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One year on from first UK COVID death, victim’s daughter questions when virus arrived

Written by on 30/01/2021

It is exactly one year on from the death of Britain’s first COVID-19 victim – and his family still have questions about when the virus arrived in the UK.

Peter Attwood, 84, died on the 30 January 2020, but his cause of death wasn’t officially discovered until seven months later.

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It was the day after, on 31 January, that Public Health England confirmed what were then thought to be the first UK COVID-19 cases in York, two Chinese nationals.

Mr Attwood had gone into hospital weeks earlier with symptoms similar to COVID and by the end of the month he was struggling to breathe.

Peter Attwood was the first COVID-19 victim in the UK
Image: Peter Attwood was the first COVID-19 victim in the UK

His daughter Jane Buckland has told Sky News she received a telephone call on 30 January to say he had passed away.

Initially, his death was put down to bronchial pneumonia and secondary heart failure.

Ms Buckland said that as the months progressed she saw footage of coronavirus patients in hospital that reminded her of her father.

“We saw how these people were dying, how ill they were and their respiratory problems, how their lungs were filling up and they couldn’t breathe. That was my dad,” she said.

“… And with both me and my daughter being really poorly before Christmas as well with the temperature, with the sore throat, with the cough, all the symptoms… I was adamant that that was what had happened to my dad.”

Ms Buckland believes, although unproven, that she and her daughter had the virus a week before Chinese authorities made their first announcement on COVID-19 in December.

Image: Mr Attwood’s death was initially put down to bronchial pneumonia and secondary heart failure

She subsequently requested her father’s tissue samples be tested for the disease.

It would be months before the results confirmed what she says she had “instinctively” known – that Mr Attwood had the virus at the time of his death.

So he became the UK’s first COVID-19 victim – nearly a month before the previous earliest known death from the virus, at the end of February.

Ms Buckland now questions whether the virus reached UK shores much earlier than previously suspected.

“It just seems crazy to me that we live where we do, my father hadn’t even stepped outside the country his entire life, let alone recently,” she said.

“I wasn’t working at the time because I had given up work to look after Mum and Dad so I wasn’t going anywhere or really mixing with anyone apart from being at the hospital in November.

“How are the Chinese saying there were only 34 deaths in January when my dad was already in hospital suffering with these symptoms?

“Initially I think China didn’t let enough information out at the time.”

This week, the number of people recorded to have died with coronavirus in the UK reached 100,000, coinciding with the anniversary of Mr Attwood’s death.

“It’s brought it back up a lot more and made me a lot more sad,” Ms Buckland said.

She said that “sooner or later another virus will come knocking on our door”, adding that she wants to see transparency from China, alongside lessons learned by the UK government.

 Sky News

© Sky News 2020

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