CORONAVIRUS may have been spreading in the UK as early as December, experts have admitted.
It comes as it emerged the World Health Organisation struggled to obtain information from China during the crucial early days of the pandemic.
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The recordings, obtained by AP, show officials complaining in meetings during the week of January 6 that China was withholding information needed to evaluate the risk of the virus to the rest of the world.
It was not until January 20 that China admitted the virus was contagious and January 30 that the WHO declared a global emergency.
If China was obscuring the true date of the first infection, experts have suggested it was "completely possible" the virus was imported into the UK in December.
Public Health England previously acknowledged that it "cannot exclude the possibility that Covid-19 was in the UK in December or early January".
Meanwhile data gathered through the Covid-19 symptom-tracking app developed at King’s College London also suggests that people were falling ill from coronavirus in the UK from the start of January.
Epidemiologist professor Tim Spector said: "The reports I am getting are from people who were ill from early January onwards and strongly suggest they had Covid-19 but were not recognised as such."
In the UK, the first confirmed cases of coronavirus came on January 31 when two Chinese nationals staying in a hotel in York tested positive.
Businessman Steve Walsh then became the first Brit to test positive for Covid-19 on February 6 after attending a sales conference in Singapore in January.
Earlier this month, it was revealed a swab taken from a man treated in a hospital near Paris on December 27 for suspected pneumonia tested positive for the deadly bug, raising the possibility coronavirus reached Europe much sooner than previously thought.
Dr Stephen Baker, from Cambridge University's Infectious Diseases Institute, told the Guardian: "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."
Catherine Mayer, the widow of Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill, fears her husband died of coronavirus shortly after returning from a tour of Asia.
Gill, who fell ill in January, died of pneumonia on February 1, aged 64. At around the same time, Gill's 26-year-old tour manager was taken to hospital in Leeds with a severe lung infection.
Mayer believes her husband – who toured China with Gang of Four in November – may have been an early UK victim of coronavirus. This was ruled out when Gill, who had been receiving treatment for the inflammatory condition sarcoidosis since 2012, became ill in January.
She told the Guardian: "Nobody at that point thought coronavirus had reached Europe."
She hopes that retesting her husband's samples for antibodies may provide answers.
She said: "It won't help Andy but may help understanding of what the timelines really were and what that means for the public health response.
"Once we learned more about Covid-19, I thought there was a real possibility that Andy had been infected by Sars-Cov-2."
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