In a study not yet published in a journal, scientists have reported that the new coronavirus was present in wastewater in Barcelona, Spain in March 2019, a finding that, if confirmed, would show that the pathogen had emerged much earlier than previously thought.

But independent experts who reviewed the findings said they doubted the claim. The study was flawed, they said, and other lines of evidence strongly suggest the virus emerged in China late last year.

Up until now, the earliest evidence of the virus anywhere in the world has been from December 2019 in China and it was only known to have hit mainland Spain in February 2020.

“Barcelona is a city that is frequented by Chinese people, in tourism and business, so probably this happened also elsewhere, and probably at the same time,” said the lead author, Albert Bosch, a professor in the Department of Microbiology of the University of Barcelona who has been studying viruses in wastewater for more than 40 years.

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