A new study claiming coronavirus may have been in Italy months earlier is evidence that China may not be responsible for the spread of the deadly pandemic.
The research paper from the Italian Cancer Institute (ICI) suggests that the virus may have been active in Italy before the first suspected case was reported back in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
If the dates are correct, they would change the history of the pandemic and raise questions about when and where the virus emerged.
Italy’s first reported patients were from a town near the northern city of Milan in Lombardy on February 21.
Chinese state media covered and reported on the latest study Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “We have seen and heard constant international reports of where and when COVID-19 first broke out.
“This shows once again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific topic, and international scientific research collaboration should be carried out by scientists around the world in order to gain a better understanding of animal reservoirs and how the virus is transmitted, with the aim of improving this . ” Protection against future risks and protection of the safety and health of people of all countries. “
He went on to say that origin tracing is “an on-going process in which many countries could be involved.
“We hope that all countries will take a positive stance and step up cooperation with WHO to advance work on tracing,” he said.
The research paper describes the presence of neutralizing antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in the blood of healthy patients in Italy in October last year during a lung cancer screening trial.
However, several scientists polled by Reuters said more research was needed.
“These results are worth reporting, but should mostly be viewed as a result of further testing,” said Mark Pagel, professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, UK.
“All of the patients in the study were asymptomatic, although most were between 55 and 65 years old and were smokers. This would normally be a high risk group for COVID-19, so it is puzzling why all patients were asymptomatic.”
A co-author of the study said he and his colleagues planned further research and asked scientists around the world to contribute.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory disease it causes, were unknown
before the Wuhan outbreak was reported. However, it has been said that the possibility that the virus was “tacitly spread elsewhere” cannot be ruled out.
At least 55,573,000 infections and 1,336,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported worldwide.
The results of the Italian researchers show that 11.6% of the 959 healthy volunteers who attended the cancer check-up between September 2019 and March 2020 had signs that they had already encountered the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus before February.
Another SARS-CoV-2 antibody test was carried out by the University of Siena for the same research paper that was called “Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in prepandemic in Italy”.
It was found that the antibodies were able to kill SARS-CoV-2 in six cases. Four of the cases are from October 2019, which means that the patients were infected in September.
“That number (six) is fully compatible with test error and statistical noise. For these reasons, the evidence to support such an extraordinary claim doesn’t seem solid enough,” said Enrico Bucci, associate professor of biology at Philadelphia Temple University.
“Much ado about nothing,” Antonella Viola, professor of general pathology at the University of Padua, told Reuters.
Both Italian scientists said the antibody test was developed in-house and never validated by other researchers in a peer review.
Most of the skepticism of scientists is centered on the so-called specificity of antibody tests, which, if not perfect, could reveal the presence of antibodies to other diseases.
“Other recent reports have shown that seasonal coronaviruses can produce cross-neutralizing antibodies,” said Jonathan Stoye, group leader at the Francis Crick Institute.
“I think we need a really conclusive demonstration that these samples ingest the COVID-19 virus and that these antibodies were not actually raised by another virus,” Andrew Preston, reader for microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath, told Reuters.
Preston said he was surprised that these requirements were not required for a research paper to be published.
The scientific director and co-author of the INT study is planning further investigations into the clinical situation of the study patients
“We have to understand whether they had symptoms of the disease. Where they had gone, whether they had contact with China,” Giovanni Apolone told Reuters, calling on colleagues around the world to “open their databases and conduct retrospective studies.”