From Wuhan to Paris to Milan, the search for "patient zero"

In the search for the pandemic’s origin, the trail officially ends with Patient S01, China’s first confirmed covid-19 case, whose sparse details were outlined in the joint WHO-China report released in March. He was not a seafood vendor, bat hunter or lab scientist. He was an accountant surnamed Chen who shopped at a very large supermarket.

Even for S01, the most scrutinized patient, details are hazy. The WHO report lists a sample sequence ID for him, EPI_ISL_403928, that belongs to a different patient, a 61-year-old market worker who died of septic shock after falling ill on Dec. 20, 2019, according to the official China National Center for Bioinformation database.

S01’s profile matches better with that of the 41-year-old whose coronavirus diagnosis at the end of December alarmed doctors — prompting one whistleblower, Li Wenliang, to leak the news on social media. But that patient is listed in the Chinese database as falling ill on Dec. 16. A WHO spokesman said the U.N. agency is looking into the discrepancy...

Then there is the most controversial study: In a paper published in November, researchers in Italy reported traces of the coronavirus in September 2019, declaring it may “reshape the history” of the pandemic. Scientists from the National Cancer Institute of Milan and the University of Siena analyzed nearly 1,000 blood samples collected in 2019 from a cancer-screening trial. They reported more than 10 percent containing coronavirus antibodies, including samples from September 2019.