But Italian scientists have now said there is evidence Covid was circulating there much sooner – after checking blood samples of patients in a cancer study.
Samples from four patients, dating back to the start of October 2019, were found to contain antibodies, according to the experts’ findings published by Milan’s National Cancer Institute (NCI).
This means they would have contracted coronavirus in September, five months before Italy recorded its first official Covid patient.
The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Co-author of the study, Giovanni Apolone, a co-author of the study, 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.”