Researcher: take new Wuhan study 'with a grain of salt'

A study this week suggested the coronavirus possibly spread far earlier in China, maybe as far back as August.

The Harvard Medical School study looked at satellite images and search engine data around Wuhan. It's considered the epicenter of the pandemic.

It found a steep increase in cars around hospitals and a spike in searches for symptoms now linked to COVID-19.

This may mean the virus was spreading far earlier than late December, when China announced they were investigating the disease.

The study's already sparked a response from Beijing, who dismissed it as quote "ridiculous".

One of the study's researchers, Benjamin Rader says the results haven't been peer-reviewed and should be taken with a grain of salt.

But, he tells Reuters, it may help us understand how the disease emerged: "Originally we thought that this disease emerged in this secret market in Wuhan. And recent evidence is coming to light that perhaps this actually emerged in southwest China or neighboring countries. And so understanding if it was already circulating in the country helps us tune our disease surveillance systems better."

Rader emphasized the results were circumstantial and limited, but he hopes the study can contribute as quote "a small piece of the puzzle."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying struck a different tone on Tuesday (June 9).

"I think it is ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous, to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume."

Other experts weighing in, have given mixed reviews.

One expert in virology at the University of Edinburgh said the approach was quote: "An interesting idea with some validity."