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UK patient zero? East Sussex family may have been infected with coronavirus as early as mid-January

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A family from East Sussex may have been Britain’s first coronavirus victims, catching the virus in mid-January after one of them visited an Austrian ski resort that is now under investigation for allegedly covering up the early outbreak.

If confirmed by official tests, it would mean the outbreak in Britain started more than a month earlier than currently thought.

As things stand, the first recorded UK case was on January 31, and the earliest documented incidence of transmission within Britain occurred on 28 February.

Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said cases like this demonstrated the need for widespread antibody and viral genome sequencing testing. These tests can show who has and has not been exposed to the virus, and therefore help epidemiologists trace the history and spread of the illness.

"A really significant unknown in this epidemic is whether or not the cases that are symptomatic are simply the tip of the iceberg," he said. "If there are hidden cases in large numbers, then it tells us that the infection is more difficult to control than we thought… but it also suggests that there is a possibility herd immunity may have built up."

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Source: The Telegraph, 25 March 2020

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