BARCELONA – The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been detected in Spanish wastewater samples collected in the city of Barcelona on March 12, 2019, a year before the coronavirus pandemic shook the world, experts said on Friday.
The COVID-19 outbreak, which is thought to have first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11 this year.
Spain confirmed its first case on Jan. 31 in La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands, but experts from the University of Barcelona published a report on Friday saying an investigation into wastewaters in the city proved the virus was circulating long before it was known.
UB experts studied weekly samples obtained from two wastewater treatment plants in the regional capital of Catalonia, under the premise that there are large amounts of the coronavirus genome in feces.
“The SARS-CoV-2 genome levels clearly coincided with the evolution of COVID-19 cases in the population,” said the coordinator of the project, Albert Bosch.
According to the specialist, the fact that traces of the virus have been found in sewage waters before cases were diagnosed proves that many people may have been diagnosed with influenza by primary care practitioners when, in fact, they could have had COVID-19.
“Having detected the spread of SARS-CoV-2 a month in advance would have allowed a better response to the pandemic,” according to Bosch.
The Madrid region announced on Friday it would continue to monitor 300 wastewater network points, 45 of which are in the Spanish capital, to control the coronavirus, since finding traces in feces allows for early detection of outbreaks.
The Spanish Government declared a state of alarm on March 14 and rolled out one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe to stem the spread of the disease.
The movement of people across regions was lifted on June 21, when the state of alarm expired, and there has been a progressive relaxing of social and economic restrictions in an attempt to reboot Spain’s flailing economy.
The Health Ministry reported three COVID-19 deaths and 157 more infections on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to 28,330 and 247,486 cases in total since the epidemic began.