Also see: Preliminary Overview on early epidemics
Note that the early theories about the origins of the Covid-19 virus have always focussed on the wet-markets of China. The common explanation has been that these are places where wild animals are sold for eating ... bats, civet cats, pangolins, etc., and it is often assumed that the virus has transferred from the live bats on sale (known to have coronavirus-type infections).
However the term 'wet market' applies across Asia to a wide range of fresh-food markets which are generally open air, and lack refrigeration. They are washed down on hot-days, and always at nights after the stall-holders have gone home.
The problem with making these assumptions, is that we now know that in the developed countries, one group of workers in abattoirs and the meat-processing industries have also proved to be especially susceptible and have had break-out clusters of infections. Yet in the west these are food-handling areas with refrigeration; where the beef, pork and lamb carcasses are delivered already dead.
The 2019 military war games officially known as the 7th CISM Military World Games, were held in Wuhan, China. This was the first international military multi-sport event and also it was the largest military sports event ever to be held in China, with nearly 10,000 athletes from over 100 countries competing in 27 sports.
China sent a delegation of 553 participants to the games. Around 230,000 Chinese volunteers were recruited for the event.
This is generally judged to be the time of the first emergence of the new Covid-19 disease in Wuhan, China. It is only days after the end of the war games. In July of this year, a re-examination of the records for this period tend to confirm that China had a number of cases in November, and it is possible that the military transfered some mild cases back to the USA undetected
The virus may only have been in a mild form in October, but it appears to have been killing about 1% of its victims by November (mainly the elderly). There is no report of participants in the war games dying from an unknown virus, so the virus was obviously in an early mutation phase until December.
The military authorities would have had a keen interest in the possibilities that their members had been infected. If they weren't, then the West has serious problems.
Given the existence of these war games with military personnel in attendance from around the world, the later claim by President Donald Trump that China had been covering up a raging epidemic, is ridiculous.
16th: It is leaked to the Australian press that their Prime Minister has quietly gone on a family holiday in Hawaii while the country is in the midst of a drought and is being ravished by a massive series of bushfires. The threat from a viral epidemic has not featured significantly in the Australian media.
8-20th: Minor outbreaks are now being noticed in the Chinese Wuhan province: detection appears to have been highly variable on a day-by-day basis. There were very few serious cases reported throughout December.
21st: This is the date of the first of 40 unexplained deaths in California, which the American CDC is now reviewing as a potential early case of Covid-19.
20-26th: Notable rapid increase in case numbers in China, but still highly variable and not yet diagnosed as a new dangerous form of coronavirus. It was seen as a virulent form of Influenza (like SARS) or maybe a form of viral pneumonia (which has both bacterial and viral forms) which sometimes results from the lung congestion. Most of these Covid-19 cases were only diagnosed retrospectively.
20-30th: Dr. Zhang Jixian, the 54 year old female head of respiratory department at Wuhan's Hubei Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine (HICWM) hospital. (a Chinese provincial hospital), first recognised the disease as a novel form of the coronavirus pneumonia or influenza during these ten days. She insisted on reporting it as potentially an epidemic, and by the 30th, she'd seen seven [or nine] virus patients in all.
26th: An American virus expert Dr Gregory Gray, working in China with a team of wild-animal virus hunters, received the first known US scientific samples of the new novel virus. It took a further two weeks for the Chinese Wuhan laboratory to sequence the virus.
27th: Dr Jixian Zhang MD, reports to the Chinese version of the CDC on four cases of an unusual form of pneumonia.
28-29th: Dr Jixian Zhang MD, reported on five more cases of this unusual form of pneumonia seen by her at the HICWM hospital.
Dr Zhang was later commended for identifying the problem as a potential epidemic.
30th: Apparently based on information leaked from Zhang's report, Dr. Li Wenliang, a 34 year old opthalmologist, posted information about the novel virus on a private WeChat group he shared with his medical school classmates, adding a warning that there was potentially a likely outbreak at his hospital.
He warned them that there were:
"Seven cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from the Huanan (Wuhan) Seafood Wholesale Market".[which western journalists called a "wet-market"].
He requested that chat group member keep this information to themselves, but suggested they should ...
"...remind your family members and loved ones to be on the alert."
The post was leaked and circulated widely. It was mainly factual, however Li and six other Wuhan doctors were reprimanded by the police for rumour-mongering. Li was mildly threatened, and his signed (and circulated) statement acknowledged only that he knew that rumour-spreading was a crime. He had inadvertently become the whistleblower because his chat notes about someone else's discovery had been released on WeChat, and then widely circulated.
[Note: Li Wenliang contracted COVID-19 and died on February 20 2020.]
The Chinese authorities hurriedly established a task force in Wuhan City.
The authorities were emerging now from their initial denial stage (as were the USA and UK authorities a few months later). They believed that the virus was a form of the flu, which was not easily transferable between health people.
Since they did not wish to unnecessarily alarm their subjects or drive away trade visitors or tourists the Chinese authorities consistently downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak. As is unfortunate that with both authoritarian regimes and with stupid leaders in a democracy, the politicians suppressed or oppress their media. The Chinese admonished the medical specialist who first went public with news of the new dangers: the Americans ridiculed them.
31st: The Wuhan Health Commission alerted the National Health Commission and the China Center for Disease Control.
The news about this novel Chinese-based epidemic was now widely circulating in the western media.
The WHO has now triggered its emergency management status program.
Worldwide, the general public were now being warned of the threat in the media, and told to avoid kissing, hugs, closeness, and shaking hands with other than immediate family. The Australian Prime Minister was overtly disdainful of these precautions. In mid-December the Australian government had also largely dismissed the threat of climate change at the Madrid international conference, then suffered criticism over taking a holiday while Australian bushfires burned up large parts of the country,
1st: The Huanan (Wuhan) Seafood Market was closed by the Chinese authorities as the suspected source. However the authorities also directed that biomedical details of the virus's potential not be published or disclosed, and that all samples of the virus held in other laboratories be destroyed.
This was probably nothing more than a precautionary measure, because many Chinese research labs had poor security provisions. Twice in recent years laboratory samples had escaped and become infectious (1977 SARS, etc.), however, it was interpreted by the Americans as an attempted cover-up.
2nd: The Australian PM Scott Morrison was heckled at a public meeting, and this was shown on TV after he attempted to shake hands with a reluctant woman. It was actually NOT related to COVID-19; it resulted from his clumsy attempt to avoid being shunned by a political critic. The confrontation was actually over Morrison's poor handling of Australia's devastating bushfire problems; he went on holidays while the country (and the woman's house) burned, so she refused to shake his hand.
4th: WHO reported that there was a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, but no deaths.
5th: WHO has published news on the outbreak of the new virus in its technical information system.
5-7th: The Wuhan genetic laboratory had now sequenced the new virus.
The disease is identified by the Chinese authorities as a "novel form of the coronavirus" related to the annual flu.
7th: Jeremiah DeLap, in Orange County, California, died of an unknown pneumonia-like respiratory congestion failure illness; he had become sick on only Jan 3rd. This is now under investigation as a possible early unrecognised case of Covid-19; there were a few similar cases of congestive respiratory deaths among younger children (who appear now to be more resistive) at about the same time.
The World Health Organisation was also notified. However the WHO took nearly a month to declare this a "public health emergence of international concern" [Note: not yet a pandemic rather than just a Chinese epidemic]. It was generally believed in the WHO and the West that this was a new novel virus -- an especially virulent form of the annual flu which sometimes produced pneumonia.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) offered help to China in early 2020, but apparently this was rejected -- probably because the Chinese medical establishment was concerned about being seen as inferior to the West, and so they would rather rely on their own medical expertise and resources. At this stage, the Chinese medical establishment rightly believed themselves to be the experts on this new virus.
At this stage the WHO's global experts seems to have calculated that it unlikely that this new outbreak of a flu-like disease would become more than a substantial multi-national epidemic. They all saw it as a virulent form of the closely-related annual flu, and they perhaps accepted that it had the potential to kill a moderate number of elderly and frail people like all flu strains. The comparison was constantly being made with the seasonal flu which also killed dozens of the elderly-frail in many countries, so none of the global health monitors or authorities moved into panic mode.
They obviously began to hold emergency meetings and to prepare for a serious pandemic.
6th: Indonesia declares a top-level emergency after discovering a few local cases of the virus infection. They also receiving some intelligence from China.
A Silicon Valley technician dies from what is later diagnosed as the first unambiguous US death from Covid-19.
7th: The British Health Secretary, Matt Handcock and PM Boris the Bonker met and had a serious discussion about the threat. The potential for a serious global health problem must have been circulating among the top politicians of the developed nations at this time, but mainly it was being circulated quietly behind the scenes.
However, the UK's COBRA (crisis management) group met several times over the following weeks. However, the newspapers hadn't been advised that this was a real problem and a global threat at the level of SARS or Ebola. The media still treated the news as if it was a flu-related problem which could be contained to China and its neighbours in Asia.
10-11th: China makes a formal announcement of deaths from Covid-19, dating back to early cases in December.
Donald Trump [according to John Bolton's later memoirs] didn't want to hear about the epidemic in China, because it might jeapodize the Chinese Trade deals. At the time the Chinese were oppressing the minority muslim Weigers [Uyghurs] and the USA didn't want to be forced to take any stance on such human rights issues.
The WHO publishes a technical guidance package on the detection, testing, and management of the outbreak with information available from China at the time.