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China suggests Italy may be the birthplace of COVID-19 pandemic

November 24, 2020 | 07:42

New research suggests the pathogen infected people across the country months before it was detected in China.

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No evidence has been provided to support US claims that the virus originated in a Chinese lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology. (Photo: AFP)

Coronavirus hunters found proof of the virus earlier in Italy

The virus that causes the Covid-19 disease has now infected more than 54 million people across the planet, but the question of just where it came from remains a mystery. Researchers may have found a new link in this puzzle after discovering evidence suggesting the pathogen had infected people across Italy as early as September last year, or months before it was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The National Cancer Institute of Milan, in a peer-reviewed paper published last week in the Tumori Journal, said that the researchers tested blood samples from lung cancer screening tests in Italy and found antibodies specific to Sars-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19, in samples from patients all over the country in every month of a six-month trial that started in September 2019.

The presence of the antibodies indicates the virus was infecting people in Italy before it was detected in Wuhan in late December, said South China Morning Post.

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Tracing the coronavirus pandemic to its origin could help prevent future outbreaks. (Photo: AP)

China spokesman's responses

Chinese state media have now been strongly pushing the idea that the new study by the National Cancer Institute proves that the contagion likely started in Italy, not China, according to the UK paper.

“This once again shows that tracing the virus’s source is a complex scientific question that should be left to scientists,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, according to the UK Times. “[It] is a developing process that can involve multiple countries.”

This is not the first time that Lijian has tried to blame other countries for starting the pandemic, which has infected more than a 55million and killed 1.3million. As said by Daily Mail, he has previously suggested - without evidence - that US troops brought the virus to China, and that it may have been imported on food packaging.

The World Health Organization has admitted it is possible that the virus “silently circulated elsewhere” before it was detected in Wuhan. However, many scientists are skeptical of the Italian study’s findings — and others note it does not rule out the coronavirus originating in China.

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