Alwaght- A scientific study revealed that the first coronavirus infections in Italy date back to January, shedding new light on the origins of the outbreak in one of the world's worst-affected countries.
Italy began testing people after diagnosing its first local patient on February 21 in Codogno, a small town in the wealthy Lombardy region.
Cases and deaths immediately surged, with scientists soon suspecting that the virus had been around, unnoticed, for weeks.
Stefano Merler, of the Bruno Kessler Foundation, told a news conference with Italy's top health authorities that his institute had looked at the first known cases and drawn clear conclusions from the subsequent pace of contagion.
"We realized that there were a lot of infected people in Lombardy well before February 20, which means the epidemic had started much earlier," he said.
"In January for sure, but maybe even before. We'll never know," he said, adding that he believed the immediate surge in cases suggested the virus was probably brought to Italy by a group of people rather than a single individual.
A separate study based on a sample of cases registered in April said 44.1 percent of infections occurred in nursing homes and another 24.7 percent spread within families. A further 10.8 percent of people caught the virus at hospital and 4.2 percent in the workplace.
Research in Spain, which has the most confirmed coronavirus-linked cases in Europe - above 200,000, and the third-highest death toll worldwide after the US and Italy - also suggested the virus was present in that country long before health officials had realized, at least a month before Madrid imposed a lockdown on the country in mid-March.