"COVID-19 was already spreading in France in late December 2019, a month before the official first cases in the country," according to the team at Groupe Hospitalier Paris Seine in Saint-Denis.

CNN said, "The first official reports of COVID-19 in France were reported on Jan. 24, in two people who had a history of travel to Wuhan, China."

However, the researchers said they found evidence suggesting a patient admitted to a hospital in Paris had the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

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Once verified, their findings would show the virus was already circulating in Europe before the first cases were diagnosed in France and Italy. 

Going back to the first case

Patient One in Italy tested positive on February 20. He spent weeks on a ventilator before he was released on March 22, according to The Atlantic

In case the virus was spreading undetected, intensive care specialist Dr. Yves Cohen and his hospital colleagues said they checked the records of earlier patients.

The team checked all people admitted to the hospital without influenza from December 2 to January 16. According to CNN, "They tested frozen samples from those patients for coronavirus."

One of the samples came from a 42-year-old man who was born in Algeria and lived in France for years. "His last trip was in Algeria during August 2019," Dr. Cohen and his team wrote. He did not go to China and has a child who was also sick, they said. 

The team also said learning more about the pandemic requires knowing who was the first patient infected by COVID-19. 

Knowing more about the pandemic 

"Identifying the first infected patient is of great epidemiological interest as it changes dramatically our knowledge regarding SARS-COV-2 and its spreading in the country," they said. 

SARS-CoV-2 is the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The team also added, "Moreover, the absence of a link with China and the lack of recent travel suggest that the disease was already spreading among the French population at the end of December, 2019."

Italy has over 212,000 confirmed cases, 82,000 recoveries, and 29,000 deaths due to COVID-19.

Italy's first COVID-19 cases were two Chinese tourists in Rome, while its first official community transmission occurred at the end of February in Codogno, north Italy.

The country is also slowly emerging from lockdown. Italians will now be able to move around, but with strict restrictions from the government. 

According to the Guardian, "Italians will now be able to travel within regions to visit relatives, provided they wear masks, but schools, hairdressers, gyms and many other commercial activities will stay closed; cafes and restaurants will offer takeaways only; and all travel between regions will be banned except for work, health or emergency situations."

Social distancing will still be observed in funerals and weddings. Only" a maximum of 15 mourners [are] allowed to attend, but masses and weddings will have to wait," the Guardian added. 

Dr. Cohen's team published their study last Sunday in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agent via Science Direct.

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