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Chinese doctors, scientists say Harvard paper on when coronavirus started is fraught with errors

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Chinese doctors and scientists have pointed out the many flaws of a Harvard Medical School study that used satellite images of hospital parking lots in Wuhan to conclude that the coronavirus may have emerged as early as autumn last year. They believe the flawed paper, which has not even been peer reviewed, is yet another poorly organized attempt of the US to throw mud at China’s hard-won battle against the virus.

They rebuked the points of the paper, saying they didn’t experience a surge of cars parked in the hospital parking lot or patients with COVID-19 symptoms in Wuhan last autumn as the paper claims. Chinese experts also said the satellite images, which support the whole paper, was deliberately taken from different angles to highlight the sharp contrasts.

The fact that such a preposterous paper was published by the world-renowned Harvard University has stunned the Chinese public, with many netizens and experts saying the university’s kowtowing to the US political conspiracy against China is a destruction of its time-honored fame in China and will obscure its reputation among Chinese students. 

Solid evidence against baseless claim

Researchers from Harvard and Boston universities came to the conclusion after analyzing satellite images of hospital parking lots in Wuhan, and queries in China’s Baidu search engine about symptoms such as coughing and diarrhea.

“We observe an upward trend in hospital traffic and search volume beginning in late summer and early fall 2019,”  Elaine Okanyene Nsoesie, together with John Samuel Brownstein, professor of Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School and several other researchers, wrote in a paper released online but was not peer-reviewed.

The Harvard scientists extracted data for Wuhan hospital parking volumes between January 2018 and April 2020 and found a steep increase in traffic that began in August 2019 and peaked in December.

Three doctors from Wuhan’s Zhongnan Hospital and Wuhan Tongji Hospital, which were cited in the Harvard paper, all rejected the paper’s claim that they received more patients with fever or diarrhea symptoms than usual last autumn. 

“This is totally inconsistent with the facts. If what the paper said was true, that the virus was circulating earlier, the outbreak would also have emerged earlier given the virus’ highly contagious nature,” Peng Zhiyong, the director of the intensive care unit of the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, told the Global Times.

Those doctors also denied there had been a sudden surge in traffic around the hospitals.

The study also posted a picture of traffic conditions at the Hubei Maternal and Child hospital, where an area in front of the main building that appeared empty in 2018 was filled with vehicles in autumn 2019. 

A source familiar with the area told the Global Times that the hospital in question, which was captured by satellite image filled with cars but empty in 2018, had been undergoing construction since 2019 to expand its parking area. 

An employee from the hospital confirmed with the Global Times that the spot shown on the satellite map is a parking lot, and had just finished construction recently. 

GLOBAL TIMES

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