A spike in road traffic outside hospitals in Wuhan last fall suggests coronavirus may have hit China much earlier than originally reported.
A new study from Harvard Medical School led by Dr. John Brownstein analyzed commercial satellite imagery and "observed a dramatic increase in hospital traffic outside five major Wuhan hospitals beginning late summer and early fall 2019."
Brownstein also pointed out that the traffic increase coincided with a spike in internet searches for "certain symptoms that would later be determined as closely associated with the novel coronavirus."
Although he admitted the evidence is conjectural, the new data set could be an integral part to learning more about the origin of the virus.
"Clearly, there was some level of social disruption taking place well before what was previously identified as the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic," Brownstein said.
According to the data, there were 171 cars in the parking lot of Wuhan's Tianyou Hospital on October 10, 2018. Around the same time in 2019, the satellite recorded 285 cars — an increase of 67%.
Other hospitals saw a 90% increase when comparing traffic between 2018 and 2019.
Tom Diamond, president of RS Metrics, which worked with Brownstein's research team, said the increase was not just an anomaly.
"At all the larger hospitals in Wuhan, we measured the highest traffic we've seen in over two years during the September through December 2019 time frame," Diamond said. "Our company is used to measuring tiny changes, like 2% to 3% growth in a Cabella's or Wal-Mart parking lot. That was not the case here. Here, there is a very clear trend."