Back on October 25, published a detailed article about how a number of people in the region from Inverness to the Isles of Lewis and Skye reported having had severe illnesses with Covid-19-like symptoms from late 2019 though to early February 2020.

At the beginning of that time, the separate virus which causes Covid-19 had not been specifically identified internationally.  Even at the end of that period, the symptoms and outcomes of Covid-19 infection were not widely known.

In the article we appealed for more people affected in this way to contact us and quite a number did.

21/11/20: Latest update from NHSWI Chief Execuive, Gordon Jamieson. No new cases of COVID-19 today. Thanks to everyone for the measures they are taking to keep everyone safe.

In the meantime, there has been more publicity internationally about earlier cases where the symptom occurred - or where evidence of the virus could now be detected - whereas its existence had not been known or widely recognised at the time.

Little or none of our work is likely to be scientifically provable as it seems to be the case that antibodies generated by Covid-19 are either relatively short-lived or not presently detectable after the passage of months.

But what we found interesting was that the evidence gathered from the new correspondents paralleled both our initial research and the international pattern. Several more people confirmed the existence of a serious viral infection with Covid-like symptoms locally in December and January - and this infection had been seen as quite different from influenza by both the sufferers and those treating them.

Despite a possible temptation for people who want to be the ‘first with Covid-19’, there were only two proposed cases earlier than December, one in late November, and one in mid-October - and both had convincing associations with travel and international contact.

This does parallel international research - particularly focused on the detection of Covid-19 cells in samples of sewage in various countries - and the results of retesting of blood samples taken during late 2019.

In northern Italy, researchers tested samples taken from five wastewater plants between October 2019 and February 2020 and reported positive test results in samples taken on December 18 in Milan and Turin. The country’s first patient case of COVID-19 was documented on February. 21, 2020.

Researchers in Florianópolis, Brazil, tested wastewater samples taken between late October and early March. They reported presence of the virus in two samples from November 27, 2019.

In Spain researchers reported presence of the virus in samples taken as early as January 15, 2020, 41 days before the Barcelona’s first known case was reported on February 25.

More surprisingly, the Spanish research reported the presence of two genetic fragments iin a sample taken on March 12, 2019. This, it has been suggested by others, may result from an error or external contamination of the sample.

Our Highlands and Islands correspondents have a great number of long-term viral side-effects – around half the people were have been in contact with, report symptoms and side-effects over several months.  But this is likely to be an outcome of self-selection – obviously, if people were asymptomatic or only had slight symptoms, they would not be aware of the infection.

And additional evidence has come to light internationally of an earlier, less contagious variant of Covid-19.  It’s now known that a coronavirus variant which originated in Spanish farm workers has spread rapidly through much of Europe since the summer, and now accounts for the majority of new Covid-19 cases in several countries — and more than 80 per cent in the UK. It’s therefore possible that the Covid-19 cases which occurred almost 12 months ago were less contagious and the pandemic only got fully underway when new variants appeared.

As we reported previously, internationally, according to published reports, the first confirmed cases in patients- where the blood samples given at the time have since been tested for presence of the new virus - are early November in China, late December in France, and early February in California. In Washington state in the western USA, the first case now reportedly known was in mid-January. The first officially confirmed cases in Scotland are known to have occurred during February - involving infections from many different European locations, according to University of Glasgow research published in June.

According to a report published in highly regarded medical journal The Lancet in September, “the initial pandemic wave in Wuhan likely originated with a single infected case who developed symptoms sometime between October 26 and December 13, 2019; in Seattle, the seeding likely occurred between December 25, 2019 and January 15, 2020.”

A French case - with a positive identification of Covid-19 in a sample taken on December 27, 2019 - involved a man who was sick for 15 days and infected his two children, but not his wife, who works in a supermarket. He had not been involved in any foreign trade, but his wife worked alongside a sushi stand, close to colleagues of Chinese origin. It’s possible she had had the disease before him but was asymptomatic, French researchers are quoted as saying. 

A BBC graphic which appeared with the original article proved to be incorrect. Although there were above the average number of deaths locally in December, this was not true in January according to figures supplied to us subsequently.