‘A lot were sick’: Theory on virus’ escape
France fears the killer coronavirus may have hit Europe from October as several athletes recall becoming "very sick" while competing in Wuhan back then.
It's now thought that the bug was unleashed in Europe months before the Chinese city in Hubei Province became infamous as the world's original COVID-19 epicentre, reports The Sun.
International athletes gathered at the World Military Games in Wuhan last October may have brought the killer bug back home with them, says the French media.
Newspaper Le Parisian writes that several athletes complained of symptoms upon their return, and that in hindsight, "they may have contracted COVID-19".
Elodie Clouvel, a world champion modern pentathlete, was asked on local TV station Television Loire 7 on March 25 if she was worried about the prospect of potentially having to spend the summer in Japan for the Olympics.
She replied: "No because I think that with Velentin Belaud, her partner, also a pentathlete] we have already had the coronavirus, well the COVID-19."
The 31-year-old added: "We were in Wuhan for the World Military Games at the end of October.
"And afterwards, we all fell ill. Valentin missed three days of training.
"Me, I was sick too. I had things I had never had before. We weren't particularly worried because no one was talking about it [back then]."
She added: "A lot of athletes at the World Military Games were very ill.
"We were recently in touch with a military doctor who told us: 'I think you had it because a lot of people from this delegation were ill.'"
This new revelation comes after it was discovered that a Frenchman, Amirouche Hammar, 43, had been infected with the coronavirus in the Paris region as early as December 27.
The French delegation took part in the 7th edition of the World Military Games in Wuhan from October 18-27 last year - just 20 days before the first Chinese person officially became ill with coronavirus - with 402 athletes present, along with 10,000 other athletes from across the globe.
According to French news channel BFMTV, a number of athletes returned to France with unusual symptoms, including fevers and body aches.
However, none of the returning athletes was tested.
And, the French Army who were responsible for organising their athletes at the military games reportedly confirmed that they had not wanted to test any athletes either.
'THOUGHT IT WAS A COLD'
Doctors have speculated that the virus might have been spreading in France before December - in November or even as far back as October - and the latest French media revelations seem to underscore that.
BFMTV quoted one anonymous athlete saying that he originally thought he had simply caught a cold.
But, when news began to emerge of an epidemic in Wuhan, many athletes on a WhatsApp group reportedly began to openly wonder if it was possible that they had previously contracted the disease too.
Now that it has been revealed that Mr Hammar in France had the coronavirus back in December, closer attention is being paid to what these athletes have said.
Local media report that since Elodie Clouvel spoke up on March 25 many athletes have been told not to answer journalists' questions and to refer media inquiries to the head of communication of the French armies.
According to the French media, athletes who were in Wuhan reportedly received telephone calls from the army a few weeks ago to reassure them.
One of these athletes, who also preferred to remain anonymous, said: "We were told there is no risk, you left on 28th October and the virus arrived on 1st November."
But, given the confusion over when exactly the new coronavirus was unleashed, and revelations from an Associated Press investigation that China didn't warn the public of the likely pandemic for six key days, there are mounting fears that it may have spread beyond its boundaries far earlier than first reported.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the public on January 20. But by that time, more than 3000 people had been infected in China alone.
The Chinese government has repeatedly denied suppressing information in the early days, saying it immediately reported the outbreak to the World Health Organisation.
French media report that sick athletes were also noted in some other military teams, including the Swedish delegation, with people returning to Sweden with strong fevers.
Frenchman Amirouche Hammar, 43, said he went to hospital while suffering "very serious" pains in his chest and difficulty breathing.
He is now known to have had coronavirus in December, after samples taken late last year were retested and a positive case found.
Doctors initially concluded he had a lung infection, and Mr Hammar recovered after spending several days in hospital.
It is not known how Mr Hammar, who has no links to China, caught the bug, but his wife works on the fish counter of a supermarket near Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
The finding suggests that the virus arrived in Europe and began to spread long before it was identified and understood as a public health emergency.
France officially confirmed its first coronavirus case on January 24, exactly four weeks after the sample that has now tested positive was taken.
In an interview with BFMTV, Mr Hammar said he initially thought he had flu, but went to the Avicenne hospital, in the Paris suburbs, after his symptoms became worse.
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission
Originally published as 'A lot were sick': Theory on virus' escape