Coronavirus entered UK in early January, symptom tracker app suggests

A Covid-19 symptom tracking app has suggested the virus hit British shores in January, way before the first person was confirmed to have the virus in the UK.

The app, developed by King’s College London scientists, asks users to report their symptoms on a daily basis even if they have none at all, in a bid to better understand how the virus spreads and affects different people.

A total of 2.6 million users have signed up to the tracker, with hundreds saying they suffered symptoms in line with coronavirus just after the new year. Some even reported such symptoms as far back as December, said Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s, Tim Spector, who has been working on the tracker.

He told the Sunday Times: ‘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.

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‘What’s impressive is the sheer volume of the reports. We’re getting hundreds of people using our app telling us that they developed something soon after the new year.’

Although these are not confirmed cases, as most of the general population haven’t been tested unless they were hospitalised, it suggests that the virus was silently spreading from early in the year.

But it wasn’t until January 31 that the virus was confirmed in the UK, after two people tested positive in York.

The app has also suggested that the lockdown and social distancing measures have been effective in slowing the spread of the pandemic.

Estimated cases have dropped by more than 80 per cent to 354,690 today following a peak of 2.1 million on April 1.

The app works by asking users whether they have been tested for the virus and if they have suffered any symptoms.

Those that say they feel unwell are prompted to detail their symptoms, including a cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, headache and a hoarse voice.

The information taken from each user includes their geographical location and is collated to work out an estimate of how many cases there have been in the UK.

Meanwhile, NHSX – the service’s ‘digital transformation’ – is also designing a tracing app which would notify users when they are near someone who has shown and recorded symptoms of the virus.

The app is set to be ready ‘within weeks’ but it will need about 60 per cent of the population – around 40 million people – to download it to make it accurate.

According to official government data revealed yesterday, 152,840 have tested positive for the virus, while 20,732 people have died in hospitals.

However, the government has been heavily scrutinised over a lack of testing suggesting the numbers could be much higher – particularly among healthcare workers.

Ministers announced last week that all essential workers, not only those working for the NHS or care sector, will now be able to book a test online.

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