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Looking for the First

The University of Arizona's Michael Worobey has traced the first COVID-19 case to a seafood vendor at a market in Wuhan, China, the Guardian reports. It adds that his analysis differs from one from the World Health Organization, which concluded that an accountant with no ties to the market was the first known case of COVID-19.

In a commentary in Science, Worobey presents his timeline of COVID-19 cases, which he constructed based on public reports. He points out flaws with the conclusion that the accountant was the first known case, as the accountant has since said he had a dental emergency in early December 2019 and developed COVID-19 about 10 days after that. That, Worobey says, suggests that a seafood vendor who became ill on December 11 instead is the first known case.

He further writes that while not all early COVID-19 cases have ties to the market, many do, indicating that it is potentially where a spillover event occurred. "In this city of 11 million people, half of the early cases are linked to a place that's the size of a soccer field," Worobey tells the New York Times. "It becomes very difficult to explain that pattern if the outbreak didn't start at the market."

"He has done an excellent job of reconstructing what he can from the available data, and it's as reasonable a hypothesis as any," Columbia University's Ian Lipkin adds at the Times. "But I don't think we're ever going to know what's going on, because it's two years ago and it's still murky."