CORONAVIRUS

When was the first case of covid-19 found in Wuhan?

A new report lends support to the theory that the coronavirus pandemic emerged from the Huanan Seafood Market but the first case may be earlier than initially thought.

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When was the first case of covid-19 found in Wuhan?

A new report released on Thursday sheds new light on the debate over the origins of covid-19 and seems to suggest that the first known patient to fall ill was a vendor in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan.

A recent study from the World Health Organization (WHO) had suggested that the first person infected with covid-19 may have been an accountant who lived far away from the now-notorious market but that has been discredited.

The new report from Dr Michael Worobey, a leading expert in viral evolution from the University of Arizona, brings together research from various medical journals as well as first-person accounts with some of the first people to have been infected.

Huanan Seafood Market remains the most likely source of covid-19

There has been widespread debate about the source of the coronavirus pandemic and two main theories have been postulated. Last year some members of the Trump administration, and others in the medical community, suggested that the actually source of the virus may have been the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has a campus around eight miles from the market.

But having analysed huge quantities of data about the initial days and weeks of the covid-19 outbreak, Dr Worobey is confident that the market was the source of the original viral mutation. His study of the earliest known patients points to the market as the most likely shared connection.

“In this city of 11 million people, half of the early cases are linked to a place that’s the size of a soccer field,” he said. “It becomes very difficult to explain that pattern if the outbreak didn’t start at the market.”

The New York Times reports that Dr Worobey’s findings have been studied by several experts, including at least one of the pandemic investigators utilised in the WHO study, who agreed that his work was scientifically sound. Unless any new victims emerge, it seems that the unfortunate seafood vender in the Huanan market was indeed the first hospitalised covid-19 patient.

When did covid-19 begin?

While Dr Worobey’s work has likely found the first hospitalised patient, this does not necessarily mean that he was the very first human to contract the virus. As we see to this day, many covid-19 infections can be entirely symptomless and it is entirely possible that the vender who fell ill was not the first to be infected.

In the cramped, unventilated condition of the livestock market the virus would have had little problem spreading between attendees and the first person infected may have been entirely unaware of it.

Studies of the virus’s genome have suggested that the first infection may have occurred in mid-November 2019. This date is weeks before the vendor first fell ill, meaning that the virus had likely been present in the market before then. These findings were also corroborated in a different study done by Dr Worobey himself.

It was not until 30 December 2019 that public health officials in Wuhan provided any specific guidance to local hospitals about an unknown new infection. In this six-week period the close conditions and constant flow of visitors to the market would have provided the perfect conditions for the virus to spread and ensure that authorities were unable to confine the infection once it was finally identified.