Italy began testing people after diagnosing the first local patient on February 21 in Codogno, a small town in the Lombardy region, writes agerpres.ro.
The cases and deaths spread immediately afterwards in Italy, with scientists suspecting that the virus had been present unnoticed for several weeks.
Stefano Merler from the Bruno Kessler Foundation said in a press conference with senior Italian health authorities that his institute analyzed the first known cases and drew clear conclusions from the subsequent pace of contagion.
“We realized that there were many infected people in Lombardy long before February 20, which means the epidemic started much earlier,” he said.
“Certainly in January, but maybe even before. We will never know,” he said, adding that the immediate outbreak of the number of cases suggests the virus was probably brought to Italy by a group of people rather than a single individual.
Italy was the first Western country to face the viral disease, which appeared in China late last year and spread around the world.
Italian authorities have recorded about 193,000 confirmed cases and 26,000 deaths.
In an attempt to prevent the outbreak from spreading, Italy suspended air traffic to and from China on January 31 after two Chinese tourists tested positive in Rome. But scientists think it was probably too late.
Another team of Italian scientists has advanced the idea that the new coronavirus may have arrived in Italy from Germany, not directly from China, in the second half of January, Reuters notes.