AS the world was getting ready to ring in a new decade, an ophthalmologist in China was growing concerned about a spike in patients being admitted to the hospital where he worked - Wuhan General - with symptoms reminiscent of the 2003 Sars epidemic.

On December 30, Dr Li Wenliang, messaged fellow medics via chat group Weibo warning them to wear protective clothing in order to avoid infection.

Four days later, the 34-year-old was summoned to the Public Security Bureau where he was ordered to sign a letter admitting to “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order”.

In a tragic twist, this whistleblower would go on to contract the virus himself within weeks and in February, he died.

On December 31, the World Health Organisation’s Country Office was notified of a pneumonia “of an unknown cause” emerging in the city of Wuhan.

There were more than 40 patients - 11 of whom were severely ill - and a number of them were seafood dealers or vendors with links to the Huanan wet market.

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Exactly when and where this new form of coronavirus emerged has never been pinpointed but a study by Harvard Medical School would later observe that as far back as September and October 2019 there had been a “dramatic increase” in traffic to Wuhan’s major hospitals and a spike in queries on Chinese internet for “certain symptoms that would later be determined as closely associated with the novel coronavirus.”

The first the world knew of a mysterious new disease that would soon come to engulf it, however, was when WHO issued an alert via its social media on January 4, describing fever, breathing difficulties and lesions in the lung. Crucially, at that point, there was not believed to be any human-to-human transmission.

By January 12, Chinese scientists had published the genetic sequence for the virus, paving the way to the rapid development of vaccines.

Two days later the WHO reported “limited human-to-human transmission” and a “risk of a possible wider outbreak”.

That same day, the first case of the virus outside of China - in a 61-year-old Wuhan resident on holiday in Thailand - was confirmed.

On January 23, China imposed a ban on travel to and from Wuhan, but by then an estimated five million people had already poured out all over South-East to celebrate Chinese New Year and - in any case - the virus had long since seeped into Europe.

The Herald: China imposed temperature checks and travel bans in January China imposed temperature checks and travel bans in January

Although Europe’s first confirmed case was reported in France on January 24, in an individual recently returned from China, it would later emerge that a swab from a pneumonia patient treated at a Paris hospital on December 27 - and retrospectively analysed for Covid - had tested positive.

In Italy sewage water collected in Milan and Turin on December 18 would reveal genetic traces of the virus, as did waste water collected in mid-January in Barcelona.

By the end of January there were 7,818 total confirmed cases worldwide, including in 18 countries outside of China, and the WHO declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

As the UK exited the EU on January 31, two Chinese nationals - a York University student and one of their family members - were under quarantine at a Newcastle hospital after falling ill with the virus, while 83 British citizens who had been stranded in Wuhan landed at RAF Brize Norton to begin 14 days of self-isolation.

The Herald: Steve Walsh became known as a coronavirus 'superspreader' after a trip to SingaporeSteve Walsh became known as a coronavirus 'superspreader' after a trip to Singapore

It marked the beginning of the end of normality in Britain. Within days a businessman from Hove, Steve Walsh, would become the first British national diagnosed with Covid in the UK after attending a conference in Singapore.

He is also believed to have infected at least 11 others - including two British GPs - when he stopped off at a French ski resort on his way home.

Genomic testing would later show that the virus arrived and began circulating in Scotland in February, mainly as a result of cases imported from Europe and prior to an outbreak linked to a Nike conference held at Edinburgh’s Hilton Carlton on February 26-27 where one infected delegate passed the virus on to 25 others - eight of them Scotland residents.

The first confirmed case in Scotland came on March 1, however, in a Tayside resident who had recently returned from northern Italy, where infections were already raging out of control.

On March 10, Italy became the first European nation to impose a then-unprecedented nationwide lockdown, closing shops, schools, bars, and restaurants, ordering the public to stay at home, and forbidding travel between regions.

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In the UK, where the first confirmed Covid death - a patient in her 70s at Royal Berkshire hospital - had been reported on March 5, the deteriorating situation on the Continent (Spain would also go into lockdown on March 16) was seen as an omen for what was to come.

Brits responded by panic buying. By March 8, UK supermarkets were rationing toilet paper, dried pasta and tinned goods to prevent shoppers stockpiling.

On March 12, the Republic of Ireland closed schools, colleges, universities and public facilities within 24 hours of the country’s first confirmed Covid death.

The following day, Scotland confirmed its own first Covid death - in an elderly hospital patient treated in Lothian - and care homes were advised to close except to “essential visits”.

At that point, nine cases were being reported in Scotland’s care homes; by the end of April there would be nearly 1,200 Covid deaths among care home residents.

On March 17, all non-urgent elective procedures were suspended as NHS Scotland was placed on an emergency footing amid fears over an influx of Covid admissions.

A week later, Scotland’s schools were closed and pubs, nightclubs and restaurants UK-wide were ordered to close on March 20, with a furlough scheme introduced in a bid to protect jobs.

On March 23 - with 499 confirmed cases in Scotland and Covid hospital admissions averaging 58 per day - the UK was finally plunged into lockdown.

Hospital admissions would go on to peak in Scotland at 214 in a single day on April 1 (compared to a peak of 127 during the second wave).

April also saw the departure of Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, who was forced to resign after it emerged she had twice travelled from Edinburgh to her second home in Earlsferry, Fife, in breach of guidance to remain in your local area and avoid non-essential travel.

“People across Scotland know what they need to do to reduce the spread of this virus and that means they must have complete trust in those who give them advice,” said Dr Calderwood.

The scandal coincided on April 5 with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had been self-isolating with coronavirus at Downing Street, being admitted to hospital.

The Herald: Prime Minister Boris Johnson on steps of Number 10 days before he was admitted to hospital Prime Minister Boris Johnson on steps of Number 10 days before he was admitted to hospital

The following day, with his condition deteriorating, the 55-year-old PM - whose fiancee Carrie Symonds was weeks away from giving birth to the couple’s first child - was transferred into intensive care. His condition was said to have been so grave at the time that he had only a 50-50 chance of surviving.

He recovered, however, and was discharged from hospital six days later, praising two nurses - “Jenny from New Zealand and Luis from Portugal” - who stood by his bedside for 48 hours at the most critical time.

By April 10, alarm was mounting over the situation in Scotland’s care homes after a string of outbreaks claimed the lives of elderly residents at premises in Dumbarton, North Lanarkshire and Tranent.

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Scottish Care said a survey of its members found that around half of care homes in Scotland had at least one suspected case of coronavirus at the time.

The Scottish Government and Care Inspectorate came under pressure to make the data publicly available amid criticism of PPE shortages and lack of testing for care home staff and residents.

National Records of Scotland data would go on to show that over 10 weeks, from March 16, there were 4,868 deaths from all causes in Scotland’s care homes - nearly twice as many as would normally occur at the same time of year.

On April 20, Dr Gregor Smith - who replaced Dr Calderwood as interim CMO - warned that the number of people in Scotland being referred for cancer tests by their GP had fallen by 72% in the first weeks of lockdown, as he urged people not to ignore symptoms. Attendance at A&E departments had also more than halved.

On April 22, Scotland surpassed 1000 Covid deaths for the first time, as 77 deaths were confirmed in a single day among people who had tested positive for the infection - taking the total to 1,062.

May marked the beginning of the end for the UK lockdown, as the first wave slowed.

On May 13, England began allowing people unlimited outdoor exercise and to meet up in a public place with one person from another household.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went on to unveil Scotland’s own four-phase “roadmap” out of lockdown on May 21.

“Our emergence from lockdown will be faster or slower, depending on the continued success that we have in suppressing the virus,” said Ms Sturgeon.

The Herald: Dominic Cummings gives a press conference in May, amid pressure to resignDominic Cummings gives a press conference in May, amid pressure to resign

The following day, Dominic Cummings - the PM’s controversial aide - was revealed to have broken lockdown rules by travelling 264 miles from London to his parents’ home in Durham after he and his wife developed coronavirus symptoms.

Under pressure to resign, he later gives a press briefing at the Downing Street Rose Garden where he claims to have taken a 30 minute drive while there with his wife and son to Barnard Castle in order to “test his eyesight”, which he believed could have been damaged by the infection.

On May 28, Scotland took its first steps out of lockdown with the re-opening of gardening centres and the resumption of some outdoor leisure activities, such as golf and tennis.

June saw the introduction of quarantine and ‘air bridge’ arrangements for foreign travel, but was also bookended by scandal and tragedy.

On June 2, it emerged that more than 1,300 elderly patients had been discharged from Scotland’s hospitals into care homes before mandatory coronavirus testing was introduced on April 21.

The Herald: Badreddin Abadlla AdamBadreddin Abadlla Adam

Then, on June 26, six people were stabbed - including police officer PC David Whyte - at the Park Inn hotel in Glasgow, where asylum seekers were being isolated by the Home Office.

Attacker Badreddin Abadlla Adam was shot dead, but the incident sparked calls for an independent inquiry into the conditions faced by asylum seekers during the pandemic.

Part Two of the Year in Covid will be published on Saturday January 2