The Chinese authorities were trying to identify the pathogen, but they were clear that "no significant human-to-human transmission" had been observed, and no cases among healthcare workers reported.
Within two short months those 27 cases had exploded into a global pandemic with Europe its epicentre. As of Friday, 245,000 people were infected worldwide, with 10,000 deaths. Europe had over 83,000 cases and 4,000 deaths.
The crisis has pulled Europe apart. The instincts of member states have been to close borders and hoard medical equipment, at a stroke discarding the fundamentals of free movement of people, goods and services. Italy has received more face masks from China than any EU member state. Poland closed its borders and left scores of Baltic commuters stranded in Germany.
The pandemic has revived the strains of the financial and Greek debt crises. Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, warned this week that "either the eurozone responds in a united manner to the economic crisis and emerges stronger, or it is all over the place and is in danger of disappearing."
So, what could or should the EU have done differently?