The 75-year-old victim, known only as Patient 1, tested positive on 21 February after being admitted to hospital with severe breathing difficulties following a fall.
A man in Surrey who tested positive a week later was previously thought to have been the first person to catch coronavirus in the UK.
Scientists at the University of Nottingham believe the woman, who died on 3 March, was also the first person to lose their life in the UK after contracting Covid-19.
Details of the case have been published in a report after researchers retrospectively analysed respiratory samples taken from 2,000 patients at a Nottingham teaching hospital between January and March.
The report states that the woman was not thought to have travelled recently or to have had any contact with a recently returned traveller.
It added: “Patient 1 in this study is, to the best of our knowledge, the earliest described community-acquired case of SARS-CoV-2 in the UK, admitted to hospital care on the 21 February 2020, and was also the first UK Covid-19 death, preceding the earliest known death by 2 days.”
The team behind the study claim their work shows that early cases of Covid-19 in the UK in February and March were missed because of an overly stringent case criteria and lack of community testing.
Professor Jonathan Ball, one of authors of the study, said: “Had the diagnostic criteria for Covid-19 been widened earlier to include patients with compatible symptoms but no travel history, it is likely that earlier imported infections would have been detected, which could have led to an earlier lockdown and lower deaths.
“In order to prepare for any future pandemic such as this, the UK urgently needs to invest in and expand diagnostic capacity within NHS and PHE diagnostic laboratory services.”
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