Romelu Lukaku has said almost every one of the Inter Milan first-team squad was stricken with illness in January which left them “coughing and with a fever,” but that they were not tested for coronavirus.
Speaking in an Instagram Live chat with Belgian TV presenter Kat Kerkhofs, wife of Napoli striker Dries Mertens, Lukaku said the majority of the Inter squad had returned from the winter break in January suffering the effects of sickness.
“We had a week off in December, we returned to work and I swear that 23 out of 25 players were ill,” Lukaku said, according to Football-Italia.
“I’m not kidding. We played against Radja Nainggolan’s Cagliari and after about 25 minutes, one of our defenders [Milan Skriniar] had to leave the pitch. He could not continue and almost fainted.”
Italy followed China as the epicentre for the coronavirus outbreak, recording its first cases at the end of January when two Chinese tourists in Rome were found to have the deadly disease.
But it wasn’t until the end of February and beginning of March that there was a major jump in cases, leading to speculation that many had been unknowingly spreading the illness in the meantime.
Lukaku said that none of the team had been tested for COVID-19.
“Everyone was coughing and had a fever. When I was warming up, I felt a lot hotter than usual. I hadn’t suffered from a fever in years,” he said.
“After the game, there was a planned dinner with guests from Puma, but I thanked them and went straight to bed. We never did the COVID-19 tests at that moment, so we’ll never know for sure.”
No Inter Milan players have tested positive for the disease, and the illness could also have simply been the seasonal flu. Proof could be offered when Serie A resumes action and players are tested for the coronavirus, which also includes checking for antibodies.
The first Serie A player to test positive for the illness was Juventus defender Daniele Rugani, on March 11, with teammates Blaise Matuidi and Paulo Dybala later being confirmed to have the disease. Players at Sampdoria, Fiorentina and Hellas Verona have also tested positive for COVID-19.
Football in Italy was suspended indefinitely on March 9, although there are tentative plans to resume matches behind closed doors, potentially in May or June.
Italy has seen more than 24,000 coronavirus deaths and over 180,000 cases, but there have been signs of hope in recent days as infection rates have fallen.