China’s government has strongly rejected a preliminary study by US researchers suggesting the coronavirus may have been circulating in the city of Wuhan, where the first cases where reported, since August 2019.
The new paper by experts at Boston University and Harvard, which has not been peer-reviewed, is based on photos of parking lots at Wuhan hospitals and search trends on Baidu, the Chinese search engine.
It says that while they cannot definitively affirm the data found was linked to the virus, it supports conclusions by other studies suggesting that the virus began circulating earlier than the first reported cases, which were late last year.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the study as “full of holes” and “crudely manufactured”, saying it was evidence of coordinated efforts in the US to “deliberately create and disseminate disinformation against China”.
“Some US politicians and media acted like they found buried treasure and wantonly spread [the study], treating it like new proof that China concealed the epidemic,” Hua was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.
The US and others have repeatedly accused China of a lack of transparency about the outbreak and its origins.