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Coronavirus emerged in Italy earlier than thought, Italian study shows

Coronavirus emerged in Italy earlier than thought, Italian study shows

Italy's first COVID-19 patient was detected on February 21 in a small town near Milan, in the northern region of Lombardy.

They found COVID-19 antibodies in 111 of 959 people, or almost 12%.

The study is based on a panel of 959 patients who were screened for lung cancer between September 2019 and March 2020.

That would mean the volunteers were infected in September, a co-author of the study has said.

"This study shows an unexpected very early circulation of SARS-CoV-2 among asymptomatic individuals in Italy several months before the first patient was identified, and clarifies the onset and spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic", reads the study.

The World Health Organization was first notified of cases of the virus in Wuhan at the end of December a year ago, several months after the samples were collected in Italy. "It means that the new coronavirus can circulate among the population for long and with a low rate of lethality not because it is disappearing but only to surge again". But it has said "the possibility that the virus may have silently circulated elsewhere can not be ruled out".

It said it was reviewing the results of the study and was seeking clarification.

Italian researchers announced in March there had been a higher than usual number of cases of severe pneumonia and flu reported in Lombardy at the end of 2019, another sign the coronavirus may have been circulating earlier than previously thought.

Lombardy remained the hardest hit area on Sunday, reporting 8,060 new cases against 8,129 on Saturday. That might indicate the recent partial lockdown imposed by the government in much of the country is reining in surging infections.

Another 504 people died in the last 24 hours, according to Health Ministry figures, bringing the pandemic total of known deaths to 45,733, second in Europe behind Britain.

More than 33,000 people are in hospital, he said, 3,612 of them in intensive care.