AN investigation from the World Health Organization mission has found evidence of a wider Covid outbreak in China in 2019.
Wuhan mission leader Peter Ben Embarek said there were more than 12 different strains of Covid-19 in Wuhan by December 2019Credit: AFP or licensors
People are seen wearing masks in a store inside a mall in Singapore in January 2020Credit: EPA
A box of N95 masks seen in New York in March 2020. A team from the WHO is working to investigate the origins of the Covid pandemicCredit: Reuters
Peter Ben Embarek, the lead investigator for the WHO mission, told CNN that the team was able to use partial genetic samples and identify Covid cases from China in December 2019.
With this data, investigators found there were 13 different variants of Covid-19 in Wuhan in December 2019, CNN reported.
Embarek said the investigations show Covid was more widespread than previously thought in early months.
“The virus was circulating widely in Wuhan in December, which is a new finding,” he told CNN.
Chinese scientists sent the team 174 cases – 100 which were confirmed by the WHO team in lab testing.
The other 74 cases were diagnosed by patient symptoms.
Despite roughly 200 cases being suspected, Embrek said it’s possible there was far more.
He told CNN that in Wuhan – the first known epicenter for the virus – around 1,000 people may have been infected by December.
Medical workers are seen tending to patients in the ICU of a Wuhan hospital on February 6, 2020Credit: Reuters
Medical staff are seen outside waiting rooms at Red Cross hospital in Wuhan on March 6, 2020Credit: AFP or licensors
In evaluating the Covid data and finding the different strains, Embarek said scientists have been able to find more info on where the cases originated.
“Some of them are from the markets… Some of them are not linked to the markets,” he told CNN.
It was thought that the Covid-19 spread may somehow be linked with a wet market in Wuhan – but scientists are still working together to find missing pieces to the puzzle.
Australian infectious diseases expert Dominic Dwyer – part of the WHO’s team – previously said China refused to hand over raw data on the country’s first cases.
Another from the Wuhan investigation team, Professor John Watson, said a theory that Covid was leaked from a lab has not been ruled out.
“That’s a hypothesis that remains on the table and could certainly have further work done on it,” Watson told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
Patients are seen in a temporary hospital in Wuhan on February 17, 2020Credit: Alamy Live News
New info giving a look at how widespread Covid may have been in the virus’ early days comes amid concern over new strains that are thought to be more contagious.
One strain that’s become known as the “UK variant” that was found in December 2020 was discovered to be up to 50 times more contagious than the previous Covid strain.
One strain discovered in South Africa was found to be around 60 to 70percent faster at spreading than the early strain.
Several other strains have sparked concern, as the world continues to hunker down and try to get a hold on virus spread while vaccine rollout is ongoing.
Despite new strains emerging, experts have maintained that it’s likely Covid-19 vaccines will still provide protection against the virus.
The White House previously said it’s “deeply concerned” by the WHO’s Covid report over fears of “Chinese interference,” and demanded a release of data.