Report suggests coronavirus spread in Wuhan started earlier than China reported

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Apr 09, 2020, 11.25 PM(IST) Written By: Praphul Singh

Lockdown ends in Wuhan Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

There were signs of coronavirus outbreak in the wider community in early January - well before the world and the public was even told that the pathogen was 'contagious'

Coronavirus was first reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan's Hubei province in China. The deadly virus since then has infected more than 1.5 million people and led to over 90,000 deaths around the world, according to John Hopkins University coronavirus resource centre.

Also Read: Coronavirus replaced by racism, xenophobia and hate against foreigners in China

Researchers with the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control and Prevention re-analyzed 640 throat swabs collected from patients in Wuhan with influenza-like-illness from October 6, 2019 to January 21, 2020 and found that nine of the 640 throat swabs were COVID-19 positive.

Interestingly, these samples came from six different districts of Wuhan, suggesting that community transmission of coronavirus in Wuhan started in early January this year.

Researchers to better understand the epidemic in Wuhan retrospectively investigated the presence of COVID-19 among local patients with milder illness or influenza-like illness.

They analyzed 640 samples of throat swabs collected from old and young patients with milder influenza-like illness which were defined as outpatients with a sudden onset of a fever of above 38 °C and a cough or sore throat. 

Two representative referral hospitals from Wuhan were selected as sentinel hospitals to reflect the trends in influenza-like-illness in the local population - the children’s hospital of Wuhan which is the largest pediatric center in the province and Wuhan's No-1 hospital, a major general hospital with over two million outpatient visits per year.

Nine adult samples tested positive for the coronavirus, the previously unknown coronavirus. One of 40 samples taken from two Wuhan hospitals tested positive on January 4, one week after the outbreak was reported by hospitals.

It proves that there were signs of coronavirus outbreak in the wider community in early January - well before the world and the public was even told that the pathogen was “contagious”. 

There are many theories around the origin of the virus, from being leaked of the Wuhan virus Lab to many of them linking it to the wet market in Wuhan. 

The reason for the origin of the virus remains unknown, though. Local health authorities initially thought the patients had fallen ill through exposure to common infection source in the market and ruled out the pathogen as contagious until January 20. 

“Although the weekly sample size was small, it seems that COVID-19 was gradually expanding among the influenza-like illness cases during January,” the researchers, led by Liu Manqing, wrote in a paper published in Nature Microbiology on Tuesday.

China recently ended the 76-day long lockdown of Wuhan which is the largest city in central China, with a resident population of over fourteen million. 

It was an unprecedented lockdown imposed by the Chinese government to curb the spread of the virus from the January 23rd onwards. 

Even as Wuhan unlocks its borders after 76 days, some restrictions will remain in place. 

But the larger question is, did China hide the specifics of the virus spread from the world? The report suggests clear signs of community transmission in early January, then why didn’t China declare that the disease was contagious?

Should China be held accountable for withholding such crucial information, it is the answer that the world is looking for.