On December 31, China reported the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus in the city of Wuhan. Since then, the disease has spread to almost every country, infecting over 3.6 million people and killing 252,420 of them. Recent tests carried on pneumonia patients in France who got ill in December and January have revealed that the country witnessed its first Covid-19 case on December 27, i.e. three days before China reported the first case.
France reported its first coronavirus case in December
Dr Yves Cohen, head of resuscitation at Avicenne and Jean-Verdier hospitals near Paris, told French broadcaster BFMTV that he recently went over the files of patients admitted with flu-like symptoms between December 2 and January 16. "We've tested the nasal swabs which were conducted at the time in relation to another diagnosis, to try and find traces of coronavirus", he said.
As many as 24 pneumonia patients were tested for Covid-19, and one of them tested positive. We tested it two more times to make sure there was no mistake. And twice, it came back positive", Dr Cohen said. However, it's too early to know whether the patient was France's "patient zero". Dr. Cohen said that he has alerted the National Health Agency (ARS), and was urging other virologists to re-test swabs in their hospitals for Covid-19.
Who is the pneumonia patient who tested positive for Covid-19?
The patient is a 42-years old man born in Algeria, living in France for many years. He's a fishmonger with no travel history to coronavirus-infected regions. His last foreign trip was in August 2019, to Algeria.
His wife worked at a supermarket and had colleagues of Chinese origin. However, it isn't yet known whether they had traveled to China. The patient was sick for 15 days, infected his two children, but test results of his wife came out negative, indicating that she might be an asymptomatic carrier of the disease. The man was discharged on December 29 and both his children have recovered since then.
Coronavirus in France
On January 24, France became the first European country to report Covid-19 cases. Three patients were confirmed infected, two of whom had traveled to Wuhan, while the third was a family member. The disease, since then, has infected 169,462 people in France, killing 25,201 of them.
What does the new revelation indicate?
It clearly indicates that the contagion was circulating in Europe, since December. "Covid-19 was already spreading in France in late December 2019, a month before the official first cases in the country", according to a study published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, on Sunday.
The discovery has significantly altered the coronavirus timeline, as till now December 31 was when China reported its first case of Covid-19. Also the fact that the French man had not traveled abroad indicates that community transmission was taking place in Europe much earlier than thought. Similar studies, if conducted in other countries, could provide a clearer picture of the pandemic.