The first case of a human infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID 19, may have occurred in China’s Hubei province as early as October 7, 2019.
Only in mid-December, two months later were the first cases officially reported in Wuhan at the now ill-famed Huanan wet market.
Further analysis of the virus spread and its molecular clock revealed it was most likely already established in Wuhan by this time and had been circulating in Hubei at low levels in early November 2019, and possibly as early as mid-October.
But due to novel symptoms of COVID 19 and an initially small number of infections, it was difficult to identify the pathogen.
As a result, the virus only came to the attention of the authorities when a cluster of inexplicable symptoms linked to the Huanan Seafood Market was seen in December, and this led to the now-discredited theory that the wet market, where a broad variety of animals are sold both alive and dead, was where the pandemic began.
Dr Jonathan Pekar from the University of California San Diego led a mathematical study to determine when and where it began, and his team examined 583 early virus samples from Hubei to find their latest common ancestor from which they all descended, and they found they dated back to about December 9.
But reports of the unusual pneumonia-like condition were being reported in the Chinese media before this date.
As a result of this, the researchers say the only rational explanation is that the first appearance of the virus which bounced from an animal into a human was a weak strain that quickly went extinct.
But before it fizzled out, the researchers hypothesised it mutated to become more potent and this variant then radiated throughout Wuhan and later the world.
The researchers recorded in their study, published in Science that in their initial analysis, they believe that November 17 represents the first documented case of COVID 19, and they conducted further analysis under this hypothesis using a computer model.
When accounting for a delay in transmission, discovery and manifestations occurring, the first case of COVID 19 infection transpired in Hubei on or about November 4, 2019, the researchers estimate.
However, this figure could be as early as October 7, the researchers calculated, but the researchers struggled to pinpoint a geographical area for the viruses origin, but say if the original strain, which was weaker than the Wuhan variant and all subsequent mutations, appeared in a rural area, it would have had to migrate to an urban area to survive.
But the bottom line is millions died.