Italy caused more coronavirus 'patient zeroes' in hard-hit countries than China, new research shows

MORE than a quarter of coronavirus-infected countries reported their first case in people who had travelled to Italy, new research shows.

Over 32,000 coronavirus cases from 99 countries were identified between December 31 2019 and March 10 – the day before the World Health Organization declared the virus as a global pandemic.

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The research, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, revealed that the first case in 27 per cent of countries was linked to Italy.

In over a fifth of countries, 22 per cent, their first case had a travel history linked to China, the study shows.

In just under 25 per cent of countries, the travel history of the first Covid patient was unknown.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected the data using websites, press releases, press briefing transcripts and social media feeds belonging to government health departments and other agencies.

"Our findings suggest that travel from just a few countries with substantial Sars-CoV-2 transmission may have seeded additional outbreaks around the world before the characterisation of Covid-19," said co-author Dr Fatimah Darwood.

Half of the first reported cases in African countries surveyed were linked to Italy, the data shows.

Travellers from Italy reportedly carried the virus in a third of early infections in Europe and the Americas.

The analysis also showed that large gatherings were a source of spread.

"Four large clusters in our analysis, and large outbreaks reported elsewhere, have been linked with transmission in faith-based settings," co-author Philip Ricks said.

The scientists warned that they could not put together a complete picture because almost all the cases in the vast study were reported in middle to high income countries from Asia and Europe.

"The epidemiology of Covid-19 in low-income countries and in Africa could differ, as reported in previous influenza pandemics, and accurate data from these settings will be needed to assess the full global effect of the Covid-19 pandemic," Dr Darwood said.

Coronavirus spread rapidly in Italy because the first person who was infected in the country was in the asymptomatic phase – meaning they showed no symptoms and could spread the virus undetected.

Harrowing pictures of people hooked to ventilators and wearing helmets went viral as Lombardy hospitals struggled to cope.


By February 25, Italy confirmed its first case of coronavirus in the south and by March 1 infections had reportedly risen by 40 per cent to 1,576.

Italy, which bore the brunt during the pandemic, has seen daily infections come down to about 380 from a peak of over 6,500 in March.

Despite nationwide lockdown easing after two months,localised shutdowns could be implemented amid fears of a second wave of the virus.

The Italian region of Lazio, which includes the capital city, has warned citizens it may enforce previous restrictions if infections continue to rise.

The region confirmed 17 new cases on Sunday, with 10 people returning to Italy from overseas.

Lazio’s Health Commissioner Alessio D’Amato pleaded for people to continue with face coverings.

He wrote on Facebook: "I appeal for the use of masks, otherwise, we'll have to close down again.

"We can't turn back and waste all the efforts done till now."

The country has recorded 247,158 coronavirus infections and over 35,000 deaths. There are at least 12,000 active cases.

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