The team of experts sent to Wuhan in China to probe the coronavirus disease reportedly discovered several signs of a much wider outbreak in December 2019 than was reported earlier. World Health Organisation (WHO) expert Peter Ben Embarek said that investigators are seeking access to hundreds of thousands of blood samples from Wuhan that Beijing has not allowed to examine.
The team established that there were already over a dozen of coronavirus strains circulating in December. "The virus was circulating widely in Wuhan in December, which is a new finding," said the head of WHO-led team.
The UN health agency picked up a media report about cases of pneumonia of unknown cause emerging from Wuhan in December 2019. It was later identified as coronavirus. China shared the genetic sequence with WHO in early January. However, scientists studying the origin had indicated that the virus might have been spreading long before it was officially reported.
Chinese scientists presented the WHO team with 174 coronavirus cases detected in and around Wuhan in December 2019. A WHO expert said that given around 15 per cent end up being severe cases, around 1,000 people might have been infected that month. However, 'vast majority are mild cases', said the expert.
Embarek said that broadening the type of genetic samples from early Covid-19 cases allowed them to examine partial genetic samples instead of complete ones. Scientists gathered 13 different genetic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 from December 2019 that could offer significant clues about the origin and scale of the outbreak.
Over 108 million coronavirus cases have been reported from around the globe, according to Coronavirus Resource Center of Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.