Satellite data suggests coronavirus could have hit China in the SUMMER: Dramatic traffic increase was spotted at Wuhan hospitals amid surge in internet searches for Covid-19 symptoms
- Some hospital traffic increased by up to 90 per cent between 2018 and 2019
- A leading Harvard researcher said the traffic increases began in ‘late summer’
- Wuhan’s internet searches for symptoms like ‘cough’ also surged last summer
- The results were ‘pointing to something taking place in Wuhan at the time’
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
A dramatic surge in traffic outside major Wuhan hospitals coupled with an increase in internet searches for symptoms of coronavirus suggest the killer bug could have hit China last summer.
That is far earlier than has ever been speculated before.
A new study from Harvard Medical School led by Dr John Brownstein analysed commercial satellite imagery.
His team ‘observed a dramatic increase in hospital traffic outside five major Wuhan hospitals beginning late summer and early fall 2019’.
He said the traffic surge ‘coincided’ with a rise in internet searches for symptoms that are ‘closely associated’ with coronavirus, ABC News reported.
Union Hospital medical staff, affiliated with Tongji Medical College, attend a ceremony to form an ‘assault team’ in the fight against coronavirus on 22 January 2020
Since the virus outbreak in China rapidly spread across the globe, more than seven million people have been infected worldwide alongside a staggering 402,867 deaths.
Officials in China did not formally notify the World Health Organization until 31 December that a respiratory pathogen was spreading through Wuhan, a move the government has been heavily criticsed for.
At the time Wuhan officials said a ‘cluster’ of pneumonia cases had been recorded in the city.
But US intelligence reported that problem was sweeping through Wuhan to the Pentagon back in November, sources told ABC.
At the same time as hospital traffic was surging, the Wuhan region saw online traffic spikes among users asking China’s Baidu search engine for information on ‘cough’ and ‘diarrhea’ – both official symptoms of the virus. Above, residents touch meat bare handed at an open wet market in Wuhan in April
Brownstein said his research looked at the pictures to try and assess patterns of behaviour among communities that could help explain the source of the virus.
His team counted cars at hospitals across 108 private satellite images.
He said ‘parking lots will get full as a hospital gets busy. So more cars in a hospital, the hospital’s busier, likely because something’s happening in the community, an infection is growing and people have to see a doctor’.
Brownstein said his results were ‘pointing to something taking place in Wuhan at the time’.
He said that on 10 October 2019 there were 285 cars parked at Wuhan’s Tianyou Hospital – 67 per cent more than the 171 recorded that same day a year earlier.
Other hospitals revealed a traffic increase of up to 90 per cent between autumn of 2018 and 2019, the study showed.
Wuhan Tongji Medical University saw a spike in car traffic in mid-September 2019.
Researchers also compared parking activity at the Huanan Seafood Market in mid-September and after it was shut down and found a significant change, which ‘validate’ the idea that movement can be tracked through the lens of parked cars.
The results showed a ‘very clear trend’, according to Tom Diamond, president of RS Metrics which worked with the Harvard research team.
At the same time as hospital traffic was surging, the Wuhan region saw online traffic spikes among users asking China’s Baidu search engine for information on ‘cough’ and ‘diarrhea’ – both official symptoms of the virus.
The study found: ‘While queries of the respiratory symptom ‘cough’ show seasonal fluctuations coinciding with yearly influenza seasons, ‘diarrhea’ is a more COVID-19-specific symptom and only shows an association with the current epidemic.
‘The increase of both signals precede the documented start of the COVID-19 pandemic in December.’
Brownstein added that these searches began increasing ‘as early as late summer’.
The South China Morning Post reported that the first coronavirus case could be traced back as early as 17 November 2019, and officials have told local media they believe the virus was spreading before they realised.
In response to the new study, the State Department again criticised the Chinese government for allegedly withholding public health information.
A spokesman told ABC News: ‘The Chinese government’s cover up of initial reporting on the virus is just one more example of the challenges presented by the Chinese Communist Party’s hostility toward transparency.’
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