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Harvard researchers studying satellite images found a huge increase in road traffic outside hospitals in the city of Wuhan and also noticed a spike in internet searches for symptoms before Autumn 2019. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the findings during a daily press briefing.
I think it is ridiculous to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume
She said: “I think it is ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous, to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume.”
The Harvard research methods have also been questioned by members of the scientific community.
Eric Topol, director of the California-based Scripps Research Translational Institute, said the method was not validated and is “very indirect and imprecise.”
Dr Topol, who was not involved with the research, said he doubts the outbreak began in August, based on the evidence he has seen so far.
He and others pointed to genetic evidence suggesting the virus made the leap from animal host to humans sometime last autumn.
Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, said: “I don’t know about the August start.
“But it’s clear this had been spreading for some time before it was recognised and reported to the World Health Organisation in December.”
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The Harvard team looked at satellite images of Wuhan hospitals from 2019 and compared them to 2018.
The researchers accessed 350 images, which were taken from private satellites.
According to The Harvard Medical School, the number of cars parked outside all of the Wuhan hospitals last autumn was higher than during other years.
Wuhan Tongji Medical University had 214 cars parked outside in September 2019, compared to just 112 cars in October 2018.
Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University had 506 cars parked one day in October 2018 but 640 cars parked one day in October 2019.
They also found that the Chinese search engine Baidu had received an increase in the number of searches for “cough” and “diarrhoea”.
Both of these symptoms are related to COVID-19, according to the World Health Organisation.
Harvard professor Dr John Brownstein said: “Something was happening in October.
“Clearly, there was some level of social disruption taking place well before what was previously identified as the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.”
Around 100 countries across the world have called for an independent inquiry into how the coronavirus pandemic began.
China has said they are open to any investigation but it must be free of political interference.
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US President Donald Trump has accused China of a lack of transparency over the issue.
Scientists from the University College London also believe the pandemic started between October and December of last year.
China has repeatedly denied they reacted slowly to the coronavirus outbreak.
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