The first known case of COVID-19 was in a vendor at a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, China – not someone who lived miles away, a new report claims.
Dr Michael Worobey, head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, says the World Health Organization (WHO) misconstrued the early timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He says he believes the first confirmed infection to be in a female seafood vendor at the Huanan Seafood Market who fell ill on December 11, 2019.
Previously, the earliest case of the virus was believed to have been a 41-year-old male accountant who lived 20 miles south of the market.
The report is bound to reinvigorate the debate about whether the COVID-19 pandemic started at the market or accidentally escaped from a laboratory in the same city.
A new report claims the first known case of COVID-19 occurred in a female seafood vendor at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan on December 11. Pictured: Workers wearing protective suits walk next to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, March 2020
Previous reports have stated that the first case was in a 41-year-old male accountant who lived 20 miles away from the market (cluster A)
China first alerted the world to cases of COVID-19 when local authorities alerted the WHO to cases of ‘pneumonia of unknown causes’ on December 31, 2019.
Reports from Chinese officials said early cases were associated with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which also sold live animals.
However, there has been much debate over whether the virus originated in animals or was manufactured in a lab.
For the report, published in the journal Science, Worobey looked at early public records of the Covid pandemic’s timeline.
This includes articles in medical journals and interviews with a Chinese news outlet with the people believed to have the first documented cases of the virus.
With several reports linking at least half of the earliest cases to the market, Worobey believes that pattern means that’s where it started.
But the earliest known case was believed to be a 41-year-old male accountant, who lived 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Huanan Market, with no connection to the place.
He first reported feeling ill on December 8 but did not come down with COVID-19 symptoms until December 16.
Worobey said the early illness was linked to dental problems, specially baby teeth he had retained into adulthood, confirmed by hospital records.
‘This indicates that he was infected through community transmission after the virus had begun spreading from Huanan Market,’ he wrote.
‘He believed that he may have been infected in a hospital (presumably during his dental emergency) or on the subway during his commute; he had also traveled north of Huanan Market shortly before his symptoms began.’
Because of this, he believes the first known case was a seafood vendor named Wei Guixian, who developed symptoms on December 11.
He first reported feeling ill on December 8 but did not come down with COVID-19 symptoms until December 16. The scientist who wrote the report says the earliest illness came from dental problems, specially baby teeth he had retained into adulthood. Pictured: A man wearing walks next to optical shops on the second floor of the Huanan Seafood Market, December 2020
Experts say the report reconstructs the early timeline of the pandemic well but does not explain whether the virus originated the market or escaped from a lab. Pictured: Medical staff transfer patients to Jinyintan hospital in Wuhan, January 2020
Experts told The New York Times that Worobey’s reconstructed timeline appears solid, but does not explain how the pandemic began.
‘He has done an excellent job of reconstructing what he can from the available data, and it’s as reasonable a hypothesis as any,’ Dr W. Ian Lipkin, a virologist at Columbia University In New York, told the newspaper.
‘But I don’t think we’re ever going to know what’s going on, because it’s two years ago and it’s still murky.’
There are still many who believe the virus leaked from a lab, a theory at first dismissed by several scientists as being nothing more than conspiracy theory.
However, a May 2021 report from The Wall Street Journal cited an undisclosed intelligence report detailing how three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the COVID-19 pandemic,
The newspaper said the report – which provides fresh details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits – may add weight to calls for a broader probe of whether the COVID-19 virus could have escaped from the laboratory.
In late May, President Joe Biden ordered a 90-day review in to the origins of COVID-19, which is set to be published later this month.
The report, from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, could not pinpoint a conclusion on whether the virus passed from animal to human or escaped from a lab.