Satellite imagery of Wuhan suggests coronavirus started spreading in August
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc all over the globe, may have actually started much earlier than currently thought. A study carried out by Harvard Medical School has flagged some evidence that implies the deadly disease started infecting people and circulating in Wuhan in August 2019, several months before China officially acknowledged its outbreak in the city. Here is all about it.
Data showing unusual traffic increase at Wuhan hospitals
In the research, the team analyzed satellite imagery of five Wuhan hospitals and noted an unusual spike in the number of cars - starting in August 2019 and peaking in December. The traffic at Tianyou Hospital, one of the largest medical centers in the city, increased 67% in comparison to 2018, while other hospitals saw an increase of nearly 90% during the same period.
Baidu's trends showed people searched COVID-19 symptoms
Along with satellite data, the researchers dug up Baidu's search trends for the same period. In that study, they noted an elevated number of queries pertaining to cough and diarrhea - problems that have now been confirmed as COVID-19 symptoms/markers. "A huge percentage of people that ended up testing positive in Wuhan actually had presented symptoms of diarrhea," research lead John Brownstein told CNN.
On this basis, they suggested COVID-19 started spreading earlier
On the basis of increased hospital visits and searches for COVID-19 symptoms, the researchers suggested that the coronavirus might have started spreading sometime around August 2019 or 4-5 months earlier than it was officially reported to WHO. "It sort of adds to a growing body of evidence that something was happening ahead of when it was officially recognized," Brownstein added.
No solid evidence to go by
That said, it must be noted that these pieces of evidence do not confirm that the virus certainly emerged in August 2019. The researchers also noted in their study that they "cannot confirm if the increased volume was directly related to the new virus, [but] our evidence supports other recent work showing that emergence happened before identification at the Huanan Seafood market."
China, meanwhile, has dismissed these reports
When questioned over the Harvard research, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the claims. "I think it is ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous, to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume," the representative said. However, the researchers told CNN that hospital car park analysis is a proven method to predict the flu season or some other health crisis.