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Satellite Data Shows That COVID-19 May Have Attacked China Since Last Fall

Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, provided via ABC News
Researchers say a sudden increase in the number of cars in hospitals suggests the disease could have started out from last fall.

Researchers at Harvard, BU analyzed images showing the parking lots of Wuhan hospitals last autumn busier than usual.

According to a new study by Harvard Medical University, a spike in the number of cars around major hospitals in Wuhan last fall showed that the new coronavirus may have been present and spread throughout central China. Nations long before the disease was declared to the world.
Wuhan Tongji Medical University

Using techniques similar to intelligence agencies, the team analyzed commercial satellite imagery and "observed a significant increase in car traffic outside five major hospitals in Wuhan, starting in late summer and early fall 2019, "said Dr. John Brownstein, Harvard medical professor who led the study.

TS Brownstein said the increase in vehicle traffic also "coincided" with rising queries with a Chinese internet search for "certain symptoms that were later identified to be closely related to the strain" new coronavirus. "

TS Brownstein said that this study created an important new data point related to the riddle of the origin of Covid-19.
Since the outbreak in China last year, coronaviruses have swept the globe, infected 7 million people and killed more than 400,000 worldwide, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Although Chinese officials did not officially notify the World Health Organization (WHO) until December 31 about a new respiratory pathogen that was swept through Wuhan, US intelligence reported the issue. The earliest issue is at the end of November and notified to the Pentagon, according to 4 sources revealed.

Because the origin of a new virus is so important for scientists to learn, experts around the world are racing to uncover the secret of an official pathogen called SARS-Co-V2.
The task of the researchers became much more complicated when the Chinese government refused to fully cooperate with Western and international health agencies, US and WHO officials said.

Brownstein and his team, including researchers from Boston University and Boston Children's Hospital, spent more than a month trying to identify the signs when the population of Hubei province in China began to suffer.

The logic of the Brownstein research project, is simple: respiratory diseases lead to very specific types of behavior in the communities where they spread. So photos showing those types of behaviors can help explain what is happening even if those who were sick didn't realize the bigger issue at the time.

"What we are trying to do is look at how busy a hospital is." 

said Brown Brownstein. 

"And the way we do it is by counting the cars in that hospital. The parking lot will be full when the hospital is busy. So, more cars in the hospital, the busier hospitals, maybe Due to something happening in the community, infections are on the rise and people have to go to the doctor, so you see the increase in hospital business through cars."
The picture drawn by the data is not conclusive, Brownstein admits, but he says the numbers speak.

Disease ecologist Peter Daszak, president of the fifth non-profit EcoHea Alliance in Manhattan, said the Harvard research was entirely intriguing.

David Perlin, scientific director at the Center for Discovery and Innovation in New Jersey, said he was intrigued by Brownstein's research, although he was not entirely convinced.

Starting with nearly 350 images taken by private satellites around the globe, the Brownstein team first examined traffic and parking outside major hospitals in Wuhan in the past two years. Among them are photos taken from space every week or every 2 weeks in the autumn of 2019. 

From about 350 frames, researchers have found 108 images that can be used, showing the Unobstructed location from smog, tall buildings, clouds or other features can make satellite analysis difficult.

On October 10, 2018, there were 171 cars in the parking lot of Wuhan Ti Tiouou Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the city. A year later, satellites recorded 285 cars - an increase of 67%, according to data reviewed and shared with ABC News.

Other hospitals showed a 90% increase when comparing traffic between autumn 2018 and 2019, according to the study. At Wuhan Tongji Medical University, an increase in car traffic was found to have occurred in mid-September 2019.

To make sure they didn't make the wrong conclusions, the researchers said they took into account everything that could explain the increase in traffic flow - from large public gatherings to building capacity. new at the hospital. However, they said they have found a statistically significant increase in the number of cars available today.

Tom Diamond, president of RS Metrics - in collaboration with the Brownstein research team, said: "If you look at all the pictures, the observations we have made in all of these locations since 2018 , almost all the highest numbers of vehicles are in the September to December 2019 time frame. "
The research has been submitted to Nature Digital Medicine and is being peer reviewed. It is expected to be posted on Dash server, Harvard server for medical reports.

When implementing the project, RS Metrics, an analytics company, analyzes satellite imagery for business customers, using techniques designed to identify and monitor changes in the model of life and business.

It's similar to the work done by analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency and the US Defense Intelligence Agency, who look for pictures every day to try to find out what's going on in the face, especially where governments restrict flow of people and news.

Diamond told ABC News that the Wuhan area was clearly experiencing a widespread health problem in the months before the Chinese government publicly acknowledged that an infectious disease was sweeping through the densely populated city. The announcement came on New Year's Eve when the Wuhan City Health Committee, China reported a group of cases of pneumonia in the city.

"At all the larger hospitals in Wuhan, we measured the highest traffic we've seen in over two years between September and December 2019." 

Diamond said. 

"Our company is used to measure small changes, such as 2% to 3% growth in Cabella or Wal-Mart parking lots. That's not the case here. There is the trend is clear. "
Satellite imagery showing the change in life patterns in Wuhan is also a major factor in early classified US intelligence reports.

In April, ABC News reported that the National Health Intelligence Center (NCMI) received a notice in late November that an infectious disease was sweeping through Wuhan, changing its life and business model and pose a threat to the people.

In March, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, citing Chinese government data, reported that the first case of COVID-19 could be traced back to November 17, 2019. In recent days, Chinese health officials have told local media that the virus is likely to spread before they realize it, although they did not provide details.
Internet search trends in Wuhan

Brownstein said he and his researchers found the data even more appealing after digging into search patterns on the internet. During a period of sharp increase in car traffic at hospitals, online traffic in the Wuhan region also spiked with users searching Baidu for information about pertussis and diarrhea.

"According to the study, while the cough symptoms query showed seasonal fluctuations coinciding with the annual flu season, diarrhea was a more specific symptom of Covid-19 and only showed an association with disease today."

according to the study.

Professor of epidemiology Anne Rimoin, director of the Center for Global Health and Migration at UCLA, said:
 "We are in need of new and innovative methods to predict the disease. In this particular case, data Data on events such as increased vehicle traffic in hospitals may serve as early indicators of social disruption due to illnesses. High-resolution satellite imagery can be extremely useful to understand the spread of the disease and implementation of control measures.”

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