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Coronavirus could have been circulating in the UK in early December – almost two months before the first British case was diagnosed, experts have admitted.
But leaked Government data, seen by the South China Morning Post, suggests the first case was observed almost a month earlier, on November 17.
The first cases on British soil were only identified on January 31, when two Chinese nationals in York tested positive for Covid-19.
But, with knowledge of the disease’s distinctive symptoms, scores of Britons now suspect themselves or loved ones were infected well before then.
King’s College London academics say hundreds of Brits using their symptom tracker app have reported suffering from tell-tale symptoms of the virus at Christmas time.
Catherine Mayer, the widow of Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill, fears her husband was an early victim of the disease when he died of pneumonia in early January.
The musician, 64, had returned from a band trip to China in late November and was struck down with a mystery respiratory illness in December.
His condition quickly deteriorated and he was hospitalised in St Thomas’ hospital in London with low oxygen levels, a known complication of Covid-19.
He died from organ failure after a two-week hospital battle with pneumonia. At around the same time, Gill’s 26-year-old tour manager was taken to hospital in Leeds with a severe lung infection.
Dr Stephen Baker, from Cambridge University’s Infectious Diseases Institute, said it was ‘completely possible’ that the virus was imported into the UK in December, if China was obscuring the true date of the first infection.
Catherine Mayer, the widow of Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill, fears her husband was an early victim of the disease when he died of pneumonia in early January (pictured together
The musician, 64, had returned from a band trip to China in late November and was struck down with a mystery respiratory illness in December
In a blog post written last month, first seen by the Guardian, Mrs Mayer said she emailed Gill’s doctor to ask whether it could have been the viral disease that killed her husband of 30 years.
‘His response winded me,’ she wrote. The consultant said: ‘It seemed to me at the time of Andy’s illness that we had not fully understood why he deteriorated as he did.
‘Once we learned more about Covid-19, I thought there was a real possibility that Andy had been infected by Sars-Cov-2.’
IT consultant Daren Bland, 50, from East Sussex, believes he was one of the first Britons to fall ill with the viral disease in mid-January.
Mr Bland visited the Ischgl ski resort in Austria from January 15 to 19, which has now been identified as a breeding ground for the virus after being linked to hundreds of cases identified in Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Austria and Germany.
IT consultant Daren Bland, 50, from East Sussex, believes he was one of the first Britons to fall ill with the viral disease in mid-January after visiting the Ischgl ski resort in Austria from January 15 to 19
Andrew Soppitt, a retired hospital consultant from West Sussex, is also adamant that he had Covid-19 after a similar skiing trip to Austria in late January
COVID-19 WAS SPREADING IN UK WELL BEFORE FIRST CASE WAS DIAGNOSED, ANOTHER STUDY FINDS
The coronavirus started spreading in Britain before health chiefs managed to find the first two patients in York in January, a study has claimed.
Researchers in Brazil and Uruguay studied COVID-19 outbreaks in countries around the world to try and work out their true start dates.
The first two people to be diagnosed with the disease in the UK were a University of York student and his mother, who was visiting from China at the time. Their positive test results were publicly announced on January 30.
But the study has suggested the virus started spreading between members of the public on January 29, meaning the two patients had either spread it to other people before falling ill, or they caught it from somebody else who brought the virus into the country.
The study suggests Britain caught on to its outbreak quickly, however – countries including the US, Italy and the Netherlands had a gap of two weeks between the start and the first positive test.
In Brazil, meanwhile, the virus appears to have been spreading for weeks before the Rio Carnival, which was attended by millions of people in late February, but the first case was only officially recorded on February 26 – the week after.
The father-of-two thinks he infected his wife Sarah and daughters – with his youngest off school for two weeks – who then spread the disease through their neighbourhood ahead of half term.
However, it has not yet been confirmed whether or not Mr Bland and his family contracted coronavirus because they have not been tested for antibodies – the only way to tell if someone has had the virus in the past.
Mr Bland told the Telegraph: ‘We visited the Kitzloch [bar] and it was rammed, with people singing and dancing on the tables. People were hot and sweaty from skiing and waiters were delivering shots to tables in their hundreds.
‘You couldn’t have a better home for a virus. I was ill for 10 days. It was like wading through treacle. I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t work, it knocked me for six. I was breathless.’
Andrew Soppitt, a retired hospital consultant from West Sussex, is also adamant that he had Covid-19 after a similar skiing trip to Austria in late January.
The St Anton and Bad Hofgastein resorts that he visited after New Year have also been linked to scores of infections in Europe.
He said he fell so ill he could not get out of bed and completely lost his sense of taste and smell – a now distinctive symptom of the virus.
The former anaesthetist, who is in his mid-50s, tested positive for antibodies after purchasing a private test – which are not 100 per cent accurate.
He said he was certain that it confirms he had the virus weeks before the first person was officially diagnosed in the UK.
Cambridge’s Dr Baker, told the Guardian: ‘People are on heightened awareness about any sort of respiratory infection and it is easy to retrofit stories to things.
‘Colds, influenza and even pneumonia are, after all, common in the winter months. Let’s say it was kicking off fairly substantially in Wuhan and people weren’t being informed: could there have been people travelling to and from China at that point who may have been infected by coronavirus?
‘That is completely possible. Is it then possible that they transmitted the virus to other people when they were in the UK? Yes, of course that’s possible.’
It comes after the COVID Symptom tracker, designed by scientists at King’s College London suggested the disease arrived in the UK in January.
The app asks its 2.6million users to report their symptoms daily, even if they are well, in order to map the disease’s spread.
Tim Spector, professor genetic epidemiology and one of the brains behind the app, said hundreds of contributors have admitted to suffering from Covid-like symptoms at around New Year.
Although the cases are untested, the reports suggest the virus gained a foothold in the UK long before the first case was identified on British soil on January 31.
There were differences in how long it took countries to record their first cases of the coronavirus but the researchers predicted that community outbreaks begun in most affected Western countries between mid-January and early February
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TIMELINE OF THE START OF BRITAIN’S COVID-19 OUTBREAK
January 31: First two people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the UK and admitted to hospital in Newcastle. Believed to have been a University of York student and a relative visiting from China.
February 6: A third, unconnected person was diagnosed with COVID-19.
February 9: Fourth person diagnosed.
February 10: Four more people were diagnosed, taking the total to eight – these were contacts of one of the earlier cases, in Brighton, and had been on holiday with him in France.
February 13: A ninth person was diagnosed. All nine of these people would go on to recover and no-one else was diagnosed with the virus for more than 10 days.
February 25: The number of cases rose by four to 13. Cluster unconnected to any of the previous cases. This marked the start of a noticeable increase.
March 3: One week after the second wave of cases began the number of people diagnosed had risen to 51.
March 5: The first death from COVID-19 was announced, in an elderly woman at a hospital in Reading.
March 5: The chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, admitted it was ‘highly likely’ the virus was now spreading uncontrollably among the public in Britain.
March 12: A week after Professor Whitty’s admission, he said the UK would no longer test everyone suspected of having COVID-19, only people who were in hospitals. By this time 596 people had been diagnosed and nine people were dead.
March 16: 1,543 people had been diagnosed and 65 were dead. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the start of social distancing, urging people to avoid unnecessary contact with others and to work from home if they could.
March 23: Britain went into total lockdown as 6,650 people had tested positive and 359 were dead. The true scale of the outbreak was completely unknown.