You are in [Events] [2020 Covid-19 Pandemic]
The early reports from China:
In December 2019 there were very early reports of a new Coronavirus in China. By late January there were reports that the virus could spread from person to person. Initially we knew of only three proved cases, but numbers grew. The epicentre of the outbread was Wuhan China - which was rapidly put into tight lockdown. We saw huge hospitals being built in just three weeks. The virus is believed to have originated in a food market selling wildlife.
The first cases in UK:
In January 2020, as the situation in Wuhan deteriorated, Heathrow airport began screening all arrivals from Wuhan. The UK’s first two patients test positive for Covid-19 – two Chinese nationals from the same family who were staying at a York hotel. Britons from Wuhan were placed in 14-day quarantine at a specialist hospital in the Wirral after being brought back on an evacuation plane.
In February there were many cases in Italy, and the first transmission of Covid-19 within the UK was confirmed. The UK government decided not to follow Italy and China in imposing restrictions on liberty and movement. Instead, the government advised a range of voluntary restrictions such as “social distancing” and, if any symptoms were exhibited, self-isolation and quarantine.
On 10 Feb, health secretary Matt Hancock also introduced strengthened powers for public health officials to quarantine people against their will, if necessary. It came following reports that one person quarantined at the Wirral was “threatening to abscond” from the isolation unit despite signing a contract agreeing to a 14-day quarantine period after returning from Wuhan.
On 1 March, a further 13 cases were reported including new cases in Greater Manchester and Scotland; bringing the total to 36.
On 3 March the UK Government unveiled their Coronavirus Action Plan, which outlined what the UK had done and what it planned to do next. Paul Cosford, a medical director at Public Health England, said widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom was "highly likely".
On 5 March, the first death from COVID-19, a woman in her 70s, was reported in Reading, and the second, a man in his 80s in Milton Keynes.
On 12 March, the total of cases in the UK was reported to be 590. On the same day, the UK CMOs raised the risk to the UK from moderate to high. The government advised that anyone with a new continuous cough or a fever should self-isolate for seven days. Schools were asked to cancel trips abroad, and people over 70 and those with pre-existing medical conditions were advised to avoid cruises. Some supermarkets began to limit purchases of items in high demand.
On 15 Mar 2020 Matt Hancock warned that over-70s would be asked to “self-isolate”, by not leaving their homes, for an extended period “within weeks”.
On 16 Mar 2020 Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised everyone in the UK against “non-essential” travel and contact with others and suggested people should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and work from home if possible. At this stage, these were merely suggestions. He warned that other vulnerable groups, including pregnant women, people aged over 70 and those with underlying conditions, were urged to self-isolate. Many business expressed anger that the PM has not forced them to close – which could have offered them financial protection.
On 20 Mar 2020 Boris Johnson ordered all pubs, cafes, restaurants, bars and gyms to close. The chancellor Richi Sunak also announced that the taxpayer would meet 80 percent of the wages of employees temporarily sent home from firms hit by the crisis - a term called furloughing.
On 23 Mar 2020 in a televised speech to the nation, the prime minister told the public about the new rules that were to dominate their lives. People should stay at home except for limited reasons including once-daily exercise, food shopping and essential travel to work (if remote work was not possible) and providing care for others. All non-essential shops were told to shut, events including weddings were cancelled and gatherings of more than two people in public were prohibited. Those who did go outside were urged to keep two metres' distance from others. The slogan "Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives" was introduced. The "stay at home" lockdown was initially for 3 weeks.
On 25 Mar 2020 sweeping emergency powers to deal with the coronavirus cleared the House of Lords without amendment on their way to becoming law. The Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed granting the government and other authorities “unprecedented” powers. It provided the health secretary the power to prohibit events and gatherings, for the purpose of preventing the transmission of coronavirus. Clarence House announced that Prince Charles had coronavirus and was showing "mild symptoms".
The Department for Work and Pensions said almost half a million people had applied for Universal Credit in just over a week.
26 March: The number of UK coronavirus deaths increased by more than 100 in a day for the first time, rising to 578, while a total of 11,568 had tested positive for the virus. Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the furlough scheme for the self-employed, under which the government would pay workers placed on leave due to the pandemic 80 per cent of their average earnings.
The first "Clap for our Carers" campaign starts, thanking frontline NHS workers for their service through a weekly round of applause on a Thursday evening.
The police’s new enforcement powers came into effect following Johnson’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown on 23 March. The legal basis for the police’s strengthened powers is the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. People were no longer allowed to leave their home without reasonable excuse. This was, in effect, a form of house arrest. It meant that we were only supposed to leave our homes for limited reasons. The four most common reasons are:
- Shopping for necessities like food and medicine
- Taking exercise – but only once a day
- For medical reasons, to provide care or help to vulnerable persons
- For essential work (list here), and non-essential work where working from home is not possible.
Also banned were public gatherings of more than two people – with those found in breach facing a fine of £30 in the first instance. There were even fewer permitted reasons to gather than there were to leave your house.
Panic buying emtied many supermarket shelves
On 27 Mar 2020 Boris Johnson announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19 but that he intended to continue his duties as prime minister while self-isolating. Health secretary Matt Hancock had also tested positive for the virus. On 3 Apr 2020 Downing Street announced that Boris Johnson's condition had deteriorated and had been admitted to St Thomas's Hospital. On 6 Apr he was moved to an intensive care unit after his Covid-19 condition worsens. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab was asked to deputise for Johnson “where necessary”, a spokesman added.
On 29 March, it was reported that the government would send a letter to 30 million households warning things would "get worse before they get better" and that tighter restrictions could be implemented if necessary. The letter would also be accompanied by a leaflet setting out the government's lockdown rules along with health information. Dr Jenny Harries, England's deputy chief medical officer, suggested it could be six months before life could return to "normal", because social distancing measures would have to be reduced "gradually".
On 2 April, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, after his seven-day period of isolation, announced a "five pillar" plan for testing people for the virus, with the aim of conducting 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.
On 3 April the Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel Centre in London opened with the capacity to hold up to 4,000 people. Other Nightingale Hospitals were opened across the UK in the next few weeks. Controversy later surrounded the project because of the low number of patients admitted, with some critics describing it as a "complete waste of money". With 708 deaths that day the total rose to 4,313.
On 10 April, the UK recorded another 980 deaths, taking the total to 8,958. Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, told the UK Government's daily briefing the lockdown was "beginning to pay off" but the UK was still in a "dangerous situation", and although cases in London had started to drop they were still rising in Yorkshire and the North East. Matt Hancock told the briefing a "Herculean effort" was being made to ensure daily deliveries of personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline workers, including the establishment of domestic manufacturing industry to produce the equipment. Fifteen drive-through testing centres had also been opened around the UK to test frontline workers.
On 12 Apr 2020 Johnson was discharged from hospital but did not immediately return to work. He instead spent time recovering in his Chequers residence. Hancock announced that the NHS was developing an app which would alert users whenever they had been in contact with someone who was believed to have contracted Covid-19. The Times newspaper hails the app as “holding the key” to lifting lockdown restrictions. It was hoped that it would make it easier for people to know who needed to be in quarantine and who did not. But a number of experts questioned how realistic these expectations were and what the implications would be for our privacy. On 27 Apr Boris Johnson returned to Downing Street to take charge of the UK’s response to the coronavirus outbreak once again.
The UK's coronavirus death toll passed the 10,000 mark, with government figures at this stage only accounting for hospital fatalities.
On 18 April, Unions representing doctors and nurses expressed concern at a change in government guidelines advising medics to reuse gowns or wear other kits if stocks run low. Speaking at the Downing Street daily briefing later that day, Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Local Government said a further 400,000 gowns would be arriving from Turkey the following day. The number of recorded deaths rose by 888 to 15,464. Care England, the UK's largest care homes representative body, estimated that as many as 7,500 care home residents may have died because of coronavirus, compared to the official figure of 1,400 released a few days earlier. Jenrick announced a further £1.6bn of support for local authorities, on top of £1.6bn that was given to them at the beginning of the outbreak. Jenrick also said parks and cemeteries must remain open.
On 23 April researchers at the University of Oxford began to test a potential Covid-19 vaccine on human volunteers.
On 29 April, the number of people who have died with coronavirus in the UK passed 26,000, as official figures include deaths in the community, such as in care homes, for the first time.
On 30 April, Boris Johnson said the country was "past the peak of this disease".
On 5 May 2020 official figures showed that the number of people to die with coronavirus in the UK had reached 29,427, surpassing Italy to become the highest toll in Europe.
On 7 May 2020 the first major trial of the NHS’ Covid-19 contact-tracing app got underway in the Isle of Wight. Questions remain edaround its efficacy and the lawfulness of its interference in our right to privacy.
On 10 May 2020 PM Boris Johnson unveileds his new "stay alert" slogan, which replaced the "stay home" message. (Leaders of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland refused to change the slogan amid concerns that the new message was ambiguous.) It set out a three-step “conditional” plan to begin easing lockdown restrictions. In step one, Johnson said that those who could not work from home, such as construction workers, “should be actively encouraged to go to work” from Monday. He recommended that workers commute by car, foot or bike but added that public transport operators would be following “Covid-secure” standards and that guidance was being drafted for employers to make workplaces Covid-secure. He also encouraged the public to take “more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise” from Wednesday, while continuing to maintain physical distancing. In step two, the government hoped that by 1 June it might be able to begin the phased reopening of shops as well as partially reopening primary schools – starting with reception, Year 1 and Year 6. In step three, Johnson hoped that “at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places,” would be able to reopen by July at the earliest. He stressed that these steps would be conditional on the public’s continued adherence to social distancing guidance and the prevention of any future resurgence of the outbreak. Johnson also confirmed that quarantine measures would be imposed on anyone coming into the country by air.
On 22 May quarantine measures were announced requiring those entering the UK from 8 June to share contact details and then self-isolate for 14 days. Failure to comply could result in a £1,000 fine in England.
On 25 May the prime minister's chief aide, Dominic Cummings, took the unusual step of giving a press conference to defend himself over allegations that he breached lockdown restrictions by travelling to Durham. Mr Johnson refused to dismiss his adviser, despite widespread public anger over the incident. Commentators continued to question Mr Cummings' version of events, including an Easter Sunday drive from his parents' property to Barnard Castle, which he claimed was to test his eyesight.
On 1 June children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 across England were allowed to return to school. However, the numbers that go back varied depending on classroom size. Groups of six people could meet up outdoors, as long as they followed social distancing guidance.
On 9 June education secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs that not all primary school students would return to the classroom before the summer, going against previous government hopes. Parents expressed concern about how their children would catch up academically.
On 10 June Prof Ferguson tells the Science and Technology Committee that the UK coronavirus death toll would be 50 per cent lower if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier. On the same day, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted in a report that Britain's economy would suffer the most of any country in the developed world.
On 13 June "Support bubbles" were introduced, allowing those in single adult households to stay overnight at another home.
On 15 June non-essential shops reopened in England, as did zoos, safari parks and places of worship for private prayer. Face masks had to be worn on public transport in England from this date.
17 June: The Premier League returns to action behind closed doors. Liverpool are later crowned champions of the top flight for the first time in 30 years.
18 June: The government decides to perform an embarrassing U-turn over its tracing app and to work with tech giants Apple and Google. The app is predicted to be ready some time in the autumn or winter, not mid-May as initially promised.
23 June: The prime minister announces in the last government daily coronavirus briefing that social distancing rules will be relaxed to a "one-metre plus" rule and spaces like pubs, cinemas and restaurants will reopen from 4 July.
26 June: As thousands of people flock to beaches during the heatwave, Mr Johnson warns of "serious spike" in infections if people are "taking liberties".
25 July: Gyms and indoor swimming pools open. However, as the numbers of Covid-19 cases in Spain rose rapidly, anyone arring at UK airports or sea ports had to self isolate for 14 days.
31 July: Cases of Covid-19 starting to rise again in UK - increased restrictions applied to Greater Manchester, parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
In the early stages of the lockdown, the town became almost a ghost town, with very few people appearing in the High Street.
A local volunteer, Geordie Taylor, responded to the crisis by establishing the Hungerford Self Isolation group - co-ordinating help and support for those needing to isolate. Volunteers delivered food and medical supplies, walked dogs and offered contact and support to many individuals and families.
Steve Mitchell, who is Health and Safety manager at Sulzer Mixpac in tealgate, arranged for his company to use their 3D printers to produce over 2,000 protective visors for use by the NHS and local care homes.
Both were nominated as Community Champions by local MP Laura Farris. See "Steve and Geordie latest champions of Covid-19 crisis" - NWN, 23 Jul 2020.
- Pavement markings reminding about "social distancing" rules.
- Ramps and bollards to assist "social distancing" on pavements.
- Signs to remind about "social distancing" rules.
- Plenty of signs to remind us how to behave in essential shops.
The second wave develops:
27 July: Whilst the first wave of cases of Covid-19 is still growing across the US, much of South America, India and South Africa, a second wave of Covid-19 cases is becoming established across many countries that had successfully controlled their first wave. This is especially true in Japan, Israel and Australia. There have been 16 million cases worldwide, with nearlty 650,000 deaths. The Prime Minister launched an anti-obesity program to try to reduce the risks of Covid-19 (and other illnesses) and to save the NHS £100 million a year.