This week marks the anniversary of the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Leicestershire – and council, police and health chiefs and survivors are reflecting on their experiences.
A year on from 7 March 2020, there have now been over 77,000 cases across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland and sadly just under 2,300 people have lost their lives.
Mike Sandys, director of public health for Leicestershire County Council and Rutland County Council, has spoken about dealing with the biggest single health crisis in post-war Britain.
The call about the first confirmed case came in early March and wasn’t travel related, offering a glimpse into what we were dealing with, plus the ease of transmission.
And with our second, which was connected to travel, family members then contracted it giving us early sight of the importance of space and reducing close contact.
The last year can be broken down into three stages, Mike explains:
Each phase has brought different challenges requiring lightning-quick responses. Providing PPE and translating guidance was very much the priority at the start, whilst the localised lockdown brought our area into the national spotlight in June.
Over the summer and autumn, the focus switched to localised testing and tiering. And the pop-up, asymptomatic testing we brought into Oadby and Wigston and Melton generated a big fall in rates.
And since December, we’ve set up seven rapid community test centres across the county and are continuing to target hot spots whilst urging people to get vaccinated.
The realities of the pandemic are stark. People are continuing to struggle with the effects of coronavirus, experiencing hardship or struggling with isolation and mental health issues. And there are thousands of families in our area who have lost loved ones and my thoughts are with all those affected.
It’s been a relentless year for everyone – but our role remains keeping people safe.
Chief Constable Simon Cole said:
I vividly recall the Director of Public Health calling me to tell me that we had our first COVID case in Leicestershire. It has been a difficult year for us all. The Force has received over 25,000 calls about potential COVID breaches, and issued over 2,500 penalty notices. The Force have continued to engage with the public in a positive way throughout and despite officers and staff putting themselves at risk they have been up to the task and continued to work tirelessly to keep the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland safe.
I could not be more proud of the efforts of all of my colleagues and we are grateful to all of those who have followed the rules. We are at a crossroads and it is important we maintain what the lockdown has achieved. My plea at this stage would be don’t wreck it – we have come so far, let’s get safely to the return to normality.
Across Leicestershire, NHS staff continue to work under the pressures of coronavirus, but for local health worker, Mel, the effects of the pandemic have been personal too. Mel, a 45-year-old ambulance care assistant from Barrow-on-Soar, says, even six months on from developing the virus, her health and lifestyle remain affected.
My asthma has not settled back to what it was before. I don’t mix with other people and I restrict how much time I have with my daughter. We need to stick to the rules. Some people are still saying it’s not real, but it is. I’ve seen people who have been in intensive care.
Andy Williams, Chief Executive of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Clinical Commissioning Groups, said:
Leading the local covid response has been challenging but I’ve been touched by the tremendous effort, dedication and goodwill of our NHS staff, volunteers, local partners and communities. Thank you for coming together and looking out for one another, during a year which has been like no other.
We entered this year with fresh hope as we introduced our vaccination programme, which over time, will play a vital part in ending the pandemic. Please do take up the vaccine when it is your turn.
Andrew Furlong, Medical Director at Leicester’s hospitals, said:
The challenges and pressures of caring for patients during the pandemic continue to be very real for all NHS staff. Our teams go above and beyond daily to deliver the best possible care and we’re proud to have been able to support thousands of people in getting home to their families. But we have also experienced significant loss and sadly every day, people are still dying from this virus.
As we mark 12 months of living and coping with the pandemic, we remember those we have lost and our thoughts go out to everyone now living without a loved one and all those living with the long term effects of Covid.
In recent weeks we’ve seen a slow drop in cases in our hospitals but we are still treating many very poorly patients and our services remain under pressure. The amazing NHS vaccination programme is a beacon of hope but now is not the time for people to ease up. It’s so important we all continue to play our part in preventing the spread of the virus. Lives depend on it.
And, while the vaccination programme reaches more and more people, the message remains that people should continue to follow the rules around hands, face and space. Latest figures show that rates in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland remain above the national average.
Nick Rushton, Leader of Leicestershire County Council, added:
We’ve been working with partners to fight coronavirus together for over a year. I want to thank all those essential workers who have kept vital services running, the volunteers who’ve stepped up to help people and send my sympathies to families who have lost loved ones.
With the vaccine roll out increasing, things will open up slowly – and that will be vital for the future economy – but it’s also no time for complacency and people need to remain vigilant.
Councillor Oliver Hemsley, Leader of Rutland County Council, said:
When the first case of COVID-19 was reported in our area a year ago, few of us could have imagined what would follow over the next 12 months. In this time, we’ve faced huge challenges when responding to the growing public health threat and done everything in our power to keep people safe. In the midst of all this, we’ve also seen a huge collective effort by individuals, families, businesses and local communities, who’ve all shown incredible strength and resilience – particularly during lockdown.
A great many people have been directly involved in the pandemic response, either as key workers or volunteers, and all of us have had some part to play by changing the way we live and work to protect one another. Thank you to everyone who’s done their bit.
With the vaccine rollout taking effect and an end to the current lockdown now in sight, there are lots of reasons to be positive. However, COVID remains a threat and we can’t let positivity turn into complacency. We’ve worked tirelessly over the past year to reach this point. We need to keep going and follow the restrictions a little longer, to drive the risk right down.
Terry Richardson, leader of Blaby District Council, said:
District councils have reached deep into their communities to offer support to residents and businesses.
We are really proud to have created community hubs to provide food parcels, help and reassurance to those most in need. We have distributed over £100 million of funding to thousands of local businesses and supported rough sleepers and the homeless, getting them off the streets and into accommodation. We have also helped businesses adapt to the restrictions and enforced those rules when necessary to protect the public. It has been a difficult journey for everyone but communities have really pulled together to help each other and that has been inspiring.
At a glance:
- 77,000 cases of coronavirus across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland so far
- 2,300 people lost their lives
- 4,000 people have been treated in hospital for coronavirus and discharged
- 342,885 vaccinations completed by end of February
- 100 covid champions recruited – to help share facts in communities
- 1,362 licensing checks, 2,582 fixed penalty notices and 24,037 reports of breaches managed by Leicestershire Police
Residents are urged to:
- Stay at home, unless you have to go out for an essential reason
- Take extra care on public transport or in supermarkets
- Avoid car sharing, if you can, or take extra safety precautions
- Remember the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance at all times