According to reports, China have accused Italy of starting the coronavirus pandemic and claim Italy’s own studies prove it. The accusations come after an Italian study supported suggestions that the virus had circulated outside of China before previously thought.
Wuhan is regarded by many experts as the initial epicentre of the outbreak but, its earliest reported case came at the beginning of December 2019. However, an Italian paper, published by the Italian Cancer Institute (ITN), has blurred that view a little. They report finding antibodies to the disease in blood of healthy patients in Italy in October last year, during a lung cancer screening trial.
This has prompted the Chinese media to release a flurry of stories, claiming the study clears China of starting the devastating pandemic. Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman, said that this once again shows that tracing the virus’ source is a complex scientific question. He also added that further analysis of its origin “should be left to scientists”, Zhao suggested the source could “involve multiple countries”.
However, Giovanni Apolone, an expert involved in the Italian study, has said its findings did not eliminate the virus starting in China.
“We know that China delayed announcing its outbreak,” Giovanni told The Times. “So there is no telling when it started there, and China has very strong commercial links with northern Italy,” said Giovanni Apolone, at Milan’s National Cancer Institute.”
If INT’s data is proven to be correct, it would change the history of the pandemic, including its origins.
Meanwhile, several scientists have urged caution, saying further examination is needed. Mark Pagel, Professor at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, said it was “puzzling” why all patients were asymptomatic.
“All of the patients in the study were asymptomatic despite most being 55-65 years old and having been smokers. This would normally be a high-risk group for Covid-19, so it is puzzling why all patients were asymptomatic.”
However, the researchers’ latest findings show between September 2019 and March 2020, 11.6% of 959 healthy volunteers in the cancer screening trial had signs of having already encountered the coronavirus.
The University of Siena carried further antibody tests for the same research paper. It showed antibodies were able to kill the bug in six cases and four of those cases dated back to October 2019. Experts have questioned these findings.
“The evidence brought to support such an extraordinary claim is not solid enough,” said Enrico Bucci, biologist adjunct professor at Philadelphia’s Temple University, Pennsylvania, US. “Much ado about nothing,” added Antonella Viola, professor of general pathology at the University of Padua in Italy.
They, as well as other experts, remain sceptical. They say the antibody tests might have revealed the presence of antibodies to other diseases.
“I think we need a really conclusive demonstration that those samples are picking up the Covid-19 virus and that those antibodies were not actually triggered by another virus,” Andrew Preston, reader in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath.
China’s ambassador to the UK claimed in May that his country was a “victim” of the coronavirus pandemic denying claims of a cover-up. Liu Xiaoming insisted the outbreak was not China’s fault and promised a “transparent” inquiry into its origin. Liu claimed China to be a victim of a disinformation campaign since the beginning of the crisis.
“You can’t have this campaign of stigmatising, disinformation and smear against China, as some American politicians are doing,” Liu told Sky News. “It is not OK to say the virus originated in China, it is a matter of science.”
In other news, nearly 20% of Tallaght Hospital staff at have coronavirus antibodies. Read the article here.