AN Edinburgh family who developed possible Covid symptoms following an Italian ski-ing holiday in February fear they could have been among the first people to bring the disease into Scotland.

It comes after new genetic research revealed that the disease began circulating in Scotland during February and that it was brought here from continental Europe.

Trish Lumsden, 46, tried to get her eight-year-old son, Christian, tested for the disease when he fell ill with a cough and fever on February 28, but was told by her GP that it was "probably a cold".

By that time he had been back at school for nearly two weeks.

UK-wide travel guidance on Italy was updated on February 25, by which time the country - which quickly became Europe's Covid hotbed - had recorded hundreds of cases, a handful of deaths, and had quarantined 11 towns in Lombardy and Veneto.

READ MORE: Coronavirus 'spreading in Scotland in February' 

Anyone who had arrived in the UK from northern Italy since February 19 was urged to self-isolate if they developed symptoms within 14 days, or to self-isolate as a precaution - regardless of symptoms - if they had been in any of the areas by then under lockdown.

Like hundreds of other Scottish holidaymakers who had travelled to Europe for the half-term break, the Lumsden family - who had been ski-ing in the Dolomites - returned to Scotland on February 16, making them exempt from this advice.

But it is now thought the virus would have been widespread well before this date in Italy’s popular ski resorts and tourist centres such as Venice – which the Lumsdens visited hours before flying home.

"We didn't even realise until we go there that the Carnival was on and it was incredibly busy," said Mrs Lumsden.

"We couldn't even get into St Mark's Square it was so busy. We didn't really think that much about it, but I do remember someone on the taxiboats - where you're really squashed in - coughing behind me.

"And I did think 'urgh', but I didn't think about it in relation to coronavirus.

"By the time Christian started getting a cough and a fever on the 28th they had opened the drive-thru test centre at the Western and because I was taking my eldest daughter to hockey on the Saturday and Christian was going to be going to his friends, I thought 'I could really be doing with getting him tested to make sure he's not going to infect other people'.

"So I phoned the GP on Saturday morning and he said 'would you be worried about him normally, if it wasn't for coronavirus?'. I said 'no', so he said ' it'll just be a cold then, don't worry about it - they're only interested if you came back from Italy since the 19th'.

"He said since we'd come back on the 16th there was nothing to worry about. At the time I thought that sounded a bit stupid, but now I think it sounds really stupid."

READ MORE: Number of patients in hospital cut 50% at start of outbreak

Mrs Lumsden, from Currie in Edinburgh, returned to work in the Royal Mile but both she and husband Tom soon developed "strange symptoms", including a hangover-like headache that lasted a week, fever, shivers, aching bones, and extreme fatigue that lasted for three weeks.

"The pair us of would be on the sofa and out for the count at 6pm," she said.


Another of their four children, 13-year-old Stella, went on to develop a cough, and son Sebastian, 12, suffered a cough, fever and sore legs.

All of the children were kept out of school after falling ill, but research now suggests that most people become infectious around three days before symptoms emerge.

On January 30, Scotland's then chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said it was "highly likely" the country's first Covid-19 case would be detected within days.

In the end, the first known case was not identified until March 1 - in a patient in Tayside who had just returned from a ski trip to northern Italy.

It is unclear exactly why the February 19 threshold was chosen, as Italy confirmed its first cluster of cases in Lombardy on the 21st and its first Covid deaths on the 22nd, suggesting - on the basis of the average incubation time and how long it usually takes to become seriously unwell - that the the virus had been circulating in the region for weeks.

READ MORE: Covid's silent spreaders are the 'big question' of the pandemic

The UK only escalated travel restrictions to ban "all but essential travel" to Italy on March 9, the day that Italy was plunged into a nationwide lockdown.

"The week after we came back was when it all kicked off, and everyone we knew was like 'oh, you were in Italy - you could be carrying it'," said Mrs Lumsden.

"We could have been a spreader, I don't know.

"I would have loved to have had [Christian] tested and I can't really understand why he wasn't.

"At the time I did think it was strange, but you put your faith in the doctor and think 'they must know'. But I really did question it.

"How many other people returning to Scotland from north Italy at this time called the NHS as they had symptoms and were told they were fine?"

Scientists have traced Scotland's Covid outbreak - which has now claimed 4000 lives - to 112 unique versions of the virus imported from continental Europe.

They are unsure exactly when it first arrived, but using genomic sequencing have been able to establish that community transmission was already underway in February - meaning that people with no history of travel to known Covid hotspots in Europe and Asia were becoming infected.

However, interim CMO Dr Gregor Smith - who unveiled the findings last week - stressed that flu and other viral pathogens were also spreading in February.

He said: "We won't be able to say with certainty if someone who was experiencing the kinds of symptoms we would associate with Covid-19 - the cough, the fever - was specifically associated with Covid-19."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The approach taken to advising returning travellers from specific countries and areas in mid-February was agreed by the four UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) on the best and most up to date expert scientific and medical advice at the time of making the decision.”