Covid-19 was circulating in Italy as early as September 2019, scientists claim
Patients in a cancer trial were found to have Covid-19 antibodies months before the first official case in China.
Italian scientists have claimed coronavirus was circulating in Italy as early as September 2019.
This is in spite of the World Health Organization (WHO) saying the virus was unknown before the first known instance of the disease was reported in Wuhan, China, in December.
The first official cases were identified in Europe a few months later.
According to Sky News in the UK, Italian scientists say they have found evidence of the virus circulating much sooner after testing blood samples of people participating in a cancer study.
Four patients' samples, dating back to the start of October 2019, had antibodies president, according to research undertaken by Milan's National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The study - published by NCI's scientific magazine Tumori Journal - discovered that 11.6 per cent of blood samples from 959 healthy volunteers, who were enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020, had developed antibodies well before February.
Giovanni Apolone, a co-author of the study, which has not been peer-reviewed, said: "This is the main finding: people with no symptoms not only were positive after the serological tests, but had also antibodies able to kill the virus. "It means that the new coronavirus can circulate among the population for long and with a low rate of lethality not because it is disappearing but only to surge again."
A further specific SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19) antibodies test was undertaken by the University of Siena for the same research.
Italy has registered 32,191 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Tuesday, up from 27,354 the day before.
The ministry also reported 731 Covid-19-related deaths, up from 504 the previous day and the highest daily toll since April 3, when the country was in full national lockdown.
There were 208,458 coronavirus swabs carried out in the past day, the ministry said, against a previous 152,663.
Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the virus and has seen 46,464 Covid-19 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain's, and 1.24 million cases.
The northern region of Lombardy, centred on Italy's financial capital Milan, remained the hardest hit area on Tuesday, reporting 8,448 new cases, up from 4,128 on Monday.
- with inputs from Reuters
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