China Ridicules Harvard Research study suggesting Coronavirus Might have started Spreading In Wuhan Last August

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Harvard and Boston University studies suggests coronavirus might have been present in China as early as last August and months before the illness was first identified Wuhan in December, but China has dismissed the findings.

KEY FACTS

  • Harvard and Boston researchers examined satellite data of parking lots across hospitals in Wuhan, alongside online search data on Chinese search engine Baidu for symptoms such as “diarrhea” or “cough”.
  • A rise in online searches for symptoms was spotted, alongside a sharp rise in hospital traffic in August last year, around four months before the virus became linked to a seafood market in the city.
  • The researchers say there was a “unique increase” in searches for diarrhea not seen in previous flu seasons, which they say is a “more COVID-19 specific symptom and only shows an association with the current epidemic.”
  • Satellite imagery and online search trends have previously been used to monitor “early indicators of epidemics” and trends that traditional public health bodies may not be aware of, the researchers said.
  • The study has not yet been peer reviewed or accepted for publication.

CRUCIAL QUOTE

The researchers said: “While we cannot confirm if the increased volume was directly related to the new virus, our evidence supports other recent work showing that emergence happened before identification at the Huanan Seafood market.”

CHIEF CRITICS

Chinese authorities labelled the findings and method of research “ridiculous.” On Tuesday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily press briefing: “I think it is ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous, to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume,” Reuters reports.

KEY BACKGROUND

China has faced mounting pressure in recent months from at least 120 nations—including the U.S. and Australia—seeking an investigation into the origins of the pandemic that has not infected more than 7.1 million people worldwide and led to the deaths of 407,000 people. The World Health Organization in May bowed to pressure to conduct a probe into how it responded to the virus, which was first reported to the body on December 31. Meanwhile, Chinese premier Xi Jinping has said he would support an investigation into the origins of the virus.