Many of the early Covid-19 cases imported into the UK came from European countries, rather than China, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said Tuesday.
“Early in March the UK got many, many different imports of virus from many different places, and those places were particularly from European countries with outbreaks,” Vallance told the UK Parliament’s committee on health and social care.
“So we see a big influx – probably from Italy and Spain, looking at the genomics of the virus, in early March – seeded right across the country. Whether that was people returning from half term or business travelers we don’t know, but a lot of the cases in the UK didn’t come from China and didn’t come from places you might have expected.” “
“They actually came from European imports and the high level of travel into the UK around that time,” he explained — despite the UK’s initial focus on contact tracing which concentrated on arrivals from China.
The first two cases of coronavirus in the UK were confirmed by England’s chief medical officer, Chris Witty, on January 31.
When asked whether the UK should have imposed a lockdown earlier than March 23, Vallance said: “when you look at everything that happened and the speed at which it happened, maybe days either way would have made a difference.”
Vallance said that the UK has not yet managed to get the reproduction rate of the virus — known as the R-rate — down to a manageable number, whereby the virus could be controlled using contact tracing and isolation.
He said the country’s lockdown should not be lifted until this outcome is achieved.
The UK must review its lockdown measures by Thursday, but is not expected to announce major changes yet.