100 days of lockdown: Six people whose lives have changed
- Credit: Ian Burt/Linsey McFarlane/Annabelle and Paddy Davitt/Norfolk Constabulary/Steve Pepper/Tom Baxter
On the evening of Monday, March 23, 2020, Boris Johnson uttered that almost unthinkable instruction: “you must stay at home”.
From that moment, life in Britain was altered in ways we could never have foreseen.
Lockdown saw non-essential shops close and police given powers to break up public gatherings of more than two people.
Working from home became the new normal; family visits were replaced by Zoom calls; and we had never done so much exercise (once a day, of course).
After more than 100 days since the prime minister made *that* historic announcement, the EDP has been speaking to people from Norfolk and Waveney on whom the coronavirus crisis has had a profound impact.
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A new arrival
One of the key questions being asked as the Covid-19 crisis loomed was the virus’ potential effect on pregnant women.
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For Annabelle Davitt, from Norwich, the third trimester had arrived as she and her husband, Paddy, were expecting their first child in early May.
Mrs Davitt, who works for political news organisation, POLITICO, said concerns began to set in when the first MP tested positive for the virus.
“I was in Westminster writing about coronavirus on a daily basis, so it was very much part of my working day,” she said.
“Initially no one was quite sure how serious it was. The moment I thought ‘I don’t know if I should actually go to work anymore’ was when the health minister Nadine Dorries got it.
“At that point it started to seem like the virus was really contagious and I thought Westminster might be a place where it would spread like wildfire.”
Mrs Davitt immediately self-isolated, although admits she was more worried about her family.
Her only outings were for antenatal appointments.
When the time finally came for baby Thomas to arrive, Mrs Davitt’s temperature shot up during labour and hospital staff had to change into full PPE before the delivery.
“In some ways, that was the only thing about hospital that made me realise we were in the middle of a pandemic,” added Mrs Davitt, who was isolated for 12 hours after giving birth until testing negative for Covid-19.
“The hardest thing was not being able to see friends and family after Thomas was born.”
Prior to lockdown, many of us had never even heard the term ‘furlough’.
Steve Pepper, who lives in Clenchwarton, near King’s Lynn, was furloughed from his job as a warehouse manager and is unlikely to return to work until late July.
“At the beginning, before we were furloughed, everybody was walking on eggshells and wondering what was going to happen,” he said. “We were sort of hoping to be sent home because it was all so unknown.
“When it actually happened, the reality kicked in and you realised the situation was getting serious.”
Mr Pepper admits he has managed to adapt better than most.
His time has been occupied by learning new skills, doing DIY and completing tasks as part of the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme.
“I think it’s the initial unknown when you are told you can’t go to work that causes a shock to the system,” he added. “But after a week or two, when you knew you’d have 80% of your wage coming in, it was fine.
“As far as the furlough scheme goes it has been absolutely brilliant. Apart from a slight drop in wages I barely noticed a change.”
Business is booming
While lockdown left thousands of businesses doubting their ability to survive, others have gone from strength to strength.
Mark Kacary, who runs Norfolk Deli with his wife, Rosie, saw footfall plunge as he was forced to limit operations at his Hunstanton shop to doorway service only.
But its website - described as an online food department store - began generating unprecedented traffic, growing from 3-4,000 visits per week to 20,000.
“The online farm shop was something I came up with two years ago because I recognised there was a large number of people visiting farmers markets and sampling food, but no single place they could buy the products afterwards,” said Mr Kacary.
“When lockdown began, I spent an afternoon reconfiguring our website by putting products into a form, which meant people could place an order and get it delivered within 30 minutes.
“The website has been a great help for anybody and everybody when it comes to occasions like Easter and Father’s Day. Overnight our business went from a shop reliant on footfall to basically being an online retailer.
“Any business that does not utilise a website is missing a huge opportunity. It is a window to the world - not just to the high street.”
Recovering from Covid-19
For Linsey McFarlane, who suffers from severe asthma, the thought of contracting coronavirus was petrifying.
When she woke up feeling poorly on April 1, her doctor and asthma nurse assumed she had another chest infection and administered antibiotics.
Despite starting to feel better, a dry cough and fever had set in a week later and, on Easter Sunday, she called 111 and an ambulance was sent out.
By the time she reached hospital, the 34-year-old’s temperature had reached 41C.
“They took me straight through to the yellow resuscitation department and I was in so much pain in my back,” said Mrs McFarlane, who lives in Badersfield. “We thought it was my kidneys, but it turned out to be the level of congestion and the pneumonia in my lungs.
“I was sent to the AMU ward for severely ill people. We didn’t know which way things were going to go and one of my little boys asked his dad ‘is mummy going to die?’”
With her oxygen dependency increasing rapidly and sats dropping, Mrs McFarlane was hooked up to monitors all night and doctors did everything they could to save her.
“That night I didn’t sleep,” she added. “I was terrified.”
By Monday morning a Covid-19 test had come back positive, but there were already signs of improvement.
Mrs McFarlane’s temperature was no longer spiking and, by Tuesday, her oxygen levels had calmed.
On the Wednesday she returned home.
“I had a common cold in January and spent 10 days in hospital, so for me to get this virus and be sent home after a few days - you could describe it as a miracle,” said Mrs McFarlane.
“Had I not gone to hospital on the Sunday, I’m not sure I would’ve made it.”
For Vicky Wackett and Tom Baxter, from Dereham, more than two years of planning for their wedding was about to go up in smoke as lockdown loomed.
The couple’s big day was booked in for March 28, with a church ceremony and reception at Hunters Hall in Swanton Morley.
But Miss Wackett knew deep down it was a pointless exercise.
“We’d already been told 22 guests out of 50 couldn’t make it as they were in the vulnerable category.
“On the day of the rehearsal I just burst into tears because it seemed stupid preparing for something that probably wouldn’t happen.”
Sure enough, the prime minister delivered his address to the nation a day later and social events, including weddings, were banned.
Miss Wackett, 33, was “in a complete mess” and, five days later, the couple spent their ‘wedding night’ at home watching a film with a bottle of wine.
However, thanks to the “amazing” staff at Hunters Hall, the couple selected a new date in August, and have now also chosen a back-up date for February next year.
“The worst thing for me is that we were literally five days away - it was so close,” added Miss Wackett. “I remember thinking ‘why couldn’t this have happened two weeks later?’”
The role of police
The introduction of lockdown was unprecedented in the way it altered the role of police and their day-to-day practice.
Overnight the focus of officers across the country was sent in a new direction, with emphasis on dispersing gatherings and imposing fines on those refusing to follow the rules.
Julie Wvendth, assistant chief constable for Norfolk Constabulary, looks back with pride when assessing how the force has adjusted to uncharted waters.
“From our position we are immensely proud of how our officers and staff have responded, and of Norfolk’s communities and the way they have pulled together,” said Miss Wvendth.
“It did take some time to adapt, but actually we are an emergency responder so we are used to doing things in quick time and reacting promptly.
“One of the positives that sticks out in my mind is how agencies have worked together collectively as a partnership, whether that’s with councils, public health, the police or the fire service. I think that is credit to Norfolk and how the county operates.
“Lockdown has also enabled the police force to realise we can innovate and not be hamstrung by bureaucracy. As with all agencies we can get bogged down sometimes, but we have had to deal with this fleet of foot.”
As the public is gradually given more freedom and life begins to revert to normal, Miss Wvendth says the challenge now is to ensure a policy of caution remains in place.
“It’s important to keep people’s feet on the ground and remind them that the disease is still there,” she added.
“That’s not to instil fear. We just don’t want people to slide out of what they’ve been doing.”