French athletes believe they caught coronavirus at the World Military Games in Wuhan in October, 20 days before the first recorded case in China.
It comes after it was revealed that Frenchman Amirouche Hammar, 43, had been infected with COVID-19 outside Paris as early as December.
The hospital where Hammar was treated for chest pains has since re-tested samples and found the fishmonger was positive for the virus on December 27. It is not known where he caught the virus, although his wife works close to Charles de Gaulle airport.
A number of French athletes who were at the World Military Games from October 18 to 27 have since described coming down with severe flu-like symptoms while at the event.
Elodie Clouvel, a world champion modern pentathlete, was asked on March 25 whether she was anxious about spending the summer in Japan for the Olympics. She told Loire 7: ‘No because I think that with Velentin (Belaud, her partner, also a pentathlete) we have already had the coronavirus, well the COVID-19.’
Elodie Clouvel, 31, won gold at the World Military Games which took place in Wuhan between October 18 and 27 – she believes she and her partner, along with other athletes, caught the virus
Amirouche Hammar (pictured) has revealed himself as the French patient who had coronavirus as early as December 27
Elodie Clouvel told French media she wasn’t concerned about competing at the Olympics in Japan because she’d already had the virus
The 31-year-old went on: ‘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 yet.’
French ‘patient zero’ had COVID-19 in December
Amirouche Hammar came forward after a hospital near Paris revealed it had re-tested old flu samples and found a positive test for coronavirus on December 27.
The Algerian-born fish market worker had not travelled to China, and the result suggests the virus was spreading in France well before January 24 when the country confirmed its first case.
Speaking to BFMTV, Hammar said he had suffered ‘very serious’ chest pains but said doctors had been mystified by his illness before eventually diagnosing a lung infection.
Although experts have urged caution about the findings, the WHO said today it was ‘not surprising’ that a case had occurred in December and said that more such discoveries were possible.
‘It’s also possible there are more early cases to be found,’ WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a UN briefing in Geneva.
Hammar’s wife works at a supermarket near Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris where passengers are known to go shopping after they land.
The doctor who revealed the case said the patient’s wife had worked at a fish market with Chinese colleagues.
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.”‘
The French delegation were competing in the 7th World Military Games in Wuhan – just 20 days before the first Chinese person officially became ill with coronavirus – with 402 athletes present, along with 10,000 other athletes from all over the world.
According to French news channel BFMTV, a number of athletes returned to France with unusual symptoms, including fevers and body aches.
According to the news channel, 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.
Doctors have speculated that the virus might have been making its way around before even December, in November or even in October, and the latest revelations seem to underscore that.
BFMTV quotes one athlete, who preferred to remain anonymous, as saying that he originally thought he had simply caught a cold.
However, 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 contracted the disease too.
Now that it has been revealed that Amirouche Hammar in France had the coronavirus back in December, closer attention is being paid to what these athletes have said.
The French delegation were competing in the 7th World Military Games in Wuhan – just 20 days before the first Chinese person officially became ill with coronavirus – with 402 athletes present, along with 10,000 other athletes from all over the world
Clouvel said: ‘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 yet.’ (pictured: Clouvel with her partner)
Clouvel told French media in March: ‘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.”‘
Local media report that since she spoke up on March 25, many athletes have been asked not to answer questions from journalists and to refer media enquiries to the head of communication of the French armies.
According to 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, is quoted as saying: ‘We were told: there is no risk, you left on 28th October and the virus arrived on 1st November.’
French media report that sick athletes were also noted in some other delegations, including the Swedish delegation, with people returning to Sweden with strong fevers.
Around 100 people from the Swedish Armed Forces attended the World Military Games in Wuhan and stayed in the city for two weeks.
Several competitors fell ill and were screened for the virus, although none were reported to have tested positive.
It comes after Sweden’s government epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said it was ‘very natural’ to assume that coronvirus was spreading in Scandinavia from November.
Tegnell told Sweden’s TT news agency: ‘There wasn’t any spread [of infection] outside Wuhan until we saw it in Europe later.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell (pictured above) claimed individual cases would have been detected among travellers from Wuhan
‘But I think that you could find individual cases among Wuhan travellers who were there in November to December last year. That doesn’t sound at all strange, but rather very natural.’
Sweden – one of just a handful of countries to resist a lockdown – has no plans to implement large-scale sample testing of patients who received care for respiratory symptoms or flu last year to see if they had coronavirus.
The country’s first official coronavirus case was a woman in Jönköping who tested positive on January 31st after a trip to China. The woman has since recovered from the illness.