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Earliest Days of a Novel Coronavirus in China

ClinlabNavigator is establishing a timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic from its earliest days in China through the present. Each week, a sequel will be published. Today is the first entry. 

On Dec 30, 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issued an urgent notice to all medical institutions in Wuhan to collect information about a pneumonia of unknown etiology that had emerged from the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. The Chinese National Health Commission sent its first team of experts to Wuhan and alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) China bureau in Beijing. That evening, local officials reported that workers in protective gear had begun scrubbing every stall in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan and spraying disinfectant.

Shi Zhengli, a coronavirus expert at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was alerted about the new disease and immediately returned to Wuhan from a conference in Shanghai. Also, on December 30, Dr Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, told his colleagues via a doctor’s social media chatroom that he had been treating patients for a disease that resembled SARS. Days later, for the crime of rumormongering, Li and seven other physicians were compelled by China’s Public Security Bureau to sign a document admitting to “spreading lies.” Dr Li died of COVID19 in a Wuhan hospital ICU on February 6.

On December 31, Gao Fu, Chinese CDC Director, dispatched a team of experts to Wuhan. On January 4, 2020, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission announced there were 44 cases of the mysterious new disease in Wuhan and that it was not SARS. WHO issued its first alarm about a new disease. WHO tweeted, “#China has reported to WHO a cluster of #pneumonia cases —with no deaths— in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Investigations are underway to identify the cause of this illness.”

On January 5 at 2:00 a.m., Zhang Yongzhen’s laboratory completed sequencing the virus received from Wuhan and realized it was closely related to SARS. He shared the viral genome sequence with members of his consortium, which included Australian scientist Eddie Holmes. On January 9, WHO reported that Chinese authorities determined the outbreak was caused by a novel coronavirus.

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