Siobhan Reed, Helena Warwick-Cross, Sophie Hill, and Debbie Richford
    Theme and original music: Pete Cunningham, with trumpet by Joss Murray
    Radio 4 Editor of Editorial Standards: Roger Mahony
    Head of BBC News - Long Form Audio: Emma Rippon

    • 29 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
24 Ratings

24 Ratings

Ameila Jones ,

Brilliant podcast

If you like true crime you’ll love this. Fantastic production & well researched.

AussieYankeeFan ,

The BBC swallowing the COVID conspiracy koolaid

I don’t know if the reporter is motivated by paranoia and miss trust because of his time in China or simply being sensationalist to stretch out the series. It spoils a good show

hubbardshills ,

Gripping

Excellent so far.

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