A new study by Harvard Medical School, Boston University of Public Health and Boston children’s hospital, hinted that COVID-19 may have begun to spread through China as early as August 2019.
High-resolution satellite imagery of hospital parking lots in Wuhan, dating from between January 2018 to April 2020, recorded a “steep increase” in the number of vehicles parked outside five major hospitals, beginning in August 2019.
The study also analyzed data from China’s Baidu search engine, finding that “diarrhoea” and “cough” both rose in popularity around three weeks before China saw a rise in the number of cases earlier this year.
Diarrhoea can be a symptom of coronavirus, but it is not a symptom of flu.
In a preprint published by Harvard’s DASH repository, the researchers wrote: “Increased hospital traffic and symptom search data in Wuhan preceded the documented start of the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic in December 2019.”
“In August, we identify a unique increase in searches for diarrhoea which was neither seen in previous flu seasons or mirrored in the cough search data.
“Our evidence supports other recent work showing that emergence happened before identification at the Huanan seafood market. These findings also corroborate the hypothesis that the virus emerged naturally in southern China and was potentially already circulating at the time of the Wuhan cluster.”
The study itself is still under peer review.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman has rejected the study’s findings, telling The Guardian: “I think it is absurd, actually extremely absurd, to draw this kind of conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume.”
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