Towards the end of December 2019 news began to emerge from China of a previously-unknown virus which had to potential to cause severe respiratory failure. Numbers were threatening to overwhelm their healthcare system and there was no cure and no vaccination. The virus is said to have reached Italy by Feb 2020 and the UK by late Feb. Experience in Italy mirrored that in China. The virus, a coronavirus, became known as SARS-cov-2 and the disease it caused as covid-19.

When it became evident that there were going to be significant numbers of people catching covid-19 in the UK the government acted on 23 March to impose a lockdown. The key message was 'stay at home - protect the NHS - save lives'.
  • Work outside the home was prohibited except for 'essential key workers'
  • It was forbidden for shops to open unless they sold essential supplies. Cafes, pubs, social events, festivals, sport and places of worship were banned.
  • It was permitted to take one piece of exercise per day from the house. An unofficial guideline that this should be of 1 hour's duration grew up but this was never mandated. People could not travel by car to take exercise.
  • Exercise should be alone or with a member of your own household.
  • It was forbidden to meet someone who was not a member of your household unless it was necessary to support a vulnerable person.
  • People were told to exercise 'social distancing', defined as being closer than 2 metres to another person for 15 minutes or more.
  • People at risk of severe complications of covid were told to 'shield', or not leave the house for any reason for 12 weeks. This was roughly defined as people eligible for the free 'flu jab.

Of course these were subject to interpretation and were variously interpreted but by and large well respected. The fear of covid triggered a spate of panic buying with supermarkets being mobbed and toilet rolls, hand sanitiser, dried pasta, tinned beans and flour being particularly sought (and in some cases fought over). Gradually shops began to adapt with tape on the pavement marking out 2-metre spaces and signs limiting the numbers in the shop at any one time. Thankfully the weather was good, so people didn't mind queuing outside. These measures put a strain on many businesses and the government announced a furlough scheme whereby they would support 80% of the wages of staff who would otherwise be laid off. Meantime parents suddenly had to learn the principles of home schooling and teachers those of distance learning as schools were closed to all except the children of key workers.
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Cloughfold Store 22 May 2020
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Red Lion 22 May 2020

Expressions of support, particularly for the NHS, began to emerge. The rainbow became a symbol of hope and images of rainbows began to appear in house windows. Some were sent to hospitals where they were laminated and displayed on walls. In Cloughfold, small bags containing 'guardian angels' were hung from trees, to be taken by anyone who felt in need.

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Newchurch Road 21 May 2020

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Bacup Road 21 May 2020
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Newchurch Road 21 May 2020
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Newchurch Road 21 May 2020
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Newchurch Road 21 May 2020
This was closely followed by the 'clap for carers', when people were encouraged to show their support for the NHS by standing at the end of their drive and clapping (or banging pans with spoons) for two minutes at 8pm every Thursday. This was generally observed in the area, although it is said that in some other places over-zealous residents were taking a register of who clapped and who didn't.
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21 May 2020
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This affection was accompanied by generosity, with the NHS receiving numerous donations from charities, individuals, businesses (particularly cafes etc going into lockdown) and schools. A number of charitable fundraising activities spread via social media - one in particular encouraged participants to run 5k and donate £5 to the NHS. Having picked up the gauntlet, my shockingly poor time is illustrated…

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Supplies of PPE were pretty reliable, thanks in part to a series of cottage industries. Schools made visors with their 3D printers and an army of needlewomen sewed scrubs (now available in a variety of colours…) and ear protectors to stop the elastic from facemasks rubbing in behind the ears.
Various charities, together with the council, initiated a number of schemes to support vulnerable people with food supplies, shopping, collecting prescriptions etc and I'm aware of Springhill residents involved in these schemes.

Testing for the virus was gradually rolled out, initially to those having symptoms or to their family members who were also deemed to be 'key workers'. A series of pop-up drive through testing centres were set up by the army. This one ran at Marl Pits between May 15-17, further pop-up sessions were held throughout the pandemic.
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To the best of my knowledge no Springhill resident suffered from covid-19. Rossendale was relatively spared, with, as of 20 May, 169 confirmed cases or 238 per 100,000 residents. There were said to be 18 deaths, this is almost certainly an under-estimate as 17 of these were reported to have occurred in two care homes. It may be that Rossendale residents who died in hospital were counted at their place of death.

On 17 May the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced an easing of the lockdown with driving to exercise being permitted, as was meeting one other adult in an outdoor space (but not a private garden at that time). Schools were due to reopen on 1 June for selected year groups, which challenged head teachers on how to socially distance 5 and 6 yr olds. Also on 1 June it was permitted to meet in gardens and in groups of up to six outside. Elite sport could also begin again, starting with horse racing.

By 9 June the number of confirmed cases in Rossendale was 177.

There continued to be much discussion regarding what were and were not sensible steps to take to emerge from lockdown. From 15 June anybody arriving in the UK had to quarantine for 14 days, 'non-essential' shops were allowed to reopen and facemarks were to be worn on public transport. In addition 'social bubbles' were created where a single person could stay overnight with another adult/family - but only one, and only one per family. I'm not sure whether Springhill residents took this offer up or not.

By 27 June the number of confirmed cases in Rossendale was 178.

Cafes, restaurants and pubs were allowed to open with indoor seating from 4 July and holiday travel in the UK was permitted. Facemarks were compulsory on public transport from 4 July and in shops from 24 July. 'Social distancing' was defined as 2m, or 1m with adds precautions such as mask wearing or not sitting/standing face to face.

Although numbers in Rossendale remained relatively low, they increased in the surrounding boroughs and the government increased the restrictions again on 31 July. People were not permitted to meet others who were not from the same household or in the same 'bubble' in private houses or gardens or inside in cafes, but could continue to do so in parks and outdoor places. Places of worship were allowed to reopen.

As of 9 August there were 304 confirmed cases in Rossendale, the second lowest in Lancashire.
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Kay St Baptist Church, Rawtenstall, adapted for covid-safe and online worship.
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Fig Tree cafe, Rawtenstall, adapted for covid-safe lunches.

The increased restrictions were lifted on 26 August, just in time for the Bank Holiday weekend. Sadly no sooner were they lifted than the virus numbers started to rise rapidly, with 395 confirmed cases as of 7 September and Rossendale became an area of 'enhanced support'. These cases were traced to an out-of-school facility in Whitworth and a handful of pubs/cafes in Rawtenstall and Bacup. Interestingly the absolute number of infections was still the second lowest in Lancashire, the concern being raised by the increasing infection rate per 100,000 population and rate of increase.

Unfortunately numbers in Rossendale continued to rise and Rossendale, together with most of the rest of Lancashire, was put under greater restrictions as from September 22nd, with two households being forbidden to meet indoors or in private gardens but could do so in public places or cafes etc. However these were superseded pretty much immediately as these restrictions were made nationwide on the same day. By this time three classes or year groups in a single secondary school locally had been sent home to self-isolated due to positive cases within the bubbles.

In the week to 19 Sept there had been 114 new cases in Rossendale, giving an infection rate of 159.5/100,000. This was an increase of 47 cases on the previous week.

On 12 October the country was divided into three tiers of risk, with Rossendale being in tier 2 or 'high' risk. By then there had been 1106 cases in Rossendale and there were 30 new cases a day, give or take. Tier 2 restrictions were largely unchanged from those in force before this system was introduced. This lasted 3 days before Rossendale was moved into tier 3 with individuals encouraged not to travel beyond the tier 3 region and people only allowed to meet those outside their household/bubble in outdoor public places. Two weeks later Boris reintroduced a 4 week national lockdown: non-essential shops to close together with sports facilities and places of worship, stay at home except for exercise but schools and universities remained open. Cafes could serve takeaway only.

On 2 December we emerged from the national 'lockdown' to tier three which was in effect lockdown by any other name, except that non-essential shops and places of worship could remain open. Rossendale by this time had a total of 3308 cases and was increasing at 35-40 per day. The total number of deaths was unknown. On the same day the licensing of the first vaccine was announced but with only enough for 400,000 people in the first wave and its having to be stored at -70 degrees it is uncertain how many Rossendale people will receive it. Meanwhile mass testing was promised, but had yet to be rolled out.

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A moratorium was declared for Christmas Day with up to three households meeting inside on that day only. Initially this was to be permitted for a five day period but rising case numbers, mainly in the south east of England, led to this being reduced and a new tier four was introduced which is lockdown by any other name in effect. At the same time a new variant of the virus was announced; probably no more severe in terms of disease outcome but probably more infectious. This spread rapidly and tier four was extended to cover Rossendale (together with much of the country) on 31 December - Happy New Year.

As of 31 December the infection rate was 241 per 100,000. The weekly count in December was roughly equal to the total to the end of June. There had been a total 4009 cases in Rossendale and 95 deaths. Rest in peace.

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Lockdown hair
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Social distancing

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Testing centre, Rawtenstall, Jan 2021
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Vaccination centre, Rawtenstall, Jan 2021

The increasing infection rates led to an increasing demand on intensive care (which, together with acute medicine, is the 'pinch point' regarding covid treatment in the NHS). In turn this led to the reintroduction of lockdown on January 5th, just one day after the children returned to school. As lockdown continued, the vaccination programme continued apace and hospitalisation and death numbers began to fall Boris outlined a putative 'road map' out of lockdown:

8 March: children began to return to school (with a programme of self-testing), care home residents could meet and hold hands with one other relative (after a period of about a year) and two people were allowed to sit together outdoors

29 March: Six people or two households can meet outdoors, outdoor sports facilities can open and travel outside the local area is permitted.

12 April: Non-essential retail and personal care can reopen, as can outdoor hospitality and self-contained holiday accommodation. Indoor gyms and swimming pools can also reopen.

17 May: Most outdoor social contacts to be lifted, six people or two households can meet indoors and indoor hospitality and hotels can open.

21 June: All legal limits on social contact to be removed and the remaining closed sectors of the economy to reopen. Hopefully.

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As the possibility of hospitality returning to serving people outdoors drew closer, traders worked hard to make their premises as compliant as possible with the landlord of the Red Lion extending his beer garden over the car park. Rossendale at this stage reported 6059 cases, or 8476.3 per 100,000 population. The '0.3' of a case always amused me.
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It was going well with deaths, inpatient numbers and positive tests reducing and the number of people vaccinated increasing when news came from India of large numbers of people suffering from a rapidly-transmissible variant of the virus. These overwhelmed the local health resources with distressing reports of hospitals running out of oxygen and cremation facilities being overwhelmed. Many NHS staff are of Indian origin and, already exhausted and overwhelmed by the impact of the pandemic in their NHS practice, were faced with the double stress of worry about family and friends and watching friends and university compatriots struggle with their workload. Many struggled with this, and set up a number of initiatives to send oxygen concentrators to their contacts there.

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Nearer to home there were clusters of the 'Indian variant' in Lancashire and Greater Manchester but inpatient numbers remained manageable. The lifting of restrictions due on May 17th occurred as planned. Overseas holiday travel was permitted in a number of 'green zone' countries, however there were only 12 of these, including various remote islands in the South Atlantic - Falkland Islands anyone? - and Portugal. Most countries were in the 'amber zone', requiring 10 days' hotel quarantine and two negative tests on return with travel for essential reasons only and not holidays. A small number of countries remained on the 'red zone', from which all inward travel was banned. There was much debate around the delay between the increasing number of cases in India being recognised and India being added to the red zone.

The reopening of indoor seating in cafes was particularly welcomed, particularly as the weather remained, shall we say, inclement and not favourable to outside dining.

However the incidence of the 'Indian variant', now renamed the Delta variant, continued to rise nationally and the planned removal of all restrictions on meeting and distancing planned for June 21st was deferred for four weeks. In the meantime a major push was made to increase the number of people vaccinated, as it became apparent that serious infection was rare in people who had received two doses of vaccine. Simultaneously there was a shift in the political narrative with the emphasis shifting towards 'living with the virus' and increased discussion of reducing restrictions on 19 July despite numbers still increasing rapidly - in our hospital the number of patients in ITU with covid increased x5 in little over a fortnight.

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Despite increasing numbers, remaining restrictions were indeed lifted on July 19th with repeated exhortations from the Government to be 'sensible'. By 11 Aug the infection rate in Rossendale, with a population of around 70,000, had stabilised at about 25-30 per day. By and large local people were being 'sensible' with most of the cafes still having socially distanced tables and most people continuing mask wearing as before. Meanwhile people were still queuing for the vaccine.
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This graph shows the distribution of cases in Rossendale over time, taken from Government data. Cases continued around the 20-30/day level.

Towards the end of September the Government announced that people over 50 and NHS/care workers who had their second vaccine dose over 6 months ago were eligible for a booster dose of the vaccine, either Pfizer or Moderna, irrespective of the initial vaccine received. Colleagues formed an orderly queue.

Meanwhile, tidying prior to an office move found the original visor printed by a local school's DT department on their 3D printer and held together by micropore…

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