In the context of a heated debate surrounding a US intelligence report claiming that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought medical care with coronavirus-like symptoms in November 2019, before the official outbreak of the pandemic, US President Joe Biden has renewed calls for intensified investigations into the origins of coronavirus, examining theories such as it being a lab leak.
In the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we asked the British public about their views on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Presented with the main two theories, a slight plurality (41%) of respondents think it is more likely that the pandemic originated from a wet market in Wuhan where an animal carrying the coronavirus was sold (the original claim posited by the Chinese Government, which has since been withdrawn), whereas 38% believe it is more likely that the pandemic originated from a special lab in Wuhan where a researcher studying the coronavirus accidentally got infected. Meanwhile, a fifth (21%) of the British public is unsure about the origins of the virus.
These views have largely remained stable since March 2021, when 42% of respondents thought the wet market explanation more likely and 35% found the lab leak theory more convincing. Back then, 23% answered that they didn’t know.
Looking at respondents’ age profile, we observe that younger respondents are more likely than older respondents to subscribe to the wet market theory—51% of those aged 18 to 24 think this theory is more likely, compared to 34% of those aged 65 and over. Conversely, older respondents are somewhat more likely than younger respondents to say they find the lab leak explanation more convincing—41% of those aged 65 and over think the pandemic originated from a lab in Wuhan, compared to 31% of 18-to-24-year-olds.
Our findings in Great Britain also mark a contrast with the United States, where our latest poll—conducted earlier this month before the latest announcements by Joe Biden and, also, Antony Fauci—found that a plurality of 38% of respondents thought that the lab leak hypothesis was the more plausible explanation for the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, compared to 30% who believed it more likely that the pandemic had originated from a wet market.
Irrespective of which theory respondents find more likely, more than two thirds (68%) of the British public agree that China should face sanctions if it fails to allow a full investigation into whether the coronavirus pandemic originated from a lab leak, with only 14% thinking otherwise. 18% say they don’t know.
Moreover, a majority of 69% of British respondents also continue to think that the Chinese Government covered up the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic (up from 67% in March). Only 16% think the Chinese Government warned the world about the outbreak.
In addition, 76% of respondents continue to think China is significantly or somewhat to blame for the coronavirus crisis. The proportion of the public adopting this view has only slightly decreased compared to one year ago: in April 2020, 79% of respondents thought China was somewhat or significantly to blame for the coronavirus crisis, and 80% of respondents thought so in May 2020.
In the US, by comparison, we find that 66% of respondents now think China is significantly or somewhat to blame for the coronavirus crisis. This marks a 12-point decrease compared to last year in April 2020, when 78% of American respondents blamed China significantly or somewhat. This decrease, however, does not necessarily indicate that American voters are now more likely to positively think that China is not to blame for the coronavirus crisis. Rather, our data suggests that American respondents feel less certain now than one year ago whether China is to blame or not, as the proportion of respondents answering ‘don’t know’ has jumped from 12% to 22%, possibly reflecting fading memory of the early months of the pandemic.
Overall, we find that the British public is split when it comes to assessing which explanation for the origins of the coronavirus pandemic is more plausible. While a slight plurality continues to think it is more likely that the pandemic originated from a wet market in Wuhan where an animal carrying the coronavirus was sold, high levels of support for a full investigation into the lab leak theory suggest that the British public is keen to gain more clarity on the origins of the pandemic it has been living with for well over a year now.