“I don’t see any motive, but I think they are not independent of each other,” says Rambaut. “Because once that idea takes hold, people will then go through their stored samples to see what they can find. “

Other studies reporting earlier detection of the virus in Italy have similar flaws. A study published in August 2020, conducted by the Ministry of Environment and Health of Rome, reported the detection of Sars-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater samples taken on December 18, 2019 in the cities of Milan and from Turin. These findings have aroused the suspicions of Alex Crits-Christoph, a postdoc at Johns Hopkins University specializing in bioinformatics studies of genetic data. The researchers performed three different tests, but only one came back positive. They also designed their own primers, which are used to target specific regions of RNA, despite the existence of standardized primers for Sars-CoV-2 in use around the world at the time. “It seems a little strange to me,” he says.

On October 28, 2020, a to study has been submitted to the journal Tumors and was accepted the very next day, “indicating, at the very least, very rushed peer review, maybe not even peer review,” says Worobey. The researchers examined the antibodies of volunteers enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial, recruited from all regions of Italy, and found that more than a hundred participants had developed anti-coronavirus antibodies as of September 2019. “Our results indicate that Sars-CoV -2 circulated in Italy before the first official cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed in Lombardy, even long before the first official reports from Chinese authorities, shedding new light on the appearance and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, “the authors wrote. . They theorized in interviews that they could have detected a “less transmissible” strain that could circulate without triggering a major epidemic. The paper was largely covered through English-speaker media. But others pointed to major flaws in the document. The researchers failed to take the necessary steps to prevent detection of other antibodies to the coronavirus, such as the common cold. “Any antibody test has its false positives, so when you screen a group of individuals in a situation of very low prevalence, the majority of the positives will be false,” explains Marion Koopmans, virologist at the Erasmus medical center who was part of the ‘a WHO team that traveled to Wuhan to investigate the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The study was declared under investigation in March 2021 by the newspaper, but no correction was ever made. WHO has requested that the samples be retested in other laboratories. The investigation found this none of the samples contained high enough levels of antibodies to be considered evidence of infection.

Another to study examined a skin biopsy of a 25-year-old woman living in Milan taken on November 10, when she arrived at the hospital with a rash. Looking at it months later, Raffaele Gianotti, the lead researcher and dermatologist who treated her, found evidence of Sars-CoV-2 molecules in her skin sample. WHO wanted to investigate the case, but now no one can locate the patient, and Gianotti passed away in March. (The other authors of the article say there is no update on the case.)

Rambaut says these findings “are used by various parties to support a particular set of narratives.” In particular, they were covered often through Chinese state media, rotating studies to suggest China was not the source of the virus. “Wuhan was the place where the coronavirus was first detected, but it was not its origin”, noted Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at an academic conference in November 2020.

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