Coronavirus was spreading in Britain BEFORE the first two patients tested positive on January 30 and five weeks prior to officials admitting community transmission was ‘highly likely’, study claims

  • Researchers showed UK picked up on its outbreak relatively quickly
  • Some countries had gaps of more than two weeks before their first positive test 
  • Brazil may have had community transmission for weeks before the Rio Carnival 
  • The scientists said findings highlight ‘great challenge’ of tracking the virus 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The coronavirus started spreading in Britain before officials managed to scoop up the first two confirmed patients in York in January, a study has claimed.

Researchers working in Brazil and Uruguay have studied the curves of 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.

And a study has suggested that 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.

Officials didn’t admit there was community transmission in Britain until two months later.

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said on March 5 only that it was ‘highly likely’ the virus was spreading in this country.

The study suggests Britain caught on to its outbreak quickly, however – countries including the USA and Italy 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 first two people to test positive for COVID-19 in the UK were a mother and son staying at the Staycity Hotel in York (pictured). The man was a student at the University of York and his mother was visiting from China

Scientists suggest the coronavirus had been spreading in Brazil for weeks before the Rio Carnival in late February, but the first case wasn't detected until after the world-famous celebrations (Pictured: Millions of people flocked to the streets of the Brazilian capital for the annual festival)

Scientists suggest the coronavirus had been spreading in Brazil for weeks before the Rio Carnival in late February, but the first case wasn’t detected until after the world-famous celebrations (Pictured: Millions of people flocked to the streets of the Brazilian capital for the annual festival)

Some countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, managed to declare their first positive tests before the virus started to spread, showing officials managed to isolate cases in travellers from abroad.

The researchers, from the Federal University of Espírito Santo and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil, and the University of the Republic in Uruguay, studied countries death tolls to work out when their outbreaks may have begun.

They said that community transmission was likely to have begun at least 20 days before deaths started to rise exponentially. 

Many countries, they wrote, seemed to have missed early signs of viral spread which highlighted difficulties they will face tracking it in the future.

For some of them, the virus had been spreading for weeks before anyone tested positive and more than a month before people started to die, the study suggested. 

‘Community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 probably started in many western countries between middle January to early February 2020, thus long before control measures to restrict air travels and promote social distancing were implemented,’ the scientists said.

WHEN DID COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION START IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, ACCORDING TO THE STUDY? (Dates used by researchers)
Country Community
transmission started
First confirmed case First confirmed death
China 06-Dec 31-Dec 09-Jan
New York 06-Feb 01-Mar 14-Mar
Italy 15-Jan 30-Jan 21-Feb
Spain 28-Jan 31-Jan 13-Feb
France 22-Jan 24-Jan 15-Feb
UK 29-Jan 30-Jan 05-Mar
Belgium 02-Feb 02-Feb 11-Mar
Germany 30-Jan 27-Jan 09-Mar
Netherlands 29-Jan 27-Feb 06-Mar
Brazil 04-Feb 26-Feb 17-Mar

‘That quite long period of cryptic community transmission (> 4 weeks) in all analyzed countries draws attention to the great challenge of tracking the early global spread of SARS-CoV-2.

‘[It] supports that control measures should be adopted at least as soon as first imported cases are detected in a new geographic region.’ 

It said ‘intense virological surveillance’ would be crucial to tracking the virus in future. 

The research found that there was a delay of just one day between the start of community transmission of COVID-19 in the UK.

Two people were confirmed to have the virus on January 30, but the timing of the start of people dying suggested they had either spread the virus to others or caught it from someone else before they were hospitalised.

England confirmed the first death from COVID-19 on March 5.

The research was published online on MedRxiV without review from other scientists.





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