OVER 300 North-East people think they had Covid last year as hospitals recorded spikes in admissions for respiratory conditions. 

All but two of the region’s hospital trusts – Gateshead, Northumbria, South Tees, Newcastle Upon Tyne, York and Harrogate and District – admitted more people for respiratory conditions in December 2019 than any other month in the past three years.  

South Tyneside and Sunderland Trust's data only goes back to March 2019.

Only County Durham and Darlington and North Tees and Hartlepool trusts did not see record-high respiratory admissions.

The findings cast doubt on the official story that Covid-19 emerged at the end of 2019 before making its way around the world and to the UK by the end of January. 

The lack of testing and knowledge about the coronavirus at the time makes it difficult to know whether those admitted to hospital had the virus. 

The virus has so far claimed the lives of 50,928 people in the and more than 1.3 million worldwide.  

When bird flu hit in 2005 and 2008, scientists looked at the bodies people who died during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 in a bid to understand both viruses more.  

Experts at the time thought learning more about the Spanish Flu, which killed more than 50 million people worldwide, would help them develop vaccines against other pandemics.  

The respiratory admissions data, which refers specifically to hospital admissions for respiratory conditions, includes the likes of influenza, pneumonia, coughs, sore throats, bronchitis and bronchiolitis – all of which are hallmarks of Covid. 

Other coronavirus symptoms include loss of taste and smell, a high temperature and fatigue. There have also been reports of skin rashes and blistering.  

Retrospective testing of patients has revealed the virus was in some countries months earlier than thought, including across the Channel in France. 

A patient treated for suspected pneumonia in a hospital near Paris on December 27 actually had Covid, meaning they must have been infected between December 14 to 11 due to the time it takes for symptoms to appear. The man said he had not travelled abroad.  

Yorkshire punk band Gang of Four travelled back from a trip to China in November 2019 and just months later lost guitarist Andy Gill to pneumonia after two weeks in St Thomas’ hospital in London. 

Gill’s widow and writer Catherine Mayerm, writing in a blog post earlier this year, said she “could not shake” the suspicion that Mr Gill, who deteriorated quickly and died on February 2, was an early victim of Covid.  

After raising her concerns, Mr Gill’s specialist admitted he had asked the question too and thought it was a “real possibility”. 

While China says the first Covid infection was recorded on December 8, the virus can be traced back to November 17 according to media reports by South China Morning Post on unpublished Chinese government data. 

The UK’s first Covid-related death was first thought to have happened in March but later revelations suggest Peter Attwood, 84, may have been the virus’ first victim in the week ending January 31. 

He died in a Kent hospital after falling ill with a cough and a fever. 

The Northern Echo:

Over 300 people from the North-East and North Yorkshire came forward to see they too were ill with Covid symptoms in November, December and January last year and early this year, believing they had the virus before it reportedly in the UK. 

In January, Claire Steel, from West Auckland in County Durham, found herself in tears from pain and felt like she had glass in her throat. 

The mum-of-two said: “I had a temperature a severe cough which after about a week my chest hurt when breathing. I felt like I had glass inside my lungs, that’s the only way I could describe it. I was drained and so tired.” 

“I’ve had the proper flu before so knew it wasn’t that, it was like nothing I had before. I was crying in my room and the kids came in to ask what was wrong, I just couldn’t breathe. It was so painful. This went on for a few weeks.” 

Ms Steel also experienced sweats and headaches. 

The 45-year-old went to see her doctor, who took her blood to find out what was wrong but her follow-up appointment was cancelled because of the Covid pandemic.  

She added: “I’m still fatigued now and it impacts me massively. I always feel like I could nap and aren’t getting as much done.” 

John McLachlan, who lives in South Shields but works as an electrical engineer in Norway, said it has become a running joke at work that he has already had Covid-19 due to a persistent cough.  

The 43-year-old, who does not get sick often, said: “My fiancée had just recovered from a very bad chest infection around the beginning of December.  

“I returned from working away at the same time and ended up catching the same viral infection. I had no energy, my bones were aching and I couldn’t sleep for a high temperature. At its very peak, I’d have coughing fits every 30 seconds and nearly pass out.” 

Olivia Westmoreland said she and a friend had dry, painful coughs and flu-like symptoms at the beginning of December. She thought it could have been cancer. 

Michael Connor, from Acklam in Middlesbrough, was told he has a “crackle” on his lungs by a doctor.  

The 63-year-old double glazing fitter said: “I was laid up in bed full of aches, pains and breathless, bringing gunge up from my mouth nose and tear ducts. I had lost my balance and my hearing, and when I did get out of bed to use the toilet was walking in an awkward leaning position and couldn't stand straight. I also had chest and upper back pains.  

“For the best part of a week I couldn't get out of bed and was asking my wife to call a doctor out but she didn't, saying it was a bad case of flu. 

“Four days into the first week I did start to feel a little better so got in the shower, but by that same afternoon I was back in bed again feeling freezing cold then within an hour or so burning up, this went on for a further two-and-a-half weeks.  

“I am self-employed and very rarely take time off sick, I had to pass some work I had booked for January onto a friend. It was almost three weeks before I eventually ventured out of the house and it took me five weeks to feel anywhere near normal.  

“I did manage to get to the doctor but had to take a taxi there – it's normally is a ten-minute walk but I couldn't walk.

"They told me I had a crackle on my lungs and gave me antibiotics for it, that was about 2-and-a-half weeks into whatever it was I was suffering with. I'm still convinced that I had Covid.” 

Joanne Hales, from Sunderland, starting feeling poorly in mid-November. The mum thought her asthma was the root cause of the coughing and breathlessness, but she also experienced a fever, hot and cold sweats, headaches, sneezing, loss of taste and smell, fast heart rate and exhaustion. 

Her children soon came down with it too, with her son breaking out in blisters over his lips.  

The Northern Echo: Blisters as a result of the teenager's sickness Blisters as a result of the teenager's sickness

The 43-year-old said: “I had to go to urgent care who referred me to A&E for x-rays. I was then referred to get a CT scan as they thought I could have had a clot on my lung. The scan showed no clot but they didn’t give me any reason as to why I had pain or was so poorly.  

“If that was just the flu and coronavirus is meant to be worse, I'm scared. I couldn’t deal with it.” 

When asked about the data obtained by The Northern Echo, Nick Phin, Public Health England Incident Director, said: “The first cases of COVID 19 were identified in Wuhan, China in early January 2020. The first cases in the UK were identified at the end of January 2020.  

“It is considered very unlikely that there were any cases outside of China before January 2020. An increase in respiratory infections resulting in hospital admission and death is seen from November through to January each year – in this respect 2019 was not unusual." 

A Newcastle City Council spokesperson said: “The first confirmed case of COVID in Newcastle was on March 4 2020.  

 “Our priority is to work with partners to continue to manage the rate of infection and to reduce hospitalisation.  

“Every year our NHS faces additional pressures in the winter, we must do everything we can to protect these vital services and the most vulnerable people in our communities. We should all do our bit, stick to the guidance and remember HANDS – FACE - SPACE” 

Andrew Beeby, medical director at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Many health conditions, including respiratory diseases, can be caused or worsened by cold weather.  

“Together with higher incidences of so-called seasonal illnesses such as flu, this means the NHS often faces much greater pressure in winter, and an increase in the number of admissions to hospital, including respiratory admissions. 

“The influenza season started early last year, and many people were hospitalised with the illness. Flu can be very serious for some people and can even kill. I would urge people to get a flu vaccination this year, especially if you are classed as vulnerable.” 

The admission figures were obtained from NHS Digital. Documents revealed that in December 2019: 

*Gateshead Health Trust NHS Foundation Trust has 670 admissions for respiratory conditions, topping a previous high of 620 in January 2019. 

*Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust saw 1,440 admissions for respiratory conditions, topping a previous high of 1,215 in January 2019. 

*South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had 1,485 admissions for respiratory conditions, topping a previous high of 1,430 in December 2017. 

*South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust saw 1,415 admissions for respiratory conditions, though on a smaller time frame from March 2019. This topped a previous high of 1,040 in October 2019. 

*The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had 1,540 admissions for respiratory conditions, topping a previous high of 1,258 in October 2019. 

*York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust saw 1,455 admissions, topping a previous high of 1,280 in December 2017. 

*Harrogate and District Foundation Trust had 460 admissions for respiratory conditions, topping a previous high of 440 in January 2018. 

*Only the hospitals that failed to record higher levels of admissions were County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, with 1,325 admissions, and North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, with 1,205. Both trusts recording higher levels in January 2019, with 1,440 and 1,210 respective admissions for respiratory conditions.