A look back at what lockdown has meant for Cambridgeshire

A year ago today, March 23, the way we live our lives changed almost overnight as the Prime Minister plunged the country into lockdown.

Shops closed their doors, pubs stopped pulling pints and employees commuted to kitchen tables rather than offices.

Now, 365 days later we are beginning our cautious move out of a third national lockdown after many of us initially thought the first lockdown would be short, sharp and a singular experience.

During this time we have become accustomed to daily case rates, hearing the latest death tolls, phrases such as ‘social distancing’ and ‘masks’ have become part of our language, and we are all too familiar with checking infection rates for where we and our loved ones live.

But what has the impact been beyond this?

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More than 125,000 people have died within 28 days of first testing positive for coronavirus, while more than 140,000 people have had Covid-19, the “invisible killer” as Boris Johnson described it, stamped onto their death certificate as an underlying cause of contributory factor to their death.

Globally, it is estimated that coronavirus has claimed the lives of almost three million people – with more than half a million of those coming from the United States alone.

Closer to home, more than a thousand families across Cambridgeshire have lost a loved one to coronavirus, while more than 41,000 people have experienced the potentially devastating disease first-hand.

Other people have lost jobs, found themselves in dire financial situations, or suffered the crippling loneliness of life in lockdown, being separated from friends and family.

Covid deaths in Cambridgeshire

From the onset of the pandemic to March 12, a total of 1,319 people in Cambridgeshire had sadly lost their lives either from Covid or with the virus as a contributory cause.

Peterborough has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and unsurprisingly saw the highest death toll, standing at 372.

This was followed by Huntingdonshire, where 285 people have sadly died, then Fenland with 226, South Cambridgeshire with 195, Cambridge with 133 and East Cambridgeshire with 108.

The majority of those who lost their life due to Covid died in hospital, which totals 864 people.

Early on in the pandemic care homes bore the brunt of the virus, with devastating consequences, and in Cambridgeshire 385 people sadly passed away in care homes.

70 people died in their own homes, 17 in a hospice and three ‘elsewhere’.

During that same time period, 9,310 people in Cambridgeshire died from all causes.

Or, to break that down further, it means almost one in seven deaths in Cambridgeshire were either caused by or contributed to by the virus (14 per cent).

Cambridgeshire’s first death came before we went into lockdown on March 6, 2020, when a person in East Cambridgeshire died.

The following week, one person died in Huntingdonshire and one in Peterborough.

However, the worst period in the crisis for deaths came during the second wave of the pandemic.

During the week ending January 29, 2021, there were 100 deaths of patients suffering from Covid across Cambridgeshire.

Cambridgeshire Covid infections

Looking back after a year spent in and out of lockdowns and tier systems, it would be easy to think that coronavirus has been with us for just 12 months.

However, the virus first came to our shores before this, and Cambridgeshire residents first began to test positive for the virus during the first week of March 2020 – three weeks before we were moved into lockdown.

Clinical staff wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as they clean the Intensive Care unit at Royal Papworth Hospital on May 5, 2020 in Cambridge
(Image: Getty Images)

During the first wave, the infection rate reached a peak of 49.73 infections per 100,000 of the population during the first week of May, before lockdown rules caused infections to fall.

Our lowest rate came in mid-July when it sat at 3.21 infections per 100,000.

However, our highest infection rate wasn’t recorded during the first wave or even the second lockdown.

During the week ending October 21, 73.6 per 100,000 people were infected with the virus, with the numbers continuing to climb, reaching a rate of 140,47 for every 100,000 of the population of Cambridgeshire in the week ending November 11.

The second lockdown caused the infection rate to fall over the next few weeks, down to 65.34 per 100,000 people in the first week of December.

However, shortly after Christmas, the infection rate reached new highs, peaking at 497.75 during the first week of 2021 – despite much of Cambridgeshire having spent Christmas under strict tier restrictions which limited household mixing.

Since then, this third lockdown has caused the infection rate to fall – but it still stood at 49.27 per 100,000 people during the week ending March 10 – a higher rate than much of the first peak.

Thankfully, the vaccination plan is continuing to be rolled out at speed, and as of March 7, 35.3 per cent of the adult population of Cambridgeshire had received their vaccination against COVID-19 – a total of 290,057 people.

Find the nearest vaccination site to you by entering your postcode below:

Hospitals

During the peak of the second wave, on January 26, a total of 614 hospital beds in our hospitals across the county were occupied by Covid-19 patients.

That’s more than a quarter of all available beds, of 26.3 per cent.

Meanwhile, the number of ventilator beds in use in the area peaked on January 25, when 125 of them were occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Currently, around half of the beds in The Royal Papworth Hospital’s intensive care unit are occupied by Covid patients, according to David Jenkins, consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at the hospital.

The hospital’s intensive care unit almost doubled in capacity, from around 33 beds to 65 beds at the height of the first wave, with areas of the hospital previous used as outpatient clinics being turned into the critical care units needed.

Hospital staff have been hit by a huge personal toll, from hours spent in uncomfortable PPE, to seeing colleagues get ill, and working alongside a highly transmissible virus for hours at a time.

Victor Tapah, a nurse and UNISON representative at the Royal Papworth, said: “It has been hard for me personally. At the beginning especially, it was very, very confusing for everyone. We didn’t know how it worked. The only thing we knew is that we had to wear masks and that it was contagious.

“You take it step-by-step, and you think it’ll be less than two months, but you don’t realise a year later you’ll still be going through it.”

He continued: “When you have your colleagues in tears because they can’t cope anymore, it doesn’t matter how strong you are – it will hurt you at some point.”

Across all hospitals in England, more than 5,000 critical care beds a day were occupied during the last week in January 2021.
That compares with around 3,000 a day during the same week in 2020 and in 2019.

Business and employment impacts

(Image: Cambridge News)

Covid-19 has had a far-reaching effect on everyone in Cambridgeshire, even those fortunate enough to avoid being infected with the virus or to see family and friends fall ill.

Coronavirus has seen shops and businesses forced to close for long periods of time – some permanently – while thousands have been placed on furlough or asked to work from home.

In Cambridgeshire, the number of people claiming unemployment benefits more than doubled between last March, when the first lockdown began, and November 2020, rising from 12,245 to 25,867.

These figures are a combination of claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Universal Credit (UC) who fall within the UC ‘searching for work’ conditionality.

They show that before the pandemic, just 2.3 per cent of the working-age population of Cambridgeshire were claiming unemployment benefits.

By November, that had soared to 4.9 per cent.

‘The last year has been one of the most traumatic and uniting in modern history’

Today, a year on from first locking down in an attempt to curb the spread of the deadly virus, people are being asked to reflect on the last year.

It was on this day last year that a sombre Mr Johnson told the nation to, “stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives”.
Marie Curie – an end of life charity – has planned a national day of reflection, which will include a minute’s silence at midday, followed by a bell toll.

This evening, at 8pm, people are encouraged to stand on their doorsteps with phones, candles and torches, to symbolise a “beacon of remembrance”. Many prominent buildings will also be lit up.

Marie Curie’s Chief Executive, Matthew Reed, said: “The last year has been one of the most traumatic and uniting in modern history.

“With so many of us losing someone close, our shared sense of loss is incomparable to anything felt by this generation.
“Many of us have been unable to say a real goodbye or comfort our family, friends, and colleagues in their grief.

“We need to acknowledge that and recognise we are not alone.

“That’s why it is important that we all come together to reflect on our collective loss, celebrate the lives of the special people no longer here, support those who’ve been bereaved and look towards a much brighter future.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Every death from this virus is a tragedy and our condolences go out to everyone who has lost a loved one.

“This global pandemic challenged health systems across the world and our priority has always been saving lives, with an approach informed by the latest advice of our expert scientists.

“We are making incredible progress through our vaccination rollout as we battle to return life to normal, with more than 24 million people receiving their first dose. At the same time, our world-leading genomics capabilities are helping countries to identify new variants.

“The government has always been clear there will be opportunities to look back, analyse and reflect on all aspects of Covid-19 and this will include an independent inquiry at the appropriate time.”

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