Investigators from the World Health Organization (WHO) probing the origins of coronavirus in China had uncovered signs that the outbreak was much wider in Wuhan in December 2019 than previously thought, CNN said in an exclusive report. The investigators were urgently seeking access to hundreds of thousands of blood samples from the city that Chinese authorities had not so far let them examine.
According to the lead investigator for the WHO mission, Peter Ben Embarek, who spoke to CNN, the mission had found several signs of the more wide-ranging 2019 spread. He further told CNN in the wide-ranging interview that the mission established for the first time that more than a dozen strains of the virus were already present in Wuhan in December. He added that the team also had a chance to speak to the first Chinese patient officials claimed had been infected. The office worker in his 40, with no travel history of note, had been reported infected on December 8.
WHO Investigators Uncover Signs Of Wider Covid-19 Outbreak In Wuhan In December 2019
With the slow emergence of more detailed data collected during WHO’s long-awaited trip into China, concerns had been voiced by other scientists studying the origins of the disease that it might have been spreading there long before the first official announcement of its emergence in mid-December.
After his arrival in Switzerland from Wuhan, Embarek told CNN that the virus was circulating widely in Wuhan in December, which was a new finding.
According to the WHO food specialist, the team had been presented by Chinese scientists with 174 cases of coronavirus in and around Wuhan in December 2019. Laboratory tests had confirmed 100 of them, and another 74 confirmed by the clinical diagnosis of the patient’s symptoms.
According to Embarek, it was possible this larger number of likely severe cases that had been noticed by Chinese doctors early on meant a 1,000-plus people in Wuhan might have had the disease that December.
He added that no modeling had been done since, but it was known in big ballpark figures that out of the infected population, about 15% ended up in severe cases, and the vast majority were mild cases.
Embarek added that the mission is comprising 17 WHO scientists and 17 Chinese had broadened the type of virus genetic material they examined from early coronavirus cases that first December. He said, with this, they were able to look at partial genetic samples rather than just complete ones. They are able to, therefore, for the first time, gather 13 different genetic sequences of the SARS-COV-2 virus from December 2019. On examination of their sequences with wider patient data in China across 2019, valuable clues about the timing of the outbreak and geography before December could be obtained.
He said, come of them were from the markets, some of them were not linked to the markets, which included the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, which was thought to have played a role in the virus’ first spread. He added that they found part of their mission, part of the interaction they had all together.
Changes in a virus’s genetic makeup were common and normally harmless, occurring over time as the disease moved between and reproduced among people or animals. Embarek declined to draw conclusions about what the 13 strains could have meant for the disease’s history before December.
The discovery of so many different possible variants of the virus possibly pointed to the virus circulating for longer than just that month; some virologists had earlier suggested. According to experts, the genetic material uncovered was likely the first physical evidence to emerge internationally to bolster such a theory.
According to Prof Edward Holmes, a virologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, there was already genetic diversity in SARS-CoV-2 sequences sampled from Wuhan in December 2019. It was likely that the virus was circulating for a while longer than that month alone.