Tourists are seen at St. Mark's Square a day before Italy and neighbouring EU countries open up borders for the first time since the coronavirus hit the country, in Venice. Reuters
The Italian National Institute of Health looked at 40 sewage samples collected from wastewater treatment plants in northern Italy between October 2019 and February 2020. An analysis released on Thursday said samples taken in Milan and Turin on Dec.18 showed the presence of the SARS-Cov-2 virus.
"This research may help us understand the beginning of virus circulation in Italy," said Giuseppina La Rosa, an expert in environmental wastewater at the Italian National Institute of Health who co-led the research.
A spokeswoman for the institute said the full data and study would be published next week.
Nurses gather to protest for better working conditions in Milan. Writing on sign reads in Italian 'Don't call us heroes, call us nurses!.' AP
Research in the Netherlands, France, Australia and elsewhere has found signs that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be detected in sewage, and many countries are beginning to sample wastewater to track the disease.
Scientists said the detection of traces of the virus before the end of 2019 was consistent with evidence in other countries that COVID-19 may have been circulating before China reported the first cases on Dec.31.
Noel McCarthy, an expert in population evidence and technologies at Britain's Warwick Medical School, said the detection of SARS-Cov-2 genetic material in Italian wastewater in December was "reliable evidence of cases of COVID-19 being present there at that time."
Tourists from Germany take a selfie outside the Colosseum, after Italy reopened its borders to European countries, in Rome. AFP
Rowland Kao, an epidemiology and data professor at Scotland's Edinburgh University, agreed it was plausible the disease could have circulating then, but added: "(This finding) does not on its own, however, tell us if that early detection was the source of the very large epidemic in Italy, or if that was due to a later introduction into the country."
A study in May by French scientists found that a man was infected with COVID-19 as early as Dec. 27, nearly a month before France confirmed its first cases.
La Rosa said the presence of the virus in the Italian waste samples did not "automatically imply that the main transmission chains that led to the development of the epidemic in our country originated from these very first cases."
Samples positive for traces of the virus that causes COVID-19 were also found in sewage from Bologna, Milan and Turin in January and February 2020. Samples taken in October and November 2019 tested negative.
The institute said it plans to launch a pilot study in July to monitor wastewater in tourist resorts.
Like millions of other Britons, the prime minister will be able to have a trim and a tipple on Saturday, when the country takes its biggest step yet out of coronavirus lockdown with the reopening in England of restaurants, pubs and hairdressers, along with secular and sacred venues including cinemas and church.
Elsewhere in Europe, frustrations with COVID-19 curbs were spilling over, with scuffles breaking out at a large anti-restrictions protest in the German city of Kassel, and thousands joining a similar demonstration in Liestal, Switzerland.
During the seven-day period of Feb.3-9, the EU as a whole recorded an average daily of 103,250 new infections, which was 16 per cent down on the previous week. The average number of deaths each day was 3,137, or seven percent fewer.
The country's jab drive at a standstill and few restrictions in place as new COVID-19 cases also hit record high at 33,208, the Russian coronavirus task force said, bringing the official total case tally to 7,958,384.
Amess, 69, from Johnson's Conservative Party, was knifed repeatedly in the attack at about midday on Friday in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London, during a meeting with constituents.
In a statement, ASEAN's current chair Brunei said a non-political figure from Myanmar would be invited to the Oct. 26-28 summit, after no consensus was reached for a political representative to attend.