A FRENCHMAN known to have had coronavirus last year is thought to have contracted it from Chinese tourists visiting the sushi counter at which his wife worked.
A sample provided to a Paris hospital by Amirouche Hammar, 43, in December has now tested positive for the virus, prompting the World Health Organisation to urge other countries to investigate any suspicious early cases of their own.
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Hammar was forced to go to hospital after what he had thought was flu developed into "very serious" chest pains and difficulty breathing.
His symptoms left doctors baffled at the time, and he ultimately spent three days in hospital after being misdiagnosed with a lung infection.
Hammar, who has no links to China, where the outbreak began, but his wife does work on the sushi counter of a supermarket near Charles de Gaulle airport.
The airport is a major international hub, and it is common for the supermarket to get customers who have recently landed.
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, throwing the coronavirus timeline into chaos.
France officially confirmed its first coronavirus case on January 24, exactly four weeks after the sample that has now tested positive was taken.
Sweden's top coronavirus doctor has also said today it is likely the country had cases of the virus as early as November.
World Health Organisation spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said the finding would "help to better understand the potential virus circulation", and urged more countries to launch their own searchers for earlier cases of the virus.
'WE HAD TO PUT TOGETHER A PUZZLE'
In an interview with BMFTV, Hammar described his initial visit to the Avicenne hospital, in the Paris suburbs.
"At 5am I decided to take my car and I went straight to the hospital," he said.
"I said, 'We must call the doctor right away, something is wrong. I have chest pain'."
He said he had been contacted in the last few days by Dr Yves Cohen, who works at the Avicenne hospital and told he had been "100 per cent positive" for the coronavirus.
Dr Cohen has since explained that researchers at two different hospitals had run new tests on samples from 24 patients originally taken to test for flu.
"He was amazed, he didn't understand how he had been infected," he said.
"We put the puzzle together and he had not made any trips.
"The only contact that he had was with his wife."
He added that is was too soon to know for sure who was France's "patient zero".
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