The Sydney Morning Herald
Spending on tests used to detect coronavirus in China’s Hubei Province soared in the months before official reports of COVID-19 first emerged, suggesting the virus was spreading in the northern summer of 2019, well before it was publicly acknowledged by the Chinese government. The data, compiled by Australian cyber security outfit Internet 2.0, showed that the sale of polymerase chain reaction tests – used to detect the presence of specific viruses – jumped to 67.4 million yuan ($14.3 million) in 2019, from 36.7 million yuan in 2018, and 29.1 million in 2017. “We have come to the conclusion that based on the data analysed it suggests the virus was highly likely to be spreading virulently in Wuhan, China as early as the summer of 2019 and definitely by the early autumn,” the report states. The study, conducted by an open-source examination of contracts for PCR tests, also found “notable, significant and abnormal 2019 purchases of PCR equipment” in Wuhan by the People’s Liberation Army Airborne Army Hospital, The Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Wuhan University of Science and Technology and the Hubei Province Districts Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported the first cluster of cases on December 31, 2019. On January 5, the World Health Organisation published its first advisory on the cases. Experts from the group didn’t travel to Wuhan until January 20, as it consulted Beijing over the issue. The murky timeline about the origins of the outbreak have fuelled intense international speculation over China’s handling of the pandemic. Australia’s call for an inquiry into the origins of the pandemic drew a swift diplomatic rebuke from China, setting up the deterioration of relations between the two countries. Based on the research, Internet 2.0 concluded with “high confidence that the pandemic began much earlier than China informed the WHO about COVID-19,” according to the report.