THE first person to contract coronavirus in the UK has been identified as a 75-year-old woman in Nottingham.
‘Patient 1’ is also believed to be the first person in the country to die from the disease after testing positive on February 28.
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The woman, who died after falling ill with Covid-19, provided a sample on February 21 after being admitted to hospital with severe breathing difficulties, researchers from the University of Nottingham say.
It has initially thought the woman had become infected in South Korea but researchers say she most likely caught the virus in Nottingham.
A Surrey resident was initially believed to be the first person to have caught the virus in the UK.
Patient 1 has emerged because samples were retrospectively analysed in by researchers investigating the origins of the UK pandemic.
Nearly 2,000 samples taken from patients at the Queen’s Medical Centre, a Nottingham teaching hospital, between January and March were tested.
Writing in a study which has not yet been peer-reviewed, researchers say: “Patient 1 in this study is, to the best of our knowledge, the earliest described community-acquired case of SARS-CoV-2 in the UK.”
DNA sequencing of samples taken showed there had been multiple introductions of the virus into the region before wide-scale testing came in.
The results suggest the virus was already circulating widely in local communities in the UK in early February and into March.
It was undetected because the testing policy at the time was restricted to those who’d been in China’s Hubei province.
Testing was also restricted to contact with a known case and one or more of fever, shortness of breath or a new and persistent dry cough.
This was revised on several occasions to include travel to mainland China and several other Asian countries.
It was then expanded further to include Iran and northern Italy, before finally being removed as in mid-March.
If these test criteria had been less stringent and extensive community testing had been in place sooner, the disease would have been contained far quicker, argue the researchers.
Professor Jonathan Ball, one of the authors of the study, said the study shows quick and extensive community testing is needed prevent future widespread transmission of the virus.
If those chosen for testing included “patients with compatible symptoms but no travel history, it is likely that earlier imported infections would have been detected, which could have led to an earlier lockdown and lower deaths”.
But he added: “The capacity for testing available nationally was not sufficient at the time to process the volume of testing required with a broader case definition.”
In order to prevent a future pandemic the UK needs to invest in expanding testing capacity, Professor Ball said
“A more agile epidemic response both nationally and globally will undoubtedly save lives and drastically reduce the adverse impact of such outbreaks on the economy.”