An Italian professor has said that he is ‘certain’ the novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan first after Chinese state media outlets linked the origin of the pandemic to Italy, which has been ravaged by the bug.
Professor Giuseppe Remuzzi claimed that, based on genetic studies, there was ‘no doubt that the virus arrived in Italy from China’ before Beijing informed the world about the outbreak.
In an email to MailOnline, he said that studies showed the bug was brought to Italy through a German person who had been in contact with a Chinese individual.
Professor Remuzzi is the Director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan.
The Bérgamo-born expert added: ‘One has to consider the possibility that, rather understandably, the emergence of this unfortunate event in China probably occurred long before health authorities realised it, considering the number of asymptomatic carriers.’
An asymptomatic carrier is someone who is infected with the disease but shows no symptoms.
His comments come after Beijing’s state-run news organisations flocked to report that the deadly disease could have emerged in Italy before China, using his quotes from a previous interview.
Professor Remuzzi said in an interview last week that local doctors ‘remember having seen very strange pneumonias [sic], very severe, particularly in old people, in December and even in November.’
He told American news organisation NPR: ‘It means that the virus was circulating at least in Lombardy before we were aware of this outbreak occurring in China.’
His comments were quickly seized by China’s tightly controlled press, which used them to prove that the global health crisis did not start in China.
State newspaper Global Times reported that ‘virus might already be spreading in Italy before the epidemic erupted in China’.
While state broadcaster CCTV cited another interview of professor Remuzzi to stressed that ‘unknown pneumonia appeared in Italy as early as October last year’.
Professor Remuzzi stressed that the comments he gave to NPR were based on the information given to him by other doctors and that he had ‘no scientific evidence’ to prove the allegations.
He said: ‘These are rumours of a small number of people and impressions of a few doctors who however did not confirm to me that they had seen bilateral pneumonia before January.’
He underlined that there was no evidence to show these patients had COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Interestingly, Chinese media’s attention on professor Remuzzi’s remarks seems to contradict with their reports about the first coronavirus patients in Italy.
Cover News, an outlet under state-run Sichuan Daily Group, reported that the very first confirmed sufferers of COVID-19 in Italy were a couple from Wuhan.
The article, released on Monday, said the couple arrived in Italy on January 23 and were treated in Rome.
Beijing is now rejecting the widely held assessment that the city of Wuhan is the birthplace of the global outbreak after the number of daily infections there dropped to zero but soared in Europe.
Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in January that the coronavirus had been passed onto humans by wildlife sold as food in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
However, Dr Zhong Nanshan, the leader of a team of experts appointed by China to tackle the health crisis, last week denied that the bug originated in Wuhan and slammed such claim as ‘irresponsible’.
‘The epidemic of the novel coronavirus pneumonia indeed took place in China, in Wuhan… but it does not mean its source is in Wuhan,’ said Dr Zhong at a press conference.
The pandemic has so far killed more than 22,000 people and infected over 486,000 worldwide.
Italy has become the country with the most coronavirus fatalities in the world, recording more than 7,500 deaths.
It is followed by Spain, which has reported at least 4,080 deaths, and then China, where more than 3,280 people have died.