This contrasts starkly with the current global consensus, which is that the virus first appeared in China at the end of 2019. But the Chinese claim has been severely criticized by a number of scholars around the world.

The new report was produced by a team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

It concluded that Covid-19 most likely appeared in India or Bangladesh, but it also lists Australia, Russia, Serbia, Italy, Greece, the USA and the Czech Republic as possible starting points.

The study attempts to find the origin of the coronavirus by tracking small differences in the virus’s DNA every time it repeats itself.

By working again through these mutations, they concluded that the virus originated in one of the nine countries mentioned above.

Scientists have concluded that India or Bangladesh is likely among these, based on their geographical proximity to China where the virus was first detected.

The report indicates that the heat wave in early summer of 2019, which could have increased the interaction between humans and animals, may be behind the new virus.

She says: “From May to June 2019, the second longest heat wave on record broke out in north-central India and Pakistan, causing a serious water crisis in this region.

“The lack of water made wild animals such as monkeys engage in a deadly water battle among themselves, and it was sure to increase the chance of human-wildlife interactions.

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Speaking to Mail Online, David Robertson, an expert at University of Glasgow, said: “The author’s approach to identifying the sequences of” least mutated “viruses … is biased in nature.

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The authors also ignored the extensive epidemiological data available that shows a clear emergence in China and that the virus spread from there.

“This paper adds nothing to our understanding of SARS-CoV-2.”

This view was supported by Mark Suchar, a genealogist at the University of California, California.

In his address to the South China Morning Post, he said: “Choosing the viral sequence that appears to have the fewest variations from others in a random group is unlikely to lead to the ancestor.”

Early in the epidemic, prominent Chinese officials indicated that the virus originated in Italy or the United States, and said that US forces may be responsible for its arrival in Wuhan.

However, global health experts rejected the suggestion, and critics accused Beijing of trying to divert attention from its initial response to Covid-19.

Coronavirus has killed nearly 1.5 million people since it emerged at the end of last year.

On Friday, the United Kingdom confirmed 14,739 more cases and 520 deaths.

In total, more than 57,000 people have died in Britain within 28 days of being diagnosed with the virus.