Serbian scientists set first Europe's coronavirus death at February 5, 2020

BELGRADE (Reuters) - COVID-19 caused the death of a man in Serbia last February, 10 days before the first fatality from the disease in Europe was reported by France, a study by researchers in Belgrade has found.

A 56-year-old construction worker from Belgrade, who had not travelled abroad, was admitted on Feb. 5, 2020 to hospital suffering from fever, cough and shortness of breath. He died within hours and an autopsy showed pneumonia was the cause.

Months later, however, scientists at the Institute for Forensic Medicine of Belgrade’s Medical Faculty, found evidence that the man had died from COVID-19.

Milenko Bogdanovic, a forensic pathologist, said a study by 12 experts, published by the Frontiers in Medicine magazine last week, suggested that COVID-19 was present in Europe long before previously thought.

“COVID-19 was probably the cause of the much-reported pneumonia of unknown origin in January and February 2020,” the scientists who conducted the research wrote.

France reported Europe’s first case of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19 on Jan. 24 last year and the first death from the disease on Feb. 15.

More than 111 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported globally and over 2,500,000 people have died, according to a Reuters tally.

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Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December, 2019.

Bogdanovic said researchers took a frozen sample of the Serbian man’s vitreous fluid which fills the space in the eyeball to prove the presence of the virus.

“This is, for the time being, the first post-mortem corroborated death from COVID-19 in Europe,” Bogdanovic said.

Serbia’s first official case was recorded on March 6, 2020. The virus has so far killed 4,351 people in the country with a population of around 7 million.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Ed Osmond