New Delhi: A total of 9,308 military personnel from 103 countries had participated in the 10-day military world games, also called the Olympics of the military, that was held in Wuhan, Hubei, from 18-27 October 2019.

On 17 November 2019, less than 20 days after the event had ended, China identified the first COVID-19 patient, a 55-year-old man from Wuhan, which has now emerged as the ground-zero of the pandemic. India, too, had sent a delegation of about 100 personnel from which 10 won medals. Other major participants were the US, which had sent a team of 300 men, France, Italy, Germany and Brazil.

These games are held every four years. However, this time, the games were special as it was for the first time that the games were not confined to the military bases like in the past, but a separate athletes’ village was built in Wuhan. The athletes’ village was built in an area of 5,65,000 square meters, comprising about 35 blocks and is located on the bank of Huangjia Lake, Jiangxia district, Wuhan. The village is less than 20 km (as the crow flies) from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market which is regarded as the place from where the pandemic started spreading and 13 km from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a state owned state-of-the-art laboratory that works extensively in the field of virus study.

It was for the first time that China had organised these games, which are managed by the defense ministry of the host country.

The Sunday Guardian had written to the Ministry of Defence, India, seeking details like whether the personnel who had returned from Wuhan were checked for COVID-19 symptoms following the outbreak of COVID-19. However, no response was received from the ministry till the time the story went to press.

While the first COVID-19 patient was identified on 17 November, it was only on the last day of 2019, on 31 December, that the WHO’s local country office was apprised by China of cases of “pneumonia” that it said it had detected in Wuhan. From 17 November to 31 December, for 45 days, China sat on the information that it had “encountered’ a pneumonia-like disease that was spreading very quickly.

Experts across the world have stated that it was very much possible that cases of COVID-19 were in existence even before 17 November 2019.

A report released on 16 February 2020 by researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research, too, has stated that COVID-19 was in circulation for more than two months by the time the first patient was identified on 1 December. Two months before 1 December is 1 October. Jonathan Mayer, professor emeritus at the University of Washington’s department of epidemiology, was quoted in The Guardian, London, on 13 March 2020 stating that the patients of COVID-19 being present before the reported date was “entirely conceivable” while adding there were three possibilities (for the information not coming out)—that the cases weren’t detected at the time, that they were detected, but not recognised as a new disease, or they were detected and recognised, but reporting was suppressed.