Why so many in Norfolk and Suffolk can be proud of their efforts so far to tackle coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 11:56 18 August 2020 | UPDATED: 13:37 18 August 2020

Children at Woodside Junior School in Hethersett help get the message out. Photo: Archant

Children at Woodside Junior School in Hethersett help get the message out. Photo: Archant


How will future generations look back on society’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak?

People are wearing masks to comply with the new rules. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPeople are wearing masks to comply with the new rules. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

In years to come, when covid-19 becomes a subject matter in school history lessons, what will the discussions centre upon?

At a worldwide and national scale, I suspect a large focus will be on missed opportunities. In the days and weeks before the pandemic, where different decisions could have led to better outcomes. They’ll ask whether the pandemic could have been halted before it took hold and thousands of lives saved?

In terms of the United Kingdom, much of that will no doubt focus on the actions of prime minister Boris Johnson. The man who, in the weeks leading up to lockdown, failed to attend COBRA briefings, initially put out a message that life could carry on as normal and then put the country into lockdown many days after the rest of Europe.

The question will be asked as to whether this was a sign the government was too relaxed about the situation, complacent even and whether, ultimately, that came at a terrible cost.

But how will history judge the handling of covid-19 closer to home? Here in Norfolk and Suffolk, where the infection rates have, so far, remained much lower than elsewhere in the country and subsequently so too have the number of deaths.

Will people think that it was a combination of luck and fortunate timing which meant the impact, while devastating, has so far been smaller than elsewhere? Was it because, by the time coronavirus properly took hold in Norfolk, the country was already in lockdown and therefore there were fewer opportunities for people to mix with those already infected?

Perhaps it will be put down to the region’s remoteness? We joke about Norfolk people not leaving Norfolk, but has it made a difference as far as the pandemic is concerned?

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Or is it something else?

The answer, and I say this cautiously because I’m fully aware that we’re nowhere near out of the woods yet, will likely be a bit of both of the above. But two other key elements have also so far made the difference in this neck of the woods; namely strong leadership putting out a clear message and a large proportion of the public who have been willing to take heed of that.

There are many reasons I feel lucky and privileged to do this job and one of them is that it gives me an oversight of Norfolk and what happens here that few others enjoy. When the big, important, stuff happens we, as journalists, often get to be in the middle of it, watching how everything works and seeing how people handle them.

Often, in these cases, our role can be to highlight areas where things are not being done properly - but I feel it’s also important to provide balance when they are done well.

And from where I’m sat, an awful lot of people in Norfolk should feel proud of their roles so far in helping to guide us through these turbulent times.

Of course, mistakes will have been made and it’s right that those are looked at and acted upon, but from the very start of the covid outbreak I felt that our councils mobilised quickly and did what they had to do.

You had Norfolk County Council, who we are never shy of criticising when justified, overseeing the public health element of the response, getting the message right and even challenging the government when need be, as we saw with some of the criticisms of the failure to properly protect care homes. At the same time their district council colleagues acted as the troops on the ground, taking direct action, handing out grants and doing all sorts of other behind the scenes work we’ll never know about.

I know that at one point there was concern amongst many in Norfolk that the government’s new ‘Stay Alert’ message was not direct enough and could lead to misunderstanding or complacency. Within a few days, a clearer Norfolk version was brought out and circulated, making it clear it was not yet the time to take any chances. From what I’ve seen, many people can be proud of the fact they have consistently taken those warnings on board.

Elsewhere, charities and communities across the region continue to mobilise to get urgent support to the most vulnerable. Volunteers came forward in their droves, putting their own health and safety to the back of their minds, to see how they could help. Meanwhile, in businesses all over, including my own newsroom, those feelings of fear and vulnerability were put to one side as staff simply got on with their jobs. And admirably so.

We’ve still so much more to be done to get through the other side of this pandemic, but already so many people can be proud of their efforts thus far.

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