March 25 (UPI) -- Evidence is mounting that cases of the novel coronavirus may have emerged in the central city of Wuhan, China earlier than officially acknowledged in the country.
Chinese news service Pengpai reported Thursday the first known patient of COVID-19 in Wuhan was a woman shopkeeper at Huanan Seafood Market, the official ground zero of the outbreak in December.
The Wuhan Municipal Health Committee did not acknowledge the outbreak began until Dec. 31, and that the disease first appeared at the market. According to Pengpai, the patient with the surname Wei who sold shrimp at the market first showed signs of fever on Dec. 11. Authorities did not pass on information at the time.
Wei "received a vaccine" at a clinic on the ground floor of her apartment building. When her symptoms persisted, she was hospitalized on Dec. 16. Wei's residence was located 500 meters from the seafood market. A total of 11 local residents were subsequently hospitalized, according to Pengpai.
Chinese authorities did not disclose information regarding the outbreak until Dec. 31, when they said 27 people showed symptoms of pneumonia. Their statement at the time did not go into details, including the dates when patients developed their symptoms.
In January, a Chinese study published in the New England Journal of Medicine stated human-to-human transmission of the disease was occurring in December, when authorities were denying such infections were taking place. It was not until Jan. 20 Chinese scientist Zhong Nanshan said there is "definite" evidence the virus transmits between people.
The Chinese government has defended its policies despite criticism of its approach to COVID-19.
On Thursday at a regular press briefing, Beijing foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang dismissed claims the Chinese government exerted its influence at the World Health Organization.
Geng also said China is "open, transparent and responsible." On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the new coronavirus as the "Wuhan virus" and suggested China needs to fully disclose information for health safety.
"That means full transparency by everyone, including by the Chinese Communist Party. This is a continuing challenge. We still need good information from the Chinese Communist Party about what is taking place there," he said.
Pompeo also said China was engaging in an "intentional disinformation campaign" during a virtual meeting of the G7 on Wednesday.