CNN reports that a Frenchman named Amirouche Hammar had Covid-19 in December in Paris. This was supposedly discovered after old samples were re-checked for the Covid-19 virus.

Alas there's hardly any detail in that news report besides the fact that Hammar went to a hospital with a dry cough and (eventually?) coughing blood. There's nothing said about his travel history for example.

Insofar, I think the first (previously) confirmed case outside China was one in Thailand on Jan 13, according to the WHO:

13 January 2020: Officials confirm a case of COVID-19 in Thailand, the first recorded case outside of China.

So is there anything that can corroborate the scant account from the CNN report? Did Hammar have a travel history? Is the virus sampled from him close enough to the original Wuhan samples (vast phylogenetic trees of Covid-19 have assembled by now).

Alternatively Hammar's sample(s) could have been contaminated later... (E.g., even the CDC had a notorious problem with something like that.)


Yes, according to Deslandes et al (2020):

One sample taken from a 42-year-old unemployed male born in Algeria who had lived in France for many years was positive. His last foreign travel was to Algeria in August 2019. One of his children presented with ILI [influenza-like illness] prior to the onset of his symptoms. His medical history included asthma and type II diabetes mellitus. He presented to the emergency ward on 27 December 2019 with haemoptysis, cough, chest pain, headache and fever, evolving for 4 days.

... The patient was admitted to the ICU where he received antibiotic therapy and his clinical evolution was favourable until discharge on 29 December 2019.

... Here we report an observation of a SARS-CoV-2-infected patient 1 month before the first reported cases in France. ... the absence of a link with China and the lack of recent foreign travel suggest that the disease was already spreading among the French population at the end of December 2019.

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    This is just repeating the claim. – SX welcomes ageist gossip May 14 at 10:23
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    How likely is it that this is just a contaminated sample or a false positive? I think that's what has to be debunked to answer the question. – Johanna May 14 at 16:41
  • @johanna alas I don't believe that is possible. You can take a new sample but neither result is conclusive. – John Dvorak May 15 at 8:12
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    @JohnDvorak Unless they can corroborate by identifying more early cases. Until then, I think this is more likely to be like those "reinfections" everyone was panicking about a few weeks ago that turned out to be contaminated samples. "It was spreading widely for months but didn't start causing tons hospitalisations until several months later when it suddenly started behaving like a brand new illness, spreading from a single point of origin" seems very implausible. – Johanna May 15 at 10:03

This has been all over the breaking news, although none of the news stories I found link to the actual study, so here's Reuters' take:

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 late on Thursday said samples taken in Milan and Turin on Dec. 18 showed the presence of the SARS-Cov-2 virus.


“That COVID-19 could have been circulating in Italy is possible,” said Rowland Kao, a veterinary epidemiology and data science professor at Scotland’s Edinburgh University.

“(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.”


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.

So it is corroborating evidence that the virus may have been circulating in Europe somewhat earlier (December 18 in Italy) than the confirmed (individual) cases.

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  • There was also COVID-19 in Mulhouse in mid November. – JRB Jun 19 at 20:50

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