Around 90 people in China were reportedly hospitalized with symptoms akin to the coronavirus two months prior to Wuhan’s official discovery of the virus, World Health Organization investigators announced.
The hospitalized patients underwent care in October 2019, despite Beijing continuing to insist the first traces of COVID-19 were discovered and reported on Dec. 8, 2019, according to a Wednesday report from the Wall Street Journal, citing WHO investigators.
Liang Wannian, head of the coronavirus expert panel for China’s National Health Commission, said antibodies were tested in 233 hospitals in the nation and no evidence was obtained that the spread occurred prior to the December date.
“Further studies are needed,” Peter Ben Embarek, the leader of the investigative WHO team, said.
The group conducting the investigation raised concerns about the veracity of the antibody tests, which have been performed by Chinese officials in the last few months.
“The numbers are not so important. What is important is that we don’t really know how reliable serology testing is to detect antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 more than a year after infection,” Embarek said.
Questions have brewed about the date of discovery in Wuhan after Italian researchers discovered COVID-19 exposure in a 4-year-old girl dating back to Nov. 30, 2019. Additionally, cases in the United States may have started as early as December 2019, contrary to previous estimates of a January start date.
“This is so politically fraught,” Maureen Miller, a Columbia University epidemiologist, said. “It was probably circulating much more widely than they believed … Doing antibody tests now, it’s too late. The ship has sailed.”
“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific targeted research,” Embarek said during a press conference. “However, the findings suggest that the laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population and, therefore, is not a hypothesis that implies to suggest future studies into our work to support our future work into the understanding of the origin of the virus.”
The coronavirus has killed roughly 2.3 million worldwide and has yet to stop battering the U.S. as it maintains over 27,000,000 positive cases since the onset of the pandemic, with over 471,000 deaths attributed to the virus.