Coronavirus spread started as early as August 2019 in Wuhan, Harvard study suggests

by Warren Ryan Revoltar

A yet-to-be-peer-reviewed study from Harvard Medical School suggests that COVID-19 may have already begun to spread as early as last August.

Led by Boston Children’s Hospital chief innovation officer John Brownstein, the study found a significantly higher number of cars in parking lots at five Wuhan hospitals in the late summer and fall of 2019 compared to a year earlier.

Researchers said they saw “a steep increase in volume starting in August 2019 and culminating with a peak in December 2019,” far earlier than the prevailing assessment that the outbreak began in late November.

The paper added that the findings from the satellite images also “coincided with” an increase in queries on Chinese internet search engines for “certain symptoms that would later be determined as closely associated with the novel coronavirus.”

They wrote: “Individual hospitals have days of high relative volume in both fall and winter 2019. However, between September and October 2019, five of the six hospitals show their highest relative daily volume of the analyzed series, coinciding with elevated levels of Baidu search queries for the terms ‘diarrhea’ and ‘cough.’”

“Something was happening in October… clearly, there was some level of social disruption taking place well before what was previously identified as the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic,” Brownstein said.

“This is all about a growing body of information pointing to something taking place in Wuhan at the time,” he added. “Many studies are still needed to fully uncover what took place and for people to really learn about how these disease outbreaks unfold and emerge in populations. So this is just another point of evidence.”

Medical personnel walk among patients with mild symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Fangcai Hospital set up in a sports stadium in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province, February 18, 2020. (Stringer/AFP)

Meanwhile, China “wasted no time” in sharing information as senior Chinese officials on Sunday released a lengthy report on the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Defending their government’s actions and saying that China had provided information in a timely and transparent manner, National Health Commission Chairman Ma Xiaowei said that “the Chinese government did not delay or cover up anything.”

“Instead, we have immediately reported virus data and relevant information about the epidemic to the international community and made an important contribution to the prevention and control of the epidemic around the world,” Ma added.

Edited from an article written by The Times of Israel Staff