March was a defining moment in the COVID-19 crisis. We had watched, in sadness, countries around the world, including in Europe, dealing with an awful virus which originated in China.
In the UK, there were few deaths, to begin with, but it was only a matter of weeks before this changed. Beavering away with COBRA meetings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was too patient with the Coronavirus nightmare the country was beginning to face.
The week beginning 16th March felt different from the rest with 81 deaths by that point; people were starting to develop symptoms of COVID-19. In my Hampshire college alone, there were a handful of students, including myself, developing mild symptoms of a fever and a cough.
The government kept us going on – not knowing whether many more people in the community could have been affected. It was not until a whole week later when disastrous effects were beginning to take hold did the Government realise they had to intervene.
On the 23rd March, Boris Johnson announced a UK-wide lockdown, in effect immediately, which would close schools, non-essential shops and non-essential workplaces.
Italy, France and Spain were experiencing a nightmare on an increased scale to ours. By April, hospitals were becoming overwhelmed and many, many people were dying.
The UK in its response tried to ramp up testing but found itself producing a questionable 18,000 tests a day, roughly the same number of people who live in Truro. We should have been gathering pace and capacity with tests much sooner.
It was promising on Friday last week that tests had reached 100,000, but these are starting to decrease again. Added to this headache, travel in and out of the UK was still allowed, with no restrictions, especially with regards to air travel.
But this has been reassessed in the past few days, with the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said to be considering quarantining those travelling in from outside the UK.
I do agree with the government’s handling of social distancing though. In my opinion, this was brought in at a more or less sensible time. Social distancing can be very difficult however, no questions asked, especially in shops and on public transport.
Supermarkets can still have far too many people in them at any one time, and full buses aren’t an effective example of social distancing. Moreover, places, where it’s difficult to social distance, could be aided with the use of mandatory face masks.
When I go to the shop now, I wear a face mask and it usually satisfies me that if someone walks close by, I am sufficiently protected.
The Government is yet to decide whether mandatory face masks should be used while Spain, among other countries, have made it compulsory for citizens to wear face masks when travelling on public transport and going to shops.
Today, the Prime Minister will make a speech to the nation addressing the lockdown measures across the country. Many newspaper outlets have been reporting schools reopening by the 1st June and non-essential shops opening.
Any easing of the lockdown restrictions must satisfy the Government’s five tests, including maintaining critical supplies of PPE and ensuring the death rate continues to fall.
Ultimately, one thing is certain, we must avoid a disastrous second peak.