Covid-19 may have been spreading in China since Oct-Nov 2019: New study

The research estimates that the virus spread beyond China by January 2020 with the estimated first case being in Japan on January 3, 2020 and followed by Thailand on January 7, 2020.
In this photo taken on January 24, 2020, a security guard stands outside the Huanan seafood wholesale market where the coronavirus was detected in Wuhan, China. (AFP)
In this photo taken on January 24, 2020, a security guard stands outside the Huanan seafood wholesale market where the coronavirus was detected in Wuhan, China. (AFP)
Updated on Jun 25, 2021 04:32 PM IST
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BySutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Amit Chanda

The coronavirus linked to Covid-19 may have been spreading in China as early as October 2019, a new study has found, pushing the date back by weeks before the first case was officially identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Officially, the first Covid-19 case is said to have been identified on December 8 and linked to Wuhan’s Huanan seafood market.

But, the new study by researchers from Britain’s University of Kent pins the most likely date on November 17, saying that it had spread globally by January, 2020.

The paper was published on June 24 on the PLOS Pathogens journal.

“Our results suggest that the virus emerged in China in early October to mid-November, 2019 (the most likely date being November 17), and by January, 2020, had spread globally,” the researchers said, adding that it suggests a much earlier and more rapid spread than is evident from confirmed cases.

The research estimates that the virus spread beyond China by January 2020 with the estimated first case being in Japan on January 3, 2020 and followed by Thailand on January 7, 2020.

The researchers added that the virus is likely to have left eastern Asia and arrived in Europe, with an estimated first case on January 12, 2020 in Spain; South Korea is next on the list where the virus appeared on January 14.

Following the spread to Europe, the virus appears to have spread to North America with an estimated first case being in the United States on January 16, making it the fifth country, the research suggests.

China has maintained that it has shared all relevant data on the origin of the Covid-19 virus during the investigation conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Chinese foreign ministry has been on a diplomatic overdrive suggesting that WHO should investigate the origin in other countries including in the US.

“After the outbreak of the pandemic, China took the lead to support the WHO in conducting research on origin-tracing on a global scale…Experts on both sides jointly made field trips, analysed a large number of statistics, issued an authoritative study report, and reached many significant conclusions. This joint study actively promoted the origin-tracing globally,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in May.

Doubts over the origin, however, remain, and new studies have raised new questions.

In a paper released on a preprint platform this week, Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle recovered deleted sequencing data from early Covid-19 cases in China.

“The data showed that samples taken from the Huanan market were “not representative” of SARS-CoV-2 as a whole and were a variant of a progenitor sequence circulating earlier, which spread to other parts of China,” Reuters reported in a story.

“Why would scientists ask international databases to delete key data that informs us about how COVID-19 began in Wuhan?” said Alina Chan, a researcher with Harvard’s Broad Institute, writing on Twitter.

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Thursday, January 20, 2022