As per research based on satellite images of hospital travel patterns and search engine data by the Harvard Medical School, the deadly COVID-19 infection may have been spreading in China as early as August last year. However, China dismissed the report as “ridiculous”.
The research was conducted using satellite imagery of hospital parking lots in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease first emerged last December-- and data for symptom-related queries on search engines for things such as “cough” and “diarrhoea”.
“Increased hospital traffic and symptom search data in Wuhan preceded the documented start of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in December 2019,” as per the research.
“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 (in Wuhan).”
“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,” according to the research.
“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,” according to the research.
On Tuesday, when asked about the research at a daily press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the report and said, “I think it is ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous, to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume."