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February 2, 2021

The Covid outbreak began in China months before Beijing alerted the world, scientists have claimed. Researchers at the Institute for Genomics and Evolutionary Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia have argued that the virus dates back to mid-October. This flies in the face of the timeline pushed by Chinese authorities, which began publicly reacting to the virus at the start of 2020.

The study's suggested date fits with US State Department claims that researchers at the top-security Wuhan Institute of Virology fell sick in the autumn of 2019. Scientists from the US University analysed samples from thousands of Coronavirus patients and claim that the virus "definitely" began in China, the Mail on Sunday reported.

Sergei Pond, one of the researchers involved in the study, said: "All the genetic evidence makes it clear this virus is from China. "The pattern of worldwide spread is also consistent with Chinese viruses seeding epidemics in other countries." Their findings come as a team of scientists from the World Health Organisation investigate the origins of Covid-19 in China.

Today they were due to visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Hubei province, the central Chinese region where the outbreak emerged in late 2019. The group of independent experts is conducting two weeks of fieldwork, which has included visits to hospitals, markets, and an exhibition commemorating Wuhan's battle with the outbreak. The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, has said that team members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and would not have any contact with community members, because of health restrictions.

Yesterday they visited the Huanan market, the now-shuttered wholesale seafood centre in the Chinese city of Wuhan where the new coronavirus was initially detected. The team arrived at Huanan amid heavy security, with additional barricades set up outside a high blue fence surrounding the market, and left in a convoy after about one hour. The experts did not take questions from journalists. Public access to the sprawling Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market has been restricted since it was shut at the beginning of last year.

On Dec. 31, 2019, after four cases of a mystery pneumonia were linked to the market, it was shuttered overnight. By the end of January, Wuhan had gone into a 76-day lockdown. Experts say the Huanan market still plays a role in tracing the origins of the virus since the first cluster of cases was identified there.

The WHO-led probe in Wuhan has been plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between China and the United States, which accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.

The origins of the virus have become highly politicised, and some Chinese diplomats and state media have thrown support behind theories that the virus potentially originated in another country. Last week a foreign ministry spokeswoman claimed it might have come from a US military base and laboratory in Maryland.