It’s Sunday 5th April, 2020. Over the past couple of weeks senior politicians have been telling UK citizens how we can get this COVID-19 outbreak ‘under control’ by exercising social distancing and staying at home. The question we need to explore, in due course, is how did we let the spread of Coronavirus get so ‘out of control’ in the first place? How is it that COVID-19 killed 4943 UK citizens in 31 days? We are one of the most economically and scientifically advanced nations in the world. Now is not the right time to ask such questions. We must instead focus on fire fighting. Our beloved NHS is in the front-line of this fire fight, a depleted professional organisation that has been hollowed-out by successive governments, now carrying 100,000 staffing vacancies and the consequences of massive underfunding in facilities and equipment. The same applies to all public health and care worker organisations. When we get through this, questions must be asked.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a COBRA on 2nd March to agree ‘preparations and responses’ for COVID-19. The Government published an action plan the next day. This plan dealt with a range of scenarios from a ‘mild pandemic’ to a ‘severe and prolonged pandemic’ (as experienced in 1918). For context, I refer to my article posted 6 weeks ago on 29th February; I wonder why we waited until 2nd March for that COBRA meeting? The effects of the delay in discussing and agreeing the response-plan was compounded by further delay in mobilising the appropriate ‘action-plan’. I really struggled to get my head around this compound delay at the time.
The government was faced with the impossible choice of locking the UK down early (leading to economic shut down and health and safety issues from long term lock-down) or locking down too late which would lead to the NHS being overrun.
Retrospectively we can see that the ‘actions’ in the plan were a response to the worst-case COVID-19 scenario. The delay was carefully timed to ensure that the economy didn’t grind to a halt earlier than it needed, while at the same time ensuring that NHS was not totally max’d out.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear that a series of errors of judgement in recent years and in particular over the past few months led us to this point and has meant that the UK was ill prepared for the imminent threat. So the timing of the government actions was critical for damage limitation.
We are now accelerating head-on into the storm, still running blind due to ineffectual test capability, under-resourced and unprotected with depleted front-line NHS staff and public health workers exposed to the elements, woefully under equipped and wanting for adequate PPE.
The remainder of the post is a summary of some of the key milestones I’ve observed over the past month, intermingled with some personal impacts as the ‘risk of pandemic’ has morphed into to an ‘out-of-control pandemic’.
5th March: The first COVOD-19 death in the UK was announced. It transpires that there had been multiple (unconfirmed number of) COVID-19 deaths during February that were not picked up due to ineffective testing and reporting procedures.
8th March: Three days after the first Coronavirus death in the UK, it seemed that most of the developed world had woken up to the Coronavirus risk and was mobilising in a hurry. The situation in Italy had become dire as the death toll had risen by 133 in one day to a total of 366. The Italian Government’s response was to put 16million of it’s citizens into quarantine across Lombardy and four other regions. Most of the people living in the North of Italy was ordered to ‘stay at home’ to contain the spread of the disease.
14th March: The whole of Italy went into full lock-down (the entire country). Spain followed suit on 16th March as counties around Europe were closing boarders. Travel restrictions were rapidly going into immediate effect across the developed world with international airlines grounding their most (if not all) of their fleets of aircraft in quick succession.
16th March: The pandemic had taken 55 lives in the UK. The government began daily televised press conferences to keep the public informed. All UK citizens over the age of 70 were told to by the government self-isolate and everyone else was advised to avoid non-essential travel, work from home if possible and avoid pubs, clubs and theatres.
18th March: Boris Johnson announced that UK schools, colleges and nurseries were to close for the rest of the academic year from close of business on Friday 20th March. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the UK’s young Chancellor announced announced £320 billion COVID-19 grants and £20 billion tax breaks to business to support them through the crisis.
20th March: This day was a major step-change for many of us. COVID-19 had now claimed a total of 144 deaths in UK and the government appeared to be going into overdrive to try and outpace the impact of a ‘severe and prolonged pandemic’ (which had been earlier regarded as a worst-case scenario). For a more detailed analysis at this time, see my update posted on 19/03/2020.
By now it’s beginning to feel like some kind of mad dream. Maybe we’ll wake up tomorrow and everything will be normal. But the next day comes around, we switch on the radio and oh no, it really is happening. We now discuss it every day with the children, keeping conversation factual, calm and balanced. We want them to be aware but don’t want to frighten them. I cannot imagine what it really feels like to be a teenager, this close to sitting GCSE’s and A’Levels….. and the whole world is closing down for business.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the UK’s Chancellor announced that the Government would pay for employees to be paid 80% of their wages up to £2,500 per month so that employers could choose to Furlough employees rather than make them redundant. The aim being to protect jobs and put the economy in a stronger position to re-mobilise when we get through this disaster.
23rd March: Prime Minster Boris Johnson broadcasted to the nation from 10 Downing St in the evening, instructing all citizens to stay at home until further notice.
24th March: This was the first day of lock-down for the UK. Wee recorded our highest number of COVID-19 deaths in one day as 87 people lost their lives to the disease in 24 hours, taking the UK total deaths to 422.
25th March: I posted an article (on this link) which analyses the situation on 25/03/2020. It includes published stats, graphs and links to all sources. It’s quite clear at this time that the UK is tracking the trajectory of Italy with a lag of about 2 weeks. So we can see where we will be in 2 weeks time.
News has surfaced that the UK left it too late to accelerate timely preparations for the full impact of COVID-19: By the time the UK began it’s ‘procurement activities’ for vital supplies other countries had already awarded contracts for key supplies causing global shortages. The UK was therefore unable to access either the products and equipment or the necessary raw materials and supplies needed make them. This has continued to make it impossible for the UK to properly test it’s population for the virus and protect it’s essential workers and front line staff with PPE (personal protective equipment).
27th March: Several senior politicians were reported to have been infected with COVID-19 including the Prime Minister, though their conditions were not reported to be life-threatening. Boris Johnson confirmed he’d tested positive for the disease in a published video clip made on his mobile phone. He was reported to still be running key meetings via video conferencing facilities.
As we approached the end of the month, almost a week into lock-down, death tolls from Coronavirus were reported to be doubling every 2 to 3 days.
]In the last working week of the month I had somehow managed to pick up a new job in the energy sector, working from home until the lock-down is released. The client shipped a lap-top to me within a couple of days of my job offer, ready to start work on 1st April. While most of our friends are being Furloughed on the government scheme, I was very pleased to be working in this new role, mainly because I believe it is an area of strong and growing demand.
31st March: COVID-19 had claimed 393 lives in the previous 24 hours in the UK, taking the total to 1,808 since the first Coronavirus death on 5th March.
The government had mobilised the transformation of several exhibition centres and sports arenas around the country into emergency Coronavirus centres. Branded as ‘Nightingale hospitals they are set up as working hospitals with fully equipped wards with dedicated staff, ambulances and infrastructure in place.
3rd April: London’s ExCel Centre is the biggest of the Nightingale Hospitals was made operational. This has been pulled together in less than a fortnight from a standing start. The army were brought in along with multiple contractors and by 3rd April it had 500 beds in place, kitted with oxygen and ventilators and was ready to scale up to 4000 patients.
This is the John Hopkins dashboard captured on 3rd April which links through to the source website for the latest view.
1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide marks another grim milestone in the relentless progress of this dreadful disease. Also, on this day the UK had recorded 38,168 COVID-19 cases and 2,921 COVID-19 deaths, with 284 people losing their lives to the virus in the previous 24 hours.
5th April: A month after the first citizen in the UK was killed by COVID-19, the UK death-toll had risen to 4,934.
Coronavirus Tracker (in your areas) from SkyNews on this link: https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-uk-tracker-how-many-cases-are-in-your-area-updated-daily-11956258
Link to BBC web page summarising roll-out of Nightingale Hospital: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52125059
Worldometer – Info – Coronavirus: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/uk/