The World Health Organization (WHO) said that it is working with researchers and a reference laboratory to retest samples to study the theory that COVID-19 may have been in Italy since autumn 2019. If true, this would pre-date the virus's discovery in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
According to Chinese observers, this suggests that foreign scientists had started tracking down COVID-19 origins in areas other than China. The tracing effort may expand to include other nations that have reported evidence of the virus's early presence, such as the United States.
WHO rechecks research of Italy's first COVID-19 case
Experts cautioned that this investigation does not rule out the possibility that the virus originated in other countries. Establishing its origins is a tough and time-consuming task. Many more global investigations and research are likely needed.
WHO scientists said the agency's worldwide specialists group is excited to begin the second phase of research into the COVID-19 origins.
According to a WHO spokesperson, the agency is in contact with the researchers who published the initial report. It is also coordinating with partner laboratories to further test the samples from Italy during the period in question.
"The WHO requested that we share the biological material and re-run the tests in a third-party laboratory. We accepted," said Giovanni Apolone, scientific director of the Milan Cancer Institute (INT), one of the key institutions, Reuters reported.
COVID-19 antibodies were in the blood samples of 111 of 959 people participating in a lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020, according to a report published in November 2020 by the INT in Milan. The majority of the volunteers came from Lombardy, Italy's COVID-19 first and worst-affected area, as per Global Times.
The study, The Unexpected Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies in the Pre-Pandemic Period in Italy, suggests that COVID-19 was already circulating among asymptomatic people in Italy many months before the first case was detected.
The first known case of the pandemic was recorded in the Lombardy area of Italy on February 21, 2020. It was the first Western country to be badly affected by COVID-19.
UN says COVID-19 origins probe is poisoned by politics
The Italy investigation comes as pressure mounts in the West to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than three million people worldwide.
On Friday, the WHO said that it is already preparing for the next study into the virus's origins. However, it did not specify a timetable.
The UN body said that politics is poisoning the investigation. This statement was in response to US President Joe Biden's announcement that intelligence services were exploring competing possibilities, including the potential of a laboratory accident in China.
Per Daily Mail, COVID-19 was initially discovered in December 2019 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, while the first case in Italy was discovered on February 21 of last year in a small town near Milan. Chinese state media speculated that the virus did not originate in China. However, the Italian researchers emphasize that the findings raised issues about when, not where, the virus initially appeared.