Though it was widely believed the the novel coronavirus, which spurred a major global pandemic, first hit the Chinese city of Wuhan this past November, satellite data are now suggesting that it was spreading through the population as early as August 2019.
According to CNN, a new study that analyzed traffic outside of hospital parking lots in Wuhan noted a marked spike in vehicles starting in August, as compared to the year before. Experts believe that the uptick was likely due to COVID-19.
In images from October 2018, there were reportedly 171 vehicles in the parking lot at Tianyou Hospital, one of Wuhan’s largest health centers. Data from 2019 showed 285 cars — a 67 percent increase.
The findings were echoed in other hospitals around the city as well, with some experiencing a 90 percent increase in traffic.
The traffic analysis was then amplified by the fact that searches of symptoms related to the deadly virus — like a dry cough — also increased on China’s main search engine Baidu during that time.
“Individual hospitals have days of high relative volume in both fall and winter 2019. However, between September and October 2019, five of the six hospitals show their highest relative daily volume of the analyzed series, coinciding with elevated levels of Baidu search queries for the terms ‘diarrhea’ and ‘cough,’” the study claimed.
According to Boston Children’s Hospital chief innovation officer John Brownstein, who lead the research team, the fact that citizens were searching for information about gastrointestinal distress is particularly compelling, as data have since shown the symptom, coupled with respiratory problems, is a major indicator of COVID-19.
“Now we can’t prove clearly what was driving some of these signals but it sort of adds to a growing body of evidence that something was happening ahead of when it was officially recognized,” Brownstein added.
Meanwhile, China has hit back at the claims that the pandemic was present in the country months earlier than previously believed.
“I think it is ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous, to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume,” declared Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (via BBC).
However, the new study supports the growing number of accusations that China had previously worked to cover up the scope of the crisis.
As was previously reported by The Inquisitr, several reporters who had been on the ground in Wuhan to cover the coronavirus outbreak have since been detained by police or gone missing.
In addition, there have been reports that the death toll in Wuhan was closer to 47,000 fatalities versus the number of 3,869 reported by the Chinese government.