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Article & photos by Paul Wright, 2020
Coronavirus pandemic

deserted traffic free
Lakes, completely deserted.
Traffic free Lakes shopping.

A century in time separated the Spanish flu and the Coronavirus pandemic, (Covid 19); the former did not originate in Spain, but some of the first cases were found there, it is thought to have come from France.         

The death toll was estimated to have been anywhere between 17 million and 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, which made it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. The death toll went up as high as 228,000 in Britain alone. Imagine that awful situation, The National Health Service (NHS) had not yet been born.         

The National Health Service

That came along courtesy of the Minister of Health in Attlee's post-war Labour government, Mr Aneurin Bevan, at the Park Hospital in Manchester. That monumental day came in the summer on the 5th July, 1948. 

The principles of the NHS were to provide a comprehensive service funded by taxation, available to all and free at the time of need. During that first year the NHS cost £248m to run, roughly double the original estimation.         

The Coronavirus of 2020 was thought to have started in China during the early part of the year, and rapidly spread to most parts of the world.         

Sadly yet again Spain was to suffer high mortality rates, along with Italy, USA and of course, here in the UK.         

It certainly put great fear into many people, maybe because the the strap line was hammered home every few minutes of TV and radio advertising saying “Coronavirus, stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives”.         

Lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister on the 23rd March, 2020, following a government commissioned report led by professor Neil Ferguson.  (He had previously given over stated modelling estimations with a form of “mad cow disease”, “bird flu”, and thirdly “swine flu”. He was to lose his job over an alleged liaison with a married woman at the time of the Covid-19 “lock down”.)   

Our conservative Prime Minister Mr Boris Johnson spent several days in the intensive care ward at St Thomas’ hospital in London, and it was later revealed that it was very much “touch and go” for the PM!

Taking care during shopping.
When out shopping, things were eerily quiet and deserted in most places, and the message of prevention was yet again hammered home with messages like “Only go outside for food, health reasons, or work (but only if you cannot work from home). If you have go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times.      

Wash your hands as soon as you get home. Do not meet others, even friends or family.  You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.         

So the likes of Mothering Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, birthdays, anniversaries, and the VE Remembrance services were all affected by not being able to meet others at the time.         

This was to go on for weeks on end, with factories, shops, dental surgeries (emergency dental treatment at hospital only), garden centres, pubs and restaurants, cinemas, hairdressers, all forbidden to open their doors.         

Employers were told, you can furlough employees and apply for a grant that covers 80% of their usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month. A temporary scheme was in place for 4 months but it was extended fully to October. But Chancellor Mr Sunak said the government will ask companies to "start sharing" the cost of the scheme from August. The scheme was costing the government £14 billion per month.  And tax rises are naturally on the horizon to recoup some of this money. 

Not all workers had the safety net of the furlough fighting their corner, and many were struggling financially throughout.         

Doctors surgeries were doing on line consultations, trying to cut down on any footfall of patients through the front door. This sadly resulted in cancer referrals down by about 75%, and a 25% drop in GP appointments, and the A and E departments being generally quieter.         

Schools and colleges were all shut, with some students doing their work on line, not all children had access to on line work for obvious reasons. It was suggested that primary schools might go back in June, with class sizes limited to maybe fifteen pupils.         

Over the duration of the pandemic, great strains were placed on families who did not have a garden to escape to, and some marital relationships were at bursting point with domestic abuse looming on the horizon at times.         

In the early stages of the pandemic, people were panic buying and as soon as toilet rolls, rice, baked beans, pasta, eggs, disinfectant or hand sanitiser appeared on the supermarket shelves, they were “gone”!

The supply chain was vitally kept going by valiant efforts of van and lorry drivers, all extending their working shifts to keep us going.         

The multi-million pound Rushden Lakes was all but deserted, you could walk around the vast car park during the day, and not see a soul.

We have some shots taken during May 2020, with a total lack of human movement near any of the shops. Only three shops were trading there, firstly the M & S food store, Boots, and finally down the far end was “Holland and Barrett”.         

On the “upside”, the price of fuel for cars did naturally come down due to the complete lack of demand. In mid May the Asda supermarket was selling petrol below the pound a litre mark. 

And I did read that some wag had written “Is anyone getting better than 5 weeks to the gallon”?

Although with garages closed, car sales were just about zero, and service intervals were being relaxed, and prompts to motorists to check the “fluid levels” in the interim. Anyone with a car more than three years old the MOT is a necessary part of the ownership. The annual test is a government-mandated check of a car’s roadworthiness and, with just a few age-related exceptions, there’s no getting away from it.         

During the Coronavirus outbreak, all car, van and motorbike owners have been granted a 6 month extension to their MOT’s while the country remained in lockdown, but beware this policy will not go on forever.         

Naturally with little or no aviation movements globally, the air quality was highly improved, aided by the noise levels being down with the lack of vehicle movements.         

But alas, on the Thursday morning of 7th May, I did see a lone vapour trail from a jet north bound at 10.30 over Rushden. (not seen one for ages).         

The bakery in Higham had perspex screens erected on the display counter, and it looked like a bank with all that protection. But on a lighter note, the staff had all been keeping us supplied with the usual goodies which are freshly made and baked on site.         

Suggestions were made that seating on a double-decker bus would be limited to 15 persons, meanwhile it would be cut to 5 on a single-decker?

Locally, what would be the effect on the Rushden Rider, with such restrictions in place? Taxi drivers were naturally seeing a downturn in trade, but were seen plying their trade whilst wearing face masks at the wheel.

The television schedules were decimated across all channels, with the soap operas not being filmed, (they normally have 3 months in the can) Coronation Street has been on our screens since Friday 9th December 1960.  Emmerdale, formerly Emmerdale Farm, set in Yorkshire from 1972, and finally the BBC’s Eastenders running from 1985.  They were reducing the number of showings over the week, probably no bad thing in the grand scheme of things.         

ITV sufered a decline in the demand for advertising during April, with revenue being down by over 40%.         

The weekly BBC Newsnight, which normally goes out at 22.30 with studio guests on BBC 2, was linking with guests from their homes.         

A new name cropped up in hospital circles, with the addition of so called “Nightingale” hospitals cropping up at strategic places in our land.    

They were located at Washington in Tyne and Wear, at Harrogate in Yorkshire, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Bristol and finally down in Devon at Exeter.    

These NHS Nightingale Hospitals were seven critical care temporary hospitals set up by NHS England in response to the Covid-19 epidemic in England.    

The showpiece Nightingale hospital in London shut in mid May, after treating a small number of patients but will be kept “in hibernation” in case a second wave of Covid-19 infections emerges.    

No further patients would be admitted to the facility, which was created amid much acclaim in just 10 days, the 12 patients treated there were transferred to other London hospitals.    

Many doctors, cleaning staff, ambulance crew, and nursing staff were all being sucked in to the daily fatality statistics. 

Our care homes were sadly showing high numbers of deaths, not only in the numbers of residents, but the care staff working there without adequate PPE.    

More than 9, 700 deaths in care homes in the UK had been linked to the virus - pushing overall fatalities to record levels.    

People were buying “PPE”, this acronym stood for “personal protective equipment”.  Most folk bought surgical masks, others walked around in gardening gloves when shopping, and scarves wrapped around their faces.    

This new shopping need was sometimes hampered by prices being hiked by unscrupulous people who were selling items on various on line platforms.    

Socially it may have brought out the very best in most people, and certainly the very worst in others!

Locally some more vulnerable in our society were naturally feeling ill at ease during all of this, but good Samaritans were coming to fore on lots of occasions, with offers of help for shopping, gardening and other needs, such as dog walking etc.    

At customer service centres, all of the ENC offices were closed until further notice, this included the office in Thrapston, as well as the other two Customer Service Centres in Oundle and Rushden.    

There were no face-to-face council services at either Irthlingborough or Raunds sites until further notice.    

The refuse and re-cycling centre’s were closed for many weeks, but were given permission to re-open on Monday, May 18th.    

It was good to see the crews doing such good work in picking up from our houses, with the weekly bin collections going ahead, this also included the important collection of any clinical waste. 

And I think we all truly appreciate just how important a job of work these lads and lasses do for us in these difficult times. (well done again).    

And the roadside drains were being kept clean and clear by crews wearing what looked like respirators as protection, the message of “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” was visible on the lorry.    

drains Leys
Drains getting a clean.
The Leys mortuary at Wollaston.

Northamptonshire Libraries were closed to the public until further notice. Any items that were due back during this time were renewed until libraries re-open, and no fines would be incurred.    

A temporary mortuary which is at Doddington Road on the outskirts of Wollaston, was operational from the weekend of April 11th, and had capacity of up to 1,100.

During the month of May discussions were taking place to make the mortuary permanent in Northamptonshire.    

Wollaston resident and Mayor of Wellingborough councillor Jo Beirne said “it will be respectfully known as The Leys”.    

The county council owned site is located within reasonable distance from the county’s hospitals and could be easily reached by funeral directors. The Leys is staffed by a minimum of six to ten per shift.”

Its former use was as the Wollaston re-cycling centre, which closed to the public in 2017.    

On the subject of funerals, great anxiety and upset was caused by numbers attending services being limited to around ten mourners. Some funeral services were shown via a video feed on line, thus allowing a small comfort to some mourners and their families.    

Wednesday 6th May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the new Labour leader Keir Starmer went head to head at PMQs for the first time. Sir Keir said “UK death rates from coronavirus were not a success or apparent success”.    

In Northamptonshire, we saw “Northants Together” springing up, they were offering help of “urgent food deliveries, collection of medical prescriptions, more general support of loneliness, help getting folk on line, and posting of mail etc.”  The email was and they had a phone number of 0300-1261000, and the selection of option 5. This was all provided by “Northamptonshire County Council”.    

Higham75th VE day
VE 75 years in Higham. 
The 75th Commemoration of VE Day —Moving further in to the month of May, and the Royal British Legion were calling on people across the UK to join in a moment of reflection and Remembrance at 11am on Friday 8th May, the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, and pause for a Two Minute Silence.    

With the hope that people would also be able to support this important aspect of VE Day from home too.  I was moved with emotion when I heard the distinctive sound of the wonderful Merlin engine in the distance the day prior to VE celebrations, was it a Hurricane, or the majestic Spitfire having a practice run. In the end I did not get to see a Spitfire, or a Hurricane, did you?

The 75th Commemoration of VJ Day —The Royal British Legion will commemorate VJ Day on Saturday 15th August. We have developed our plans in line with the latest Government guidance.    

Could the key to unlocking the virus have a Northamptonshire connection? It might even be a former Kettering lady. She is currently spearheading a team at the University of Oxford; Professor Sarah Gilbert who studied at Kettering High School for girls during the 1970’s. Work has been going on at a brisk pace from January 2020, to develop a vaccine. Human clinical trials for a vaccine were under way from springtime of 2020.    

Prime Minister Johnson did address the nation on TV at 19.00 on Sunday 10th May, with a total audience of 27 million tuned in. It was a bit of a confusing message to say the least, and it was later revealed that a document had not been completed at the time.    

Mr Johnson said that we may “exercise” more than once a day, go to work on the Monday if you can’t do it from home, this was later changed to the Wednesday instead.    

You may do some sunbathing, and the primary schools could open in June with certain restrictions in place.    

Under previous rules, police could issue on-the-spot fines of £60 if someone was caught breaching the lockdown regulations – but the fines will now rise to £100, while payment within 14 days will reduce that sum to £50.    

Repeat offenders could see the fine double for each subsequent breach to a maximum of £3,200. Over 9,000 fines have been issued for breaches in England and Wales as of May 2020.    

On a cautionary note, we were told if the virus comes back, the full lockdown will return.    

The following day the fifty page document was released, to clarify things.    

All our garden centres and nurseries had shut on 23 March at the start of the lockdown, but were allowed to start up again in England from Wednesday 13th May 2020, as long as they ensure social-distancing measures are in place.

Those in Wales would open a couple of days earlier, north of the border in Scotland garden centres remained closed for the foreseeable future.    

In England estate agents were back open again on the same day, and house viewings were encouraged again.    

All of our local sport was put on hold, but the government did announce that golf courses can re-open from Wednesday May 13. Players can play with members from the same household or one player from another household, providing there are social distancing measures. Tennis courts were opened up too, and you could go angling once again.    

The Cobblers in the Sky Bet league two, were awaiting news of a re-start of the football season, and were told along with other clubs. The position of the EFL remained unchanged in that the priority is to resume the 2019/20 season as soon as it is possible with matches only returning at an appropriate point and based on guidance from the relevant authorities. The health and well-being of the nation was to come first.    

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone, scheduled for July 19, meanwhile hung in the balance over an argument with the sport’s owners Liberty Media about the financial package they would receive for a behind-closed-doors race.    

The people behind F1 believe Silverstone is making unreasonable demands to host a couple of races on consecutive weekends on 19 and 26 July, in an attempt to help the backlog of races.    

The average numbers of deaths during the month of April, were down; 2,423 fatalities where the virus was mentioned on the death certificate, in the week to 1 May. Since the epidemic started, more than 9,700 deaths in care homes in the UK have been linked to the virus.    

The actual number of hospital deaths had been falling since early April.    

Our churches and other places of worship remained closed for now.    

The course through this very testing, stressful, sad and demanding time was steered nationally by a conservative government led by “Mr Boris Johnson” and his team up and down the country.    

On a closing note, if we could ask a very wise person a couple of questions, it might be “when and how will this all end”?

Update Nov 2020

At long last we heard some good news regarding Coronavirus, Covid-19, this came on Monday 9th November 2020, with the government announcing that a successful vaccine is just around the corner now.

The vaccine - called an RNA vaccine - has been developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech and is one of 11 vaccines that are currently in the final stages of testing.

The companies now plan to apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of November - and a limited number of people may get the vaccine this year.

The UK has already ordered 40 million doses - enough to vaccinate up to 20 million people as each person will need two doses for it to work effectively.

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