Ever since the first cases of COVID-19 in the West, the public has been assailed by stories of “filthy wet markets”, “barbaric” food practices and insidious Chinese “covering-up” the deadly pandemic that has swept the globe. Seizing the perfect opportunity for worldwide propaganda against their rising economic superpower rival, the United States and Donald Trump haven’t wasted a moment to remind the world of “the China virus“. However, it now appears that COVID-19 was already in the West weeks earlier than first thought with cases in Spain and France believed by professionals to date to a time before the first recorded cases in Wuhan.
Researchers from the University of Barcelona have discovered that the COVID-19 virus was present in samples of wastewater from the sewage system in Barcelona dated to March of 2019. This is long before any known or believed case of the coronavirus in any part of the world. The University released the findings on its website in June with the discovery also published in medRxiv.
During this period, the virus may have been less contagious, which would explain the length of time it took to find a COVID-19 patient in Europe and the failure to detect the new pathogen.
The details from Barcelona were only breaking at the time of the original writing this article and are still a developing story. However, there is further significant evidence to support the hypothesis that the virus has origins dating far back beyond the outbreak in China.
On December 2 2019, an unnamed man from Alsace in France was admitted to the Albert Schweitzer hospital for a “respiratory infection.” The infection was later revealed as COVID-19. The startling development prompted action by the hospital that would become even more revealing.
Speaking with franceinfo, the head of the medical imaging department at the Albert Schweitzer hospital Dr Michael Schmitt revealed that his department had subsequently inspected all the 2,456 scanners produced in the establishment between November 1, 2019, and April 30, 2020. These inspections included tests for all kinds of pathologies, trauma, tumours, heart disease and infectious disease. The team reanalysed previous scans for the “typical anomalies” of the coronavirus. Afterwards, two other radiologists analysed the scanners classified as “typical COVID” or “COVID compatible”.
Schmitt has since identified two probable cases of suspected COVID-19 from November 16 and 17. Alongside these earliest cases there are many others before the original “official” outbreak of the virus in the country. The pathogen was confirmed to have reached France on January 24 when the first official case in Europe was identified in Bordeaux amongst Chinese nationals. The results appear to only be the tip of the iceberg.
“We have one case on November 29, three cases on December 2, one case on December 10, one case on December 13, one case on December 27, two cases on January 3 and after, it gradually increases.”
Dr Michael Schmitt
Dr Schmitt believes that the virus has been circulating in Alsace since November and was dispersed via Christmas markets and end-of-year celebrations in December before exploding during a religious gathering in Mulhouse, a city and commune in eastern France that is close to the Swiss and German borders.
An outbreak in France on November 16 and 17 would be the first known cases of COVID-19 in the world.
A study published in The Lancet states that the first person to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in China was identified on December 1, 2019, and that the individual had had “no contact” with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. Wu Wenjuan, a senior doctor at Wuhan’s Jinyintan Hospital, states that the elderly man was socially isolated and had not travelled to the market, as hadn’t two out of three other people who had developed symptoms following the case. Meanwhile, researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research have concluded that the virus was imported from elsewhere and spread throughout Wuhan via the market, rather than the market itself being the source.
While the case is the first official one in China, Connor Reed, an English teacher from the UK living in Wuhan, has publicly stated that he was suffering from the virus before this. Reed has said that he started showing symptoms of the coronavirus on November 25 of last year, meaning he will have been infected around November 20 and making him very close to being patient zero in the country.
On December 31 2019, health authorities in China reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) a cluster of viral pneumonia cases of unknown cause in Wuhan.
The Other French Case
The cases discovered at the Albert Schweitzer hospital are not the first indications that COVID-19 was active in Europe far earlier than thought, with Amirouche Hammar, a French national from Bobigny in the suburbs of Paris, revealing in April that he had been infected in December. Hammar had a sample taken that later proved positive for the coronavirus. This made him the earliest-known coronavirus patient outside of China at that time. The positive test was not uncovered until five months ago when a doctor remembered the symptoms he had been suffering from the previous year.
“It all started around December 20, I started to have a dry cough, for about a week I had a dry cough every day. Then came the fever which, for three days, went over 40 degrees. Then I started to have chest pain, a strong pain in my chest and the night before I went to the hospital, I started coughing blood.”
In becoming ill around December 20, Mr Hammar is likely to have been infected between December 6 and December 15, the incubation period being an average of 5–6 days to a maximum of 14 days.
“Maybe I bumped into people, maybe I’ve infected them but what I’m really wondering is how I have been infected in December. The epidemic just started in China and five days after it was in France”
While Hammar had not travelled outside of Paris or come into contact with any other known patients of COVID-19, researchers believe that his wife Fatiha might have been the first actual carrier of the disease. A suggestion has been made that she was infected at a fish market next to a sushi counter where she works near Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The timeline of this infection ties with Dr Schmitt’s belief that the virus was dispersed via Christmas markets and end-of-year celebrations in December.
Italy and the United States
Outside of France and Spain, Italy too had seemingly been exposed to the virus long before the first official cases, with recent investigations revealing its presence in the country as early as December.
The National Institute of Health (ISS) said water from the sewage of Milan and Turin showed genetic traces of the virus from December 18, with Italy’s first official non-imported case not coming until mid-February.
ISS water quality expert Giuseppina La Rosa has stated that samples from both October and November came back negative and showed that the virus had not yet arrived in Italy at that time. However, the samples from December showed the presence of COVID-19.
The United States was also seemingly infected long before official records state.
Michael Melham, the mayor of Belleville, New Jersey, has said that he believes that he contracted the disease in November, two months before the U.S. said it detected its first infection. Melham states that he was “extremely extremely sick” after his attendance at a conference last November, exhibiting signs of what he would later recognise as COVID-19.
Speaking with the China Global Television Network, Melham says that aside from respiratory issues he “had every other symptom between the high fevers, the aches, the chills, the sore throat, the hallucinations.”
After recently taking an antibody test, Melham found that he had indeed already had the virus. While it’s possible that he was infected after the first official outbreak and had been asymptomatic, the Belleville mayor doesn’t believe it to be the case given the nature of the antibodies found in his system.
“The IgM is the more recent [antibody], which would have shown that that antibody is more recent in my system, that my body more recently fought the coronavirus. The IgG is the longer lasting one, and that’s the one I tested positive for.”
Michael Melham, Mayor of Belleville, New Jersey
Melham says that he is not the only one who attended the conference who fell sick, stating that he has received “e-mails from people in the vicinity [of where the conference was held] in the middle of November and they have the same suspicions as me.”
Scientists will not be surprised by any of the cases mentioned here, having already stated in April that they believe the virus may have begun as early as mid-September and Wuhan may not be where it started.
Geneticist Peter Forster from Cambridge University is leading a research project to understand the process that led to the pandemic. Ultimately, they hope to identify the first person who got the virus and served as the source for the initial outbreak. By analysing networks, they have so far been able to chart the spread of the virus, including the genetic mutations, as it moved from China to Australia, Europe and the rest of the world. Forster and his team have created a network analysis that uses over 1,000 coronavirus genomes.
Three types of the virus have been identified by the team, A, B and C. Type A is closest to the coronavirus found in bats and is thought to be the original human virus genome. However, type A was not the virus type found in most cases in Wuhan, and while it was found Chinese individuals, it was also found in Americans.
With medical professionals in Alsace reporting that there were cases in France before any known outbreak in China and experts in Spain stating that the virus was in the country in March of 2019, there are questions. The fact that the virus appears to have been spreading in Europe and perhaps the United States in parallel with the spread in China would seem to bring significant amount doubt as to the origins of COVID-19.
While it might be geopolitically expedient for the United States’ President Donald Trump to talk of “the China Virus” as he and his Presidential opponent Joe Biden jockey for position on who is toughest on China, it appears few wish to talk facts. As American politicians of all creeds appeal to base nationalism and an increasingly sinophobic U.S. public with calls for sanctions and reparations, it appears few wish to talk science. Slowly but surely the truth of COVID-19 is beginning to emerge, and both commentators and the public must remain mindful that science has no political allegiance, speaking only in truths and not propaganda.
Many thanks for taking the time to read this article!
My writing is entirely crowdfunded and paid for through the support of readers. If you enjoyed this story or found it insightful, please consider a donation via Patreon or PayPal. Your support is warmly welcome and highly appriciated.