The coronavirus disease (COVID-19), formerly known as the novel coronavirus infection, was first reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan City in China. Many health experts believe that the virus had spread way before it was identified as the culprit for many pneumonia-like diseases. Now, a French doctor says that the coronavirus reached France back in December when it admitted a pneumonia patient into hospital.
The hospital in France identified the country’s earliest-known COVID-19 case on Dec. 27, 2019, as a man who was suspected of having pneumonia but actually had the novel coronavirus. The report means that the virus had reached Europe way before it was first reported on the continent in January.
Retesting old samples
Retesting old samples has pushed the timeline for the global pandemic in Europe back by about a month, which makes a big difference in its outcome. Knowing who was the first case is essential in understanding how the virus spreads. However, it is too early to know if the patient is France’s “patient zero.”
Dr. Yves Cohen, the head of resuscitation at the Avicenne and Jean Verdier hospitals, retested samples from 24 patients who were treated in December and January. These patients had tested negative for flu before the coronavirus disease even evolved into a pandemic.
Of the 24 patients, one tested positive for COVID-19, and the findings of the study were published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents. The hospital immediately contacted the man to inform him of the diagnosis.
The doctors from the Groupe Hospitalier Paris Seine in Sain-Denis said that a sample taken from the 42-year-old fishmonger Amirouche Hammar, who was admitted to the emergency room, tested positive for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Mr. Hammar manifested a cough with a tinge of blood, fever, and headache. He was admitted to the intensive care unit. He recovered after being sick for 15 days. When contact tracing was performed, the man had infected his two children, but not his wife, who works at a sushi stand at a supermarket with co-employees who are of Chinese origin.
The patient had not traveled abroad, and it is still unclear if the virus came from his wife’s coworkers, who traveled from China.
“We’re wondering whether she was asymptomatic. He may be the ‘patient zero,’ but perhaps there are others in other regions. All the negative PCRs for pneumonia must be tested again. The virus was probably circulating,” Dr. Cohen said.
France is one of the hardest-hit countries of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 170,000 confirmed cases and at least 25,000 deaths. The report shows that the coronavirus has been spreading in France in late December, while the first case was reported in Jan. 24. The first reported cases of COVID-19 in France were people who returned from Wuhan, China.
The finding raises questions about how the patient contracted the virus and what strain was in France since virologists who studied the main strains of the pathogen said that it did not come directly from China or Italy, and has been spreading undocumented.
The first European country that reported an outbreak of the coronavirus disease was Italy, which was locked down in March in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, but it was too late. The virus has already spread and caused many infections and deaths. It is also believed that from Italy, the virus has spread to neighboring countries, who also reported a high infection rate, such as Germany, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom.
Currently, the government announced that emergency measures are to be extended. Government officials said that the coronavirus state of emergency would be extended to July 24. French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that lifting the health care measures early may waste the efforts made by the residents.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, France recorded 330 new coronavirus deaths over the last 24 hours, a rise in the daily case toll as the country prepares to begin easing lockdown measures.
COVID-19 global toll
The coronavirus disease has so far taken more than 256,000 lives, while more than 3.66 million have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. The coronavirus has now spread across 187 countries and territories, with the United States as the hardest-hit country. The U.S. has a total of 1.2 million confirmed cases and at least 71,000 deaths.
Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom have reported a high number of confirmed cases, with 219,329, 213,013, and 196,240 confirmed cases, respectively.