İrem UZUN -TDO- According to a new study from Harvard Medical School, satellite images of hospital parking lots in Wuhan show the coronavirus may have been spreading in China as early as last August. The study, which has not yet been peer-viewed, found a significantly higher number of cars in parking lots at five Wuhan hospitals in the late summer and fall of 2019 compared to a year earlier; and an uptick in searches of keywords associated with an infectious disease on China's Baidu search engine.
The research used high-resolution satellite imagery of hospital parking lots in Wuhan – where the disease emerged in late 2019 in the first known large outbreak – and data for symptom-related queries on search engines for things such as "cough" and "diarrhoea". “The global COVID-19 pandemic was originally linked to a zoonotic spillover event in Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market in November or December of 2019. However, recent evidence suggests that the virus may have already been circulating at the time of the outbreak,” the research paper says.
The researchers observed an upward trend in hospital traffic and search volume beginning in as early as late August, into September and October. “Increased hospital traffic and symptom search data in Wuhan preceded the documented start of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in December 2019,” the Harvard research asserts. "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."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the findings at a press briefing on Tuesday. "I think it is ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous, to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume," she said.