Grandad, 84, first to die of coronavirus in UK was ill 2 weeks before Christmas

A British man who died with coronavirus in his lungs in January is now believed to be the first virus fatality in the UK – two months earlier than previously thought.

Peter Attwood, 84, died in hospital on January 30 after coming down with a cough and fever before Christmas. His initial cause of death was marked as heart failure and pneumonia.

But tests carried out after his death revealed Covid-19 was present in his lung tissue, making him the UK’s earliest recorded death from the disease.

Peter, a retired company secretary from Chatham, Kent, first had symptoms on December 15, two weeks before China told the World Health Organisation (WHO) about cases of ‘viral pneumonia’ in Wuhan.

His daughter, Jane Buckland, has attacked Chinese officials who she says covered up the outbreak in its earliest days. She believes her father – who had never travelled abroad – and many others might still be alive if the threat of the virus was known about sooner.

‘Covid has obviously been around for much longer than we know,’ she told The Sun. ‘People have been talking about a cover-up but we don’t know the scale of it.

‘My father could still be here if we’d known about the threat of this horrible virus earlier.’

Jane, 46, also had symptoms of the virus before Christmas, including a dry cough, and fever, as well as aches and pains and diarrhoea. She is still not sure if she had Covid-19, as tests were not yet available, but said she is considering paying for an antibody test.

She said: ‘I went to Christmas parties and was hugging and kissing everyone, even people I didn’t know. That’s what people do at Christmas. If we’d known we were possibly spreading a deadly virus, things could have been very different.’

The full-time carer fears that she may have passed the condition on to her father at a time when he could have been shielding if more information about the growing pandemic had been available.

Her daughter Megan, 18, also developed a cough and fever on January 10.

Peter, who had an underlying heart condition, was admitted to hospital on January 7 as his cough worsened. Blood tests showed an unknown infection, with his death certificate citing the cause as heart failure and pneumonia.

Doctors preserved some of his lung tissue because they suspected he might have had asbestosis, a lung condition caused by asbestos. A coroner has to be informed of deaths from the condition – but Peter had never worked with the substance.

Instead, as more awareness of the pandemic grew, doctors tested his lungs for Covid-19. Kent coroner Bina Patel emailed Jane last Thursday saying the post-mortem tests had found the virus in her father’s lungs.

Peter’s cause of death has now been recorded as ‘Covid-19 infection and bronchopneumonia’.

Until now, a woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions was thought to be the first person in the UK to die after testing positive for coronavirus. She died in March.

On January 9, the WHO reported that China had made a ‘preliminary determination’ that its outbreak was caused by coronavirus.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the WHO had ‘failed to press China back in November and December’ when it was clear the country had ‘at least an epidemic on their hands’.

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, Chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Sun: ‘China’s secrecy over the emergence of Covid has put at risk millions.’

A Government spokesman responded: ‘There is no evidence there was sustained transmission within the community in January 2020. We acted swiftly to curb coronavirus.’

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