COVID-19 Timeline: December 2019
July 27, 2021
The beginnings of the coronavirus outbreak are somewhat hazy, although most people agree that the local government in Wuhan missed the opportunity to curb the outbreak leading to massive suffering. PBS’ Frontline documentary “China’s Covid Secrets” on the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak paints a helpful and disturbing picture of just how quickly a small outbreak escalated into a pandemic. PBS conducted several interviews and compiled a timeline of events for the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
At Bioethics.com we started posting information on what is now known as COVID-19 in January 2020, although there were headlines about a pneumonia-like disease spreading in Southeast China in December 2019. Articles that, in hindsight, were important news items during the early days of the SARS-CoV-2 spread have been added below.
December 1, 2019 – An elderly man in Wuhan, China is the first to be diagnosed with COVID-19. [Fernando Duarte, “Who Is ‘Patient Zero’ in the Coronavirus Outbreak?” BBC, February 23, 2020, www.bbc.com/future/article/20200221-coronavirus-the-harmful-hunt-for-covid-19s-patient-zero%5D
Mid December, 2019 – White spots are found in lung scans of numerous patients in Wuhan hospitals. Many of the traces can be traced to Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market. [Priyanka Boghani, “A Timeline of China’s Response in the First Days of COVID-19,” PBS, February 2, 2021, www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/a-timeline-of-chinas-response-in-the-first-days-of-covid-19/%5D
December 24, 2019 – Fluid samples from one of the Wahun patients are sent to Vision Medicals for testing. [Congressional Research Service, “COVID-19 and China: A Chronology of Events (December 2019-January 2020),” May 13, 2020, crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/r/r46354%5D
December 26, 2019 – Vision Medicals notifies Wuhan Central Hospital that the fluid sample was a novel coronavirus [Gao Yu et al., “In Depth: How Early Signs of a SARS-Like Virus Were Spotted, Spread, and Throttled,” Caixin, February 29, 2020, www.caixinglobal.com/2020-02-29/in-depth-how-early-signs-of-a-sars-like-virus-were-spotted-spread-and-throttled-101521745.html%5D
December 27, 2019 – Dr. Zhang Jixian informs her hospital, who in turn notifies the CDC, about the discovery of an infectious viral disease in several of her patients. [Yao Yuan et al., “Xinhua Headlines: Chinese Doctor Recalls First Encounter with Mysterious Virus,” Xinhuanet, April 16, 2020, www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-04/16/c_138982435.htm%5D
December 29, 2019 – The Wuhan Municipal CDC creates a team to investigate several reports of pneumonia of unknown cause. [Congressional Research Service, “COVID-19 and China: A Chronology of Events (December 2019-January 2020),” May 13, 2020, crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/r/r46354%5D
December 30, 2019 – Two “urgent notices” are sent out by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission to medical institutions in Wuhan related to the reporting of pneumonia of unknown cause. Both of these reports were quickly leaked. [Congressional Research Service, “COVID-19 and China: A Chronology of Events (December 2019-January 2020),” May 13, 2020, crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/r/r46354%5D
December 30, 2019 – Dr. Li Wenliang messages some fellow doctors about a SARS outbreak at the Huanan Fruit and Seafood Market. Though the message was meant to be private, recipients shared it and it went viral. [Andrew Green, “Li Wenliang, The Lancet, February 18, 2020, doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30382-2%5D
December 31, 2019 – The urgent notices are picked up by news organizations and distributed outside of China, notably by ProMED, a part of the International Society for Infectious Diseases. [ProMED, “Undiagnosed pneumonia – China (Hubei): Request for Information,” December 30, 2019, promedmail.org/promed-post/?id=6864153%5D
December 31, 2019 – The World Health Organization learns about the novel virus circulating in Wuhan from social media posts and ProMED rather than the Chinese government. [WHO, “Listings of WHO’s response to COVID-19,” June 29, 2020, www.who.int/news/item/29-06-2020-covidtimeline%5D
December 31, 2019 – The Associated Press begins reporting on the respiratory illnesses in China. [“China Investigates Respiratory Illness Outbreak Sickening 27,” Associated Press, December 31, 2019, apnews.com/article/00c78d1974410d96fe031f67edbd86ec%5D