Within the first 10 days of January a sequence for the Chinese SARS-CoV-2 virus had been published by Edward Holmes of Australia. (He coauthored the March Nature Medicine commentary I have publicly criticized here and here.) Holmes works closely with Chinese scientists who passed the sequence to him, possibly without CCP authorization.
People were able to immediately start devising PCR tests based on this published sequence, even without a virus.
After that, as the virus travelled to many countries, scientists around the world started isolating the virus locally. There have been many thousands of isolations from patients from many countries, and scientists have decoded the genome, i.e., sequenced the virus, which has 30,000-34,000 nucleotides, and shown which mutations are occurring when, in different parts of the world. Alina Chan helped create a website that characterizes these strain differences by location.
The virus has been cultured in many countries, as early as January-February, including by CDC:
- Akst J. Australian Lab Cultures New Coronavirus as Infections Climb. The Scientist. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/australian-lab-cultures-new-coronavirus-as-infections-climb-67031.
- CDC has grown the COVID-19 virus in cell culture, which is necessary for further studies, including for additional genetic characterization. The cell-grown virus was sent to NIH’s BEI ResourcesRepositoryfor use by the broad scientific community.
But the virus cannot be cultured in ordinary hospital labs, because SARS is a designated biological warfare ("Select") agent with pandemic potential and must (by US law) be cultured only in high containment laboratories. So culture tests are not now commercially available, but they are being performed under specified conditions.
Testing for the virus is a disaster. There are over 100 available tests (PCR, Antibody, and Rapid Antigen tests) being used within the United States, and more overseas.
The CDC made the inexplicable decisions to restrict US testing by allowing only the test CDC had developed to be used, a test that was both unnecessarily cumbersome, and faulty, and to test only those who almost certainly were infected. This slowed down the development of better and more accessible tests by private, university and state public health labs. CDC's ban on other tests was only lifted on February 28. (Tom Frieden, former CDC Director, has called for an independent panel to investigate what went wrong.)
(The CDC link no longer takes you to this graph.)