hen did the coronavirus first appear and begin spreading? Did it emerge in December in the Huanan wet market, or did it leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in November, or was it intentionally released at the World Military Games in October? Was it spreading internationally during autumn 2019? Has it been around for years?
Here I’ll present evidence that the coronavirus appeared at some point in the second half of 2019 and was spreading globally during that autumn and winter.
There have been a number of studies that have gone back and tested stored samples for evidence of the coronavirus, either antibodies or viral RNA. One of the most intriguing is a study from Lombardy, northern Italy, by measles researchers who had spotted that Covid could cause a measles-like syndrome. They tested hundreds of stored samples taken during 2018-20 for both antibodies and viral RNA. They found 11 samples positive for viral RNA from August 2019 to February 2020, including one from September, five from October, one from November and two from December. Four of these were also positive for antibodies, including the earliest sample from September 12, 2019 (both IgG and IgM). Note that these samples were from ill people so estimates cannot be made from them of community prevalence. The positive samples were genetically sequenced to reveal mutation information, reducing the chances of them being false positives. None of the 100 samples from August 2018 to July 2019 showed strong evidence of infection, further validating the methods used and suggesting to the researchers that the virus emerged around July 2019.
A separate study in northern Italy tested wastewater from 2019 for viral RNA and found samples in Milan and Turin positive from December 18th, though negative prior to that, which is in contrast to the results of the first study. The samples were again genetically sequenced, adding to their reliability.
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