Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Science & Tech
  2. Coronavirus
5 May 2020updated 06 Oct 2020 9:45am

WHO urges countries to investigate early Covid-19 infections after France traces case to December

By Samuel Horti

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to search through old health records for evidence of coronavirus, after it emerged that Covid-19 was present in France in December 2019, much earlier than previously thought.

China reported the first case of Covid-19 to the WHO on 31 December 2019, and the disease was thought to have reached Europe in the new year. However, doctors have confirmed a patient treated in a hospital near Paris on 27 December had the disease. The patient was swabbed at the time, and that swab has now tested positive for Covid-19.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a United Nations briefing in Geneva today that the finding “gives a whole new picture on everything”, and that retesting old swabs taken from patients would help us “better understand the potential virus circulation of Covid-19”. He urged countries to focus on pneumonia cases of unspecified origin from late 2019.


Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them