A doctor in France believes Covid-19 was already in the country last December, confounding the initial belief the virus entered in 2020.

A re-examination of samples from pneumonia patients at a hospital in the French capital, Paris, revealed that a coronavirus-infected patient had been treated as early as December 27th, nearly a month before the country’s first case was officially confirmed, The Guardian reported.

Dr. Yves Cohen, head of the resuscitation at the Avicenne and Jean Verdier hospitals in the northern suburbs of Paris, told BFM TV that scientists had retested samples from 24 patients treated in December and January who tested negative for flu.

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“Of the 24 tested, we had one patient who was Covid-19 positive on December 27th,” the doctor said.

The tests were originally collected for testing for influenza by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. The same tests are performed for coronavirus. Each sample was checked several times to make sure there were no errors, the doctor added.

In France, almost 25,000 people have died with Covid-19 since March 1st. The first cases in the country were diagnosed on January 24th, two of which were in Paris.

It is important to know who was the first patient to understand how the virus spread, but Cohen said it was too quick to judge whether the case was a “zero patient”.

The doctor said that the patient had survived and an epidemiological investigation was started.

“We called the patient. He was sick 15 days and he infected his two children, but not his wife, who works in a supermarket, at the fish stall,” Cohen said. “He was surprised, he did not understand how he was infected. We put the puzzle together, he had not made any trips, the only contact is that made by his wife.”

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The 53-year-old man, who has since recovered, had not visited China but there are suspicions his wife may have been the first to have contracted the coronavirus. While her stall only sells French products, the one next door is staffed by people of Chinese origin.

It is unknown whether they had traveled to China and this should be investigated by local health authorities, Cohen added.

“We wonder if she wasn’t asymptomatic. She could be a ‘zero patient’, but there may be other cases in other regions. All negative pneumonia PCR tests need to be checked again. The virus was probably already circulating around,” the doctor said.

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