The novel coronavirus could have existed in a dormant state long before its outbreak, Melita Vujnovic, the representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to Russia, has said.

"WHO has established a large team that will work together with Chinese scientists to analyze the origin of the virus," Xinhua news agency quoted Vujnovic as saying in a recent interview with RIA Novosti news agency.

"This virus lived in animals and at some point passed to humans. It's hard to say when and where this happened. It's being investigated.

"Viruses can be found in waste water. But nothing can be said specifically," she said.

The official further said that scientists were studying these samples and if there was any "revolutionary result", the WHO will immediately announce it.

Vujnovic's statement echoes remarks made by Tom Jefferson, a senior associate tutor at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM) at Oxford and a visiting professor at Newcastle University, earlier this month.

He had said that the novel coronavirus existed worldwide and broke out whenever and wherever favourable conditions occurred rather than starting in China last December leading to the ongoing global pandemic.

"I think the virus was already here -- here meaning everywhere. We may be seeing a dormant virus that has been activated by environmental conditions," Jefferson added.

Meanwhile, Spanish virologists have discovered traces of the novel coronavirus in a sample of Barcelona waste water collected in March 2019, nine months prior to the virus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

According to the Italian National Institute of Health, samples of sewage water from Milan and Turin showed traces of the novel coronavirus on December 18, 2019.