The first case of Covid-19 may have been transmitted as early as October 2019, much earlier than first thought, experts say.
Despite the first officially identified instance occurring two months later in December, academics have found the coronavirus “likely arose between early October and mid-November”.
Researchers at the University of Kent used a technique previously used to date the extinction of species, by looking at some of the earliest known cases across 203 countries.
China’s first official COVID-19 case was in December 2019 and was linked to Wuhan’s Huanan seafood market.
However some early cases had no known connection with Huanan, which suggests the bug was already circulating before it reached the market.
The disease first spread outside the country when it was found in Japan on January 3, before the first case in Europe occurred in Spain on January 12. The first reported case in the United States was just four days later on January 16.
The Kent findings come after researchers in Seattle, US, recovered deleted data about early Covid-19 cases in China, which showed that samples taken from the Huanan market were “not representative” of disease and were already a variant.
This would again suggest that disease was already spreading before the wet market discovery.
The samples had been submitted for study in the US but were later deleted at the request of Chinese investigators, who said they would be updated and submitted to another archive.
Critics said the deletion was further evidence that China was trying to cover up the origins of the disease.
“Why would scientists ask international databases to delete key data that informs us about how COVID-19 began in Wuhan?” said Alina Chan, a researcher with Harvard’s Broad Institute, writing on Twitter.
In the UK, Covid cases continue to rise despite millions of people across the country having received one or both vaccine jabs.
Daily figures released by the Government showed that another 26,068 cases were reported on Wednesday, up almost 70 per cent compared with the period 17 June – 23 June.
But deaths continue to be low with 14 recorded in the last 24-hour period up to June 30.
The death toll for the UK stands at 152,606 as of Wednesday. These are deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate.
Across the globe, the United States has the highest death toll in the world with 604,718.
This is followed by Brazil with 518,066 and then India with 399,459, according to figures from John Hopkins University. Although the figures for India could be much higher.
The new research is led by OLE developer Dr David Roberts, of the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation, Dr Jeremy Rossman, President of Research-Aid Networks Chicago and Dr Ivan Jarić, of the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
Dr Roberts said: “The novel application of OLE within the field of epidemiology offers a new opportunity to understand the emergence and spread of diseases as it only requires a small amount of data.
“This application could be applied to provide insights into Covid-19’s continued spread and help authorities to better understand the spread of other infectious diseases in the future.”