Satellite images at hospitals and online searches led Harvard analysts to believe the Wuhan coronavirus actually began in late August and not in December when it was earlier reported by the WHO.
CNBC reports – In a study published on Monday on Harvard University’s DASH server, analysts used satellite images of parking lots at six hospitals in Wuhan to calculate vehicle counts and estimate hospital occupancy trends. The vehicle numbers were compared to trends seen during other flu-like illness outbreaks.
The research paper — which is not yet peer-reviewed — also analyzed data from Chinese search engine Baidu to determine changes in searches for the terms “cough” and “diarrhea” between April 2017 and May 2020.
It found that between 2018 and 2020 there was a general upward trend in hospital occupancy — but there was a steep increase in occupancies from August 2019, which culminated with a peak in December 2019.
Five of the six hospitals included in the analysis showed their highest daily occupancies between September and October 2019, researchers found, which coincided with elevated levels of Baidu search queries for the terms “diarrhea” and “cough.”
Search volumes for both terms rose dramatically in the city around three weeks before its spike of confirmed Covid-19 cases in early 2020, the study said.
“Increased hospital traffic and symptom search data in Wuhan preceded the documented start of the pandemic in December 2019,” the study’s authors 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.”
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared on Fox News last night with Liz McDonald where they spoke about the new Harvard study that suggests the Wuhan coronavirus started much earlier in China than December when it was first reported to the WHO by China. Lewandowski talked about how, fortunately, President Trump took action early on to prevent flights coming from China into the U.S., adding that China needs to be held accountable for the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus around the world.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 10, 2020
China, of course, denies the Harvard study is accurate, calling it “ridiculous.”
Hindustan Times – Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked about the research at a news briefing on Tuesday, said: “I think it is ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous, to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume.”
Paul Digard, an expert in virology at the University of Edinburgh, said that using search engine data and satellite imagery of hospital traffic to detect disease outbreaks “is an interesting idea with some validity.”
But he said the data were only correlative and – as the Harvard scientists noted – cannot identify the cause.
“It’s an interesting piece of work, but I’m not sure it takes us much further forward,” said Keith Neal, a professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at Britain’s Nottingham University.