Scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) have found evidence of a wider Covid outbreak in China in 2019, reports claim.
Experts have detected that there were 13 variants in the epicentre Wuhan by December, meaning the virus was more wide-ranging than originally thought.
WHO lead investigator Peter Ben Embarek told CNN that his team was able to use partial genetic samples and identify coronavirus cases in December 2019.
He said: "The virus was circulating widely in Wuhan in December, which is a new finding."
Chinese scientists sent the team 174 cases, of which 100 were confirmed by the WHO team in lab testing and the rest were diagnosed by patient symptoms.
The Danish scientist said it is possible there were far more cases, suggested around 1,000 people may have been infected by December.
He said: "Some of them are from the markets. Some of them are not linked to the markets."
Wuhan in the central Chinese Hubei province is considered the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
The current pandemic was first detected in December 2019 and reported to WHO by the Chinese authorities on New Year's Eve.
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A team of health experts are currently in Wuhan investigating what sparked the Covid outbreak, with some claiming the city's wet markets could have been the cause.
Infectious diseases expert Dominic Dwyer, who is part of the WHO's team, previously said China refused to hand over raw data on the country's first cases.
Another of the scientists in Wuhan, Professor John Watson, said a theory that Covid was leaked from a lab has not yet been ruled out.
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He said: "That's a hypothesis that remains on the table and could certainly have further work done on it.
The new information about how widespread Covid-19 may have been in the virus' early days comes amid growing concern over the number of new strains thought to be more contagious.
A variant announced in the UK in December 2020 thought to be up to 70% more transmissible eventually led to another national lockdown.
Other strains discovered in South Africa and Brazil were also found to be much more contagious than the previous variant.
Several other strains have sparked concern, as the world continues to hunker down and try to get a hold of the virus spreading while vaccine rollout is ongoing.
Experts have maintained it is likely vaccines will still be effective as the virus is mutating.
On Sunday it was announced the UK had given 15 million people their first Covid vaccination.
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