According to a report, the Chinese province where the virus emerged was already ordering testing kits months prior to an official acknowledgment of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

The Australian-U.S. firm Internet 2.0 discovered that Hubei, the province with Wuhan as its capital, saw an overall increase in purchases for coronavirus testing equipment, or PCR tests, as early as May 2019.

“We assess with high confidence that the pandemic began much earlier than China informed the WHO about COVID-19,” the report wrote.

The Chinese government confirmed the first local reports of COVID-19 infections on Dec. 27, 2019. The World Health Organization made an official outbreak notification four days later.

According to the figures provided by the report, back in May 2019, overall spending on PCR tests orders shot to 8.1 million yuan from only 2.9 million yuan the month prior. In that, a military hospital spent up to 458,000 yuan on the tests.

“You can see across the trend that, starting in May and all the way through to December, you see a massive increase in PCR procurement data,” said cyber security analyst Robert Potter for Internet 2.0, according to the Weekend Australian.

“Some of this may be benign but taken together it gives us a trend that comprehensively challenges the official narrative that the pandemic started in December,” he added.

Before the Military Games in Oct. 2019, a Chinese Olympic version that involved foreign contestants, Wuhan made two purchases of 1,809,800 yuan’s worth of PCR tests on Sept. 21 that year.

“The contract specifically noted that they were for the military games. The entire title of the contract was directly on the reason for that purchase,” said Internet 2.0’s cyber security analyst David Robinson, who also was a former Australian Army intelligence officer.

“We know that that contract is abnormal, significant and out of trend,” Robinson continued.

Mr. Potter said the research team made the findings from reconstructing and restoring data that was deleted from the internet.

Annual data also showed a sweeping increase in expenditure for the coronavirus testing tools. In Wuhan, spending on PCR equipment grew by nearly 600% between 2015 and 2019, with the expenses for testing kits growing from 10.1 million yuan ($2.2 million) in 2015 to 67 million four years later.

According to Bloomberg, however, the Internet 2.0 report lacked conclusive information, with medical experts arguing that the PCR tests are not confined to detecting COVID-19 infections only. 

“PCR equipment is widely used in laboratories to test for many other pathogens beside Covid-19, including in animals, and is commonly found in modern hospitals and labs,” the outlet wrote, adding that China was also struggling with African swine fever outburst between August 2018 and July 2019.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has declined the findings, downplaying that cybersecurity experts rather than scientists wrote the report.

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