NHS worker, 59, says she caught coronavirus in the UK in December last year

An NHS worker has claimed she had coronavirus in December last year in the UK, after getting an antibody test to confirm it.

Sue Reader, 59, says she caught the bug even before the first cases were confirmed in the country.

The UK officially confirmed its first case of coronavirus a month later, in January.

However, Ms Reader, from Devon says she caught the virus on December 16, during a trip to arrange travel documents from the Chinese Visa Application Centre in London

The NHS worker did not develop symptoms until December 30 and immediately self-isolated.

She displayed all the usual symptoms we now associate with Covid-19, including acute shortness of breath, fatigue and loss of smell.

Ms Reader had an antibody test in June which proved she had contracted the virus, reports Devon Live.

If correct, Sue's experience adds to growing evidence that the virus was active in the UK much earlier than first thought.

The virus is understood to have started in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The UK did not confirm its first Covid positive case until January 31, 2020.

Sue said: "I'm not suggesting I was the first person in the country to catch it but I may well have been the first in Devon, simply because of the circumstances in which I contracted it and the fact I was at home in bed completely floored by it."

Sue was staying at her parents home in Henley-on-Thames when she visited the Chinese Visa Application Centre in the City of London on December 16.

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She said: "Inside the building it was full of people coughing and spluttering. I always notice this type of behaviour because I am the type of person who never gets sick. I lead a very healthy lifestyle but the coughing was very apparent."

While at the visa centre Sue was busy photocopying documents, touching cash machines, having face-to-face discussion with staff, using the photo booth.

She believes this was the crucial period when she caught the virus.

"That was the 16th and basically it wasn't until the 30th when I was suddenly completely and absolutely overwhelmed," she says.

"I had a high temperature, I was aching, I couldn't breathe and I was hallucinating. I remember saying to my family 'do not let anybody come into my room. Whatever I've got nobody wants it'.

"My father is 88 and has heart failure and I was very conscious that I could not stay because whatever I had was serious. I don't think he would be here now if I had stayed. I knew it was a virus and not just a cold or something like that."

Despite her failing health Sue managed to drive back to Ogwell near Newton Abbot on January 1. She spent the next month in complete isolation, mostly sleeping, not leaving the house.

By this time there had been a number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China. In the UK the virus was almost unknown outside of medical circles.

The first cases in the country were not confirmed until January 31 in York, though anecdotal evidence suggests it was here before that date.

An 84-year-old man from Kent who died on January 30 is certified as the earliest Covid-related death in the UK. Peter Attwood showed symptoms on December 15, 2019.

Sue says: "It wasn't like anything I had experienced before. I didn't know anything about coronavirus at the time, nobody did. I remember the first time I heard about it and it was like a light bulb moment."

Antibody tests were offered to NHS staff in June this year and Sue, who was convinced she'd had the virus, decided to take one.

It came back positive for Covid antibodies, meaning her body's immune system had built up a level of protection and she had indeed had the virus.

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