Satellite data and internet search trends in China indicate the COVID-19 virus may have broken out as early as September, three months before China publicly admitted its existence. Researchers combing through data discovered anomalies that contradict Beijing’s claim that it alerted the world as soon as it could and undermine China’s ongoing international posturing on the deadly pandemic.
Traffic Tells a Tale
Researchers at Harvard Medical School pored over satellite imagery in which they “observed a dramatic increase in hospital traffic outside five major Wuhan hospitals beginning late summer and early fall 2019,” according to Dr. John Brownstein, leader of the research.
“Something was happening in October,” Brownstein said. “Clearly, there was some level of social disruption taking place well before what was previously identified as the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.”
Photos of Zhongnan Hospital at Wuhan University from Oct. 10, 2018 depict 506 cars, ABC News reported. The same location on Oct. 17, 2019 had 640 cars, according to satellite imagery. Similarly, at Wuhan Tongji Medical University, the number of cars doubled from 112 to 214 from Oct. 10, 2018 to Sept. 12, 2019.
“What we’re trying to do is look at the activity, how busy a hospital is,” Brownstein said. “And the way we do that is by counting the cars that are at that hospital. Parking lots will get full as a hospital gets busy. So more cars in a hospital, the hospital’s busier, likely because something’s happening in the community, an infection is growing and people have to see a doctor. So you see the increases in the hospital business through the cars… We saw this across multiple institutions.”
Wide Range of Data Paints a Troubling Picture
The research team based their conclusions on 108 photos culled from a larger group of 350. They also tried to discount alternative theories, such as social gatherings and construction projects, but those failed to explain three months of increased traffic at Wuhan medical institutions.
RS Metrics, a market research firm, assisted the Harvard team with sifting through the data. They too found massive spikes in automobile traffic from September through December 2019 compared with the previous year.
“At all the larger hospitals in Wuhan, we measured the highest traffic we’ve seen in over two years during the September through December 2019 time frame,” Diamond said. “Our company is used to measuring tiny changes, like 2% to 3% growth in a Cabela’s or Wal-Mart parking lot. That was not the case here. Here, there is a very clear trend.”
Internet Patterns Reveal Dark Secrets
Simultaneous to hospital traffic increasing, so did internet traffic pertaining to virus symptoms, Brownstein’s team discovered. Chinese users in the Wuhan region began using the Chinese Baidu search engine to query symptoms such as “cough” and “diarrhea.”
“While queries of the respiratory symptom ‘cough’ show seasonal fluctuations coinciding with yearly influenza seasons, ‘diarrhea’ is a more COVID-19-specific symptom and only shows an association with the current epidemic,” the Harvard study read. “The increase of both signals precede the documented start of the COVID-19 pandemic in December.”
Brownstein had previously used a combination of internet search results and hospital traffic to predict influenza-like illnesses in Chile, Argentina, and Mexico, said Professor Elaine Nsoesie, global health professor at Boston University. Her work with Brownstein confirmed that both trends can successfully serve as a predictor for widespread pandemics.
Washington Report Correlates with Harvard Study
US intelligence might have had an advance warning as early as November, ABC News reported. The US National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI) was made aware of a contagion in Wuhan that had a life-altering effect. The reports made use of similar satellite footage that the Harvard team used as well as computer intercepts.
However, NCMI’s director denied the ABC News report in April, saying a formal “product/assessment” was not produced ni November. Although he denied an assessment, he did not deny the existence of a report in November and a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on it once Harvard’s study results were released.
The news comes as Beijing celebrated its coronavirus efforts and response in a government report issued Sunday. It states China took “painstaking efforts” to combat the virus and alert the international community, The New York Times reported. It also praises China’s cooperation with the United States in particular, even as relations have since become strained.
China Denies the Accusations
“Confronted by this virus, the Chinese people have joined together as one and united their efforts,” the report said. “They have succeeded in containing the spread of the virus. In this battle, China will always stand together with other countries.”
Ma Xiaowei, the minister in charge of China’s National Health Commission, also denied a coverup of COVID-19’s origins.
“We have not delayed in any way” the sharing of information with other states, Ma said. The Trump administration continues to blame China for not disclosing information soon enough and of a continued lack of transparency. China has also refused calls for an international. Independent investigation.
“The Chinese government’s cover up of initial reporting on the virus is just one more example of the challenges presented by the Chinese Communist Party’s hostility toward transparency,” a State Department spokesperson told ABC News. “The Chinese government has a responsibility to share information on the virus and support countries as the world responds to COVID-19.”
The Harvard study, taken in tandem with the November NCMI report give greater weight to the possibility that China may have known of the outbreak before it admitted such. The increased hospital traffic and spike in related internet search queries are evidence that something significant was indeed already happening in October.