Two separate teams of researchers tracing the coronavirus outbreak in the States have concluded that the virus originated in travellers from Europe, not China, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
Studies found that the virus was entering the country via flights to New York from Europe, weeks before Trump implemented a ban on travellers from China on January 31. By the time he stopped travel from Europe in mid-March, thousands of people were already infected.
“People were just oblivious,” Adriana Heguy, who worked with a team at the N.Y.U Grossman School of Medicine, told the New York Times.
The NY.U. team, as well as a team at Mount Sinai hospital, New York, analyzed two different groups of genomes of the coronavirus taken from infected New Yorkers in mid-March. according to the Times. Through tracing the mutations within the genomes via compute testing, they were able to estimate how long the virus lived and track it back to its ancestors.
Researchers at Mount Sinai found similarities between the viruses brought to their hospital to those analyzed in Europe. While they can’t specify which flights might have brought the virus, they wrote that “the period of global transmission” was between late January to mid-February.
“The majority is clearly European,” Harm van Bakel, a geneticist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, whose study is awaiting a peer review, told the New York Times.
Both teams separately concluded that the hidden spread of the virus could have been discovered had aggressive testing measured been put into place much earlier. “It was a disaster that we didn’t do testing,” Dr. Heguy said.
The country’s first confirmed coronavirus case was detected in Washington state on January 19. While other countries had implemented testing measures, the U.S. lagged behind, sending out flawed testing kits and limiting diagnoses to people who confirmed they had travelled from China.
The day before Trump’s ban on Europe travel was set to take place, photos flooded social media of hordes of people standing in cramped, crowded lines for hours in the airports.
Currently, the country has reported close to half a million cases of the virus and over 14,000 deaths. Earlier this week, Trump accused the World Health Organization of being ‘China centric’ in its tackling of the pandemic and threatened to put a hold on U.S. funding to the organization.