UK marks 2 years since first UK Covid case officially recorded

By Henry Sandercock
Saturday, 29th January 2022, 4:39 pm
Updated Saturday, 29th January 2022, 4:39 pm
UK marks 2 years since first Covid case recorded (image: AFP/Getty Images)
UK marks 2 years since first Covid case recorded (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Today (29 January) marks exactly two years since the Covid-19 pandemic was first officially discovered on UK shores.

The virus has completely dominated our lives for the last 24 months.

Not only have many of us lost loved ones or had to watch from afar as our friends and family suffered, but we’ve also had to cope with the personal challenges brought about by multiple lockdowns and a near-constant national focus on death and illness.

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So, as the UK marks this grim milestone, we've taken a look back at how the Covid-19 pandemic started in the UK.

(graphic: Mark Hall)

How did the Covid pandemic reach the UK?

The first official case of Covid-19 was recorded in the UK on 29 January 2020.

By this point, Covid had become an increasing presence in the national conversation as images emerged of empty streets in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which had gone into a strict lockdown on 23 January.

The Chinese city of Wuhan entered a strict Covid lockdown on 23 January 2020 (image: AFP/Getty images)

However, the news was still dominated by Brexit and Prince Andrew (some things never change).

The first UK patient, whose identity is still unknown, was a Chinese woman from Hubei province who had been visiting her son - a student at the University of York.

She fell ill on 26 January, just two days after the then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock had briefed reporters the risk to the UK was low.

By 29 January, both the woman and her son were suffering with a fever and a dry cough.

The son called NHS 111 and that evening, two paramedics arrived at their hotel in hazmat suits to take the pair to hospital in Hull.

The next day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the pandemic to be a global emergency and the UK raised its risk level to moderate.

Tests conducted at Public Health England’s lab in Colindale, London, confirmed the pair had Covid-19, with the results announced to the general public on 31 January.

The mother and son were also transferred to a specialist unit in Newcastle on 31 January and remained there until they had recovered on 17 February.

By this point, the track and trace system had found no other cases linked to the pair.

The UK was more focused on leaving the EU than Covid-19 when the first cases became public on 31 January 2020 (image: Getty Images)

How did the UK react?

Despite news of the virus’ arrival on 31 January, it was a day completely dominated by Brexit.

On that date, the UK left many of the EU’s institutions and entered a transition period.

It was a day the Prime Minister Boris Johnson probably hoped would come to define his premiership - and perhaps it did, just not in the way he could have expected.

It wasn’t until 26 February that most front pages came to be dominated by Covid.

By this point, cases were surging in Italy and the Sage group of scientific advisors were recommending schools be shut to curb transmission.

There had been 80,000 officially recorded cases worldwide and 2,700 deaths.

On this date, Matt Hancock told MPs in the House of Commons that the Government’s plan was: “Contain. Delay. Research and Mitigate”.

“If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in a childcare or an educational setting, no special measures are required while test results are awaited,” he said.

“There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home.”

Mr Hancock also advised people to “take sensible precautions” like “using tissues” and increasing the frequency of handwashing.

Just under a month later, the UK entered a national lockdown it wouldn’t emerge from until June.