The Claim and Our Verdict
- The claim: A WeChat article published June 7, 2021, claims that Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi admitted COVID-19 had been circulating in Italy since the summer of 2019.
- HKBU FactCheck Service didn’t find any news related to the claim on the official website of Radiotelevisione Italiana, the national public broadcaster in Italy, nor on the official websites of Corriere Della Sera or la Repubblica, two Italian mainstream news media organizations.
- There is no such Reuters news report supporting the claim.
- Currently, no conclusion has been made regarding the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. WHO and National Cancer Institute in Milan (INT) are still discussing the research tracing the emergence of the COVID-19 infection in Italy. There is no conclusion yet.
- Our ruling: Therefore, we rate the claim as FALSE.
A WeChat article published June 7, 2021, claims Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi admitted during an online news media interview that COVID-19 had been circulating in Italy since the summer of 2019, according to Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), the national public broadcaster in Italy. WeChat article is a media portal within the Chinese instant messenger WeChat for businesses and individuals to publish digital content.
The article had been viewed thousands of times and had received more than 3,000 likes.
The article was deleted before the issuance of this report.
We attempted to search for the RAI news report on the news media organization’s official website and couldn’t find such a news article.
We also searched for the purported Reuters news report supporting the claim, but found no result, either. However, Reuters did publish two news articles in November 2020 and June 2021 about the suspected discovery of the coronavirus in Italy.
The article published Nov. 16, 2020, stated that the National Cancer Institute (INT) in Milan had detected COVID-19 antibodies in some volunteers enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial. A further antibodies test showed that four cases dating back to October 2020 were positive. It means they were infected in September 2020, according to one of the co-authors of the study. “The WHO said it would contact the paper’s authors ‘to discuss and arrange for further analyses of available samples and verification of the neutralization results,’” according to the article. It demonstrates the results have not yet been concluded by either the WHO or authors of the study.
Another news article published June 1, 2021, claimed that the WHO requested to re-check a study suggesting the coronavirus was possibly circulating in Italy by October, 2019, and that “the WHO chose the laboratory of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam for the re-test.” The report also quoted Emanuele Montomoli, co-author of the original study and professor of Public Health at the Molecular Medicine Department in the University of Siena, saying that “we did not say in our study that we could establish without a doubt that the coronavirus, later sequenced in Wuhan, was already circulating in Italy in October.” The hypothesis of the coronavirus already circulating in Italy in October of 2019 is thus not yet validated.
Italy’s embassy in China published a post on its official Weibo account to debunk the claim on June 7, 2021. The Chinese-language post translates as, “Today, there are rumours circulating on social media about the Prime Minister of the Republic of Italy, Mario Draghi’s speech on the origin of coronavirus. These rumours are false and baseless. The embassy of Italy in China stresses that the content in these rumours are fabricated without any factual basis.”
Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi did not, therefore, admit the coronavirus first emerged in Italy by the summer of 2019. It is possible that coronavirus has been circulating in Italy prior to the first outbreak in China, but it has not yet been validated by either the researchers in Italy or the WHO at this moment.
Therefore, we rate the claim as FALSE.
- WeChat article, archived June 7, 2021
- Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), official website
- Corriere Della Sera, official website
- la Repubblica, website search result
- Reuters, “Researchers find coronavirus was circulating in Italy earlier than thought,” November 16, 2020
- Reuters, “WHO asks for re-checks of research on when coronavirus first surfaced in Italy ,” June 1, 2021