Coronavirus May Have Hit China Earlier Than Reported, Satellite Data Suggests

On record, the approximate date when the COVID-19 pandemic started to break out in China was roughly around December. It was at that time when the country alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) of several cases of unusual pneumonia over in Wuhan, home to about 11 million people. A number of those people infected worked at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. It was eventually shut down on Jan. 1.

The first death was recorded on Jan. 11. The casualty was a 61-year-old man who purchased goods at the seafood market. He died of heart failure. It was on Jan. 7 when WHO identified the virus and given it the name 2019-nCoV, something that was added to the coronavirus family that included SARS. Most may have already read about this. But the question right now is when did the COVID-19 pandemic start.

There are now suggestions that the coronavirus may have hit beyond that. According to a study, it is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic occurred before it was reported in December. The Harvard Medical School study analyzed commercial satellite imagery and noticed a dramatic increase in hospital traffic outside five major hospitals in Wuhan, China, that started in the late summer of last year.

Aside from that, there were supporting occurrences. That included an increased search query on the Chinese internet for certain symptoms, later on, discovered to be closely tied to the coronavirus. Though these are considered circumstantial, it does raise several queries on when the coronavirus first started wreaking havoc.

“Clearly, there was some level of social disruption taking place well before what was previously identified as the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic,” Dr. John Brownstein, the Harvard Medical professor who led the research, said.

At this point, most would prefer to see a COVID-19 vaccine come out to address the growing number of coronavirus cases and deaths. But pinning down the root of the virus is equally important to scientists for them to better understand the virus. That will factor in the race for a cure.

Wuhan Coronavirus Wuhan seafood market closed after the new coronavirus was detected there for the first time on January 1, 2020. SISTEMA 12/Wikimedia Commons

Matters have been made worse with the Chinese government refusing to fully cooperate with Western and international health authorities according to American and WHO officials, ABC News reported.

“In this specific case, data on events such as increases in hospital traffic could serve as early indicators of social disruption resulting from disease. High-resolution satellite imagery can be extremely useful for understanding disease spread and implementation of control measures,” Anne Rimoin, epidemiology professor and director of the Center for Global and Immigrant Health at UCLA, said.