China says Covid-19 study CLEARS it of any blame after scientists found signs of virus in Italian cancer patients as early as September last year
China says a study into the spread of Covid-19 clears it of any blame as scientists claim there were cases in Italy as early as September last year.
The Italian Cancer Institute says it found the presence of coronavirus antibodies in blood taken from healthy patients in Italy as early as October last year.The presence of antibodies would mean the patient had already contracted the virus.
If correct, the findings would change the history of the pandemic and raise questions of when and where the virus emerged, after it was first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December.
China has seized upon the study, with the country's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian telling state media: 'This once again shows that tracing the virus's source is a complex scientific question that should be left to scientists.
'It is a developing process that can involve multiple countries.'
While China has welcomed the study's findings, several scientists say it requires further examination.
Professor Mark Pagel from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, said: 'These results are worth reporting, but mostly should be taken as something to follow up with further testing.
'All of the patients in the study were asymptomatic despite most being 55-65 years old and having been smokers. This would normally be a high-risk group for Covid-19, so it is puzzling why all patients were asymptomatic.'
A co-author of the study said he and his colleagues were planning further investigations and called for scientists worldwide to contribute.
The World Health Organization has said the new coronavirus and Covid-19, the respiratory disease it causes, were unknown before the Wuhan outbreak was reported.
But it has said the possibility that the virus may have 'silently circulated elsewhere' cannot be ruled out.
There have been at least 55,573,000 reported infections and 1,336,000 reported deaths caused by COVID-19 globally since the virus was first detected in China.
Italy's first COVID-19 patient was detected on February 21 in a small town near Milan, in the northern region of Lombardy.
But the Italian researchers' findings show 11.6 per cent of 959 healthy volunteers enrolled in a cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020 had signs of having already encountered the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, most of them well before February.
A further SARS-CoV-2 antibodies test was carried out by the University of Siena for the same research paper, called 'Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the pre-pandemic period in Italy'.
It showed that in six cases, the antibodies were able to kill SARS-CoV-2.
Four of the cases dated back to October 2019, meaning the patients had become infected in September.
'This number (six) is fully compatible with test errors and statistical noise. For these reasons, it seems to me that the evidence brought to support such an extraordinary claim is not solid enough,' said Enrico Bucci, biologist adjunct professor at Philadelphia's Temple University.
费城坦普尔大学(Temple University)生物学家兼职教授恩里科·布奇(Enrico Bucci)说，这个数字(6)与测试错误和统计噪音完全一致。出于这些原因，在我看来，支持这种非同寻常的说法的证据还不够确凿。
'Much ado about nothing,' Antonella Viola, professor of general pathology at the University of Padua, told Reuters.
帕多瓦大学(University Of Padua)普通病理学教授安东内拉·维奥拉(Antonella Viola)告诉路透社(Reuters)：“没什么大不了的。”
Both Italian scientists said the antibody test was in-house designed and never validated by other researchers in a peer review.
What was also noticeable was the very high seroprevalence in the research study's population, they said, referring to the percentage of people who may have been exposed to the virus.
'For there to be an epidemic (albeit apparently asymptomatic) on this scale in Italy a full year before the current pandemic that went unnoticed would be a serious issue indeed,' said Stephen Griffin, associate professor at the University of Leeds.
利兹大学(University Of Leeds)副教授斯蒂芬·格里芬(Stephen Griffin)说，如果意大利在当前疫情爆发前整整一年就出现这种规模的疫情(尽管表面上没有症状)，而且没有人注意到，这确实是一个严重的问题。
Most of the scientists' scepticism focuses on the so called specificity of the antibody tests, that, if not perfect, might reveal the presence of antibodies to other diseases.
'Other recent reports have shown that seasonal coronaviruses can elicit cross-neutralising antibodies,' said Jonathan Stoye, group leader at the Francis Crick Institute.
弗朗西斯·克里克研究所(Francis Crick Institute)的研究小组负责人乔纳森·斯托耶(Jonathan Stoye)说：“最近的其他报告显示，季节性冠状病毒可以引发交叉中和抗体。”
'I think we need a really conclusive demonstration that those samples are picking up the COVID-19 virus and that those antibodies were not actually triggered by another virus,' Andrew Preston, reader in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath, told Reuters.
Preston said he was surprised that those requirements weren't needed for the publication of a research paper.
'But it is perfectly feasible to go away and do those extra tests and come back and show that,' he added.
The INT's scientific director and co-author of the study is planning further investigation into the study patients' clinical history.
'We need to understand if they had symptoms of illness. Where they had gone, if they had contact with China,' Giovanni Apolone told Reuters, calling for colleagues globally to 'open their databases and conduct retrospective researches'.