Hong Kong: The first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in China can be traced back to November 17, 2019, according to government data.
Chinese authorities have so far identified at least 266 people who were infected last year, all of whom came under medical surveillance at some point, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Friday citing the data as saying.
Some of the cases were likely backdated after health authorities had tested specimens taken from suspected patients.
According to the government data seen by the SCMP, a 55 year-old from Hubei province, whose capital Wuhan is the epicentre of the outbreak, could have been the first person to have contracted the disease on November 17, 2019.
From that date onwards, one to five new cases were reported each day.
By December 15, 2019, the total number of infections stood at 27 - the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 - and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60, the data revealed.
On December 27, Zhang Jixian, a doctor from Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, told Chinese health authorities that the disease was caused by a new coronavirus.
By that date, more than 180 people had been infected, though doctors might not have been aware of all of them at the time, the SCMP newspaper said in the report.
By the final day of 2019, the number of confirmed cases had risen to 266. On the first day of 2020 it stood at 381.
While the government records have not been released to the public, they provide valuable clues about how the disease spread in its early days and the speed of its transmission, as well as how many confirmed cases Beijing has recorded, the newspaper added.
The South China Morning Post further said that scientists were now keen to identify the so-called patient zero, which could help them to trace the source of the coronavirus, which is generally thought to have jumped to humans from a wild animal, possibly a bat.
Of the first nine cases to be reported last November - four men and five women - none has been confirmed as being "patient zero".
They were all aged between 39 and 79, but it is unknown how many were Wuhan residents.
According to the World Health Organisation's website, the first confirmed case in China was on December 8, 2019, but the global body does not track the disease itself but relies on nations to provide such information.
As of Friday, the overall number of coronavirus cases in China increased to 80,813 with 3,176 deaths.
Globally, there were 131,851 cases and 4,948 fatalities. Italy registered the largest number of cases and deaths outside China at 15,113 and 1,016 respectively.