Review of 2020: The impact of coronavirus in Norfolk

Kenneth Ireland was the first patient at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to receive his coronavirus vaccine

Kenneth Ireland was the first patient at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to receive his coronavirus vaccine - Credit: Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

When 2020 started, most would have thought the year would have been dominated by Brexit, not by a deadly global virus with the name Covid-19.

The first cases were identified in China - originating from a market in Wuhan - in December last year, with the first death reported in January.

That same month, Public Health England announced it was moving the risk level to the British public from ‘very low’ to ‘low’.

By the end of January, the first cases were confirmed in the UK, with the first deaths in March.

By then, the risk to the country had been raised to high.

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Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health - who was to play a key role in the county's response to the pandemic in the months which followed - said hundreds of people in the county, including those who had travelled to high risk areas, were being tested for the virus.

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk County Council

Dr Louise Smith, public health director for Norfolk. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Businesses were urged to start planning and people urged not to stockpile food, amid queues at supermarkets, with toilet roll a particularly prized commodity.

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By Friday, March 13, Norwich City matches were postponed, the University of East Anglia had suspended classroom teaching and local elections were scrapped.

The first cases in Norfolk were confirmed days later - on March 15.

Three patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn had tested positive, along with one at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

On Friday, March 20, the news which had been dreaded broke - Norfolk had its first deaths of patients who had been diagnosed with Covid-19.

Two men, one in his 70s and one in his 60s, died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Tragically, they would be followed by hundreds more.

 QEH King's Lynn

The first fatalities of coronavirus patients in Norfolk happened at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

By this point, people with continuous coughs and fevers were being told to self isolate, people aged 70 urged to stay at home and everyone advised against "non essential travel".

People were being urged to wash their hands and the words 'social distancing' had entered everyday language, although face masks were yet to become the common sight they are today.

And then, on March 23, in a television address, prime minister Boris Johnson put the country on lockdown.

Prime minister Boris Johnson addressing the nation as he placed the UK on lockdown as the government

Prime minister Boris Johnson. - Credit: PA

As the UK death toll hit 336, with 6,650 positive tests, Mr Johnson ordered people to stay in their homes and to only leave for basic items "as infrequently as possible" or for one hour of exercise per day.

Mr Johnson said: "To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at any one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it - meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus, but from other illnesses as well."

Within a matter of days, Mr Johnson himself had tested positive for the virus - he later spent time in intensive care in hospital.

All non-essential shops and businesses shut, along with churches, libraries, museums and playgrounds.

Working from home suddenly became the norm, with Zoom and Teams meetings replacing office meetings.

Many older people, including those in care homes, were given crash courses in how to use FaceTime to keep in touch with their loved ones.

The debate on the reopening of Norfolk schools will take plavce via Zoom video conferencing. Picture

Zoom meetings and Facetime became a way of keeping in touch. - Credit: PA

Parents found themselves having to help teach their children, although schools remained open for sons and daughters of key workers.

Police were granted powers to enforce lockdown rules, and police chief constable Simon Bailey urged people in Norfolk to stay indoors - or lives would be lost.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey at Norfolk Constabulary Headquarters, Wymondham. Photo : Steve Adams

Norfolk chief constable Simon Bailey. - Credit: Steve Adams

And the number of people being treated - and dying - in the county's hospitals continued to grow, with 10 deaths by the end of March.

As lockdown continued, the impact on businesses was becoming clear - Norwich's Open venue announced it was closing for good, with coronavirus delivering "the finishing blow".

The Open Youth Venue. Photo: Denise Bradley

The Open Youth Venue. Photo: Denise Bradley - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2009

Pub landlords, restaurant owners and bosses of Norfolk tourist attractions spoke of their fears for their future.

The highest number of daily positive cases recorded in Norfolk during that period came on April 22 and April 28, when 78 people tested positive.

The coronavirus case rates in four areas in Norfolk have continued to fall. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Ima

The end of April saw the peak in Norfolk coronavirus cases in the first wave. - Credit: PA

At the start of May, lockdown was eased, with the peak of the virus having passed.

People who could not work from home were told they could go to work and the hour of exercise a day changed to "unlimited exercise".

Test and trace was hailed as a way to help control the spread of the virus, with Norfolk named among pilot areas.

Attention by the end of the month had switched to the prime minister's aide Dominic Cummings, after his lockdown trip to Barnard Castle made headlines.

Dominic Cummings, senior aide to Boris Johnson. Pic: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Dominic Cummings, senior aide to Boris Johnson. Pic: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Schools reopened to more pupils in specific age groups in June - although students later had to endure a fiasco over exam results.

Norwich City matches resumed, behind closed doors, although the Canaries went on to be relegated from the Premier League.

Non-essential shops were allowed to reopen and in July, pubs and restaurants were able to open their doors again in time for summer, with a government-backed Eat Out To Help Out campaign launched to get people using them.

But the pandemic had taken an economic - as well as the human - toll.

Some businesses never reopened and Norwich's Theatre Royal had to cut more than 100 jobs.

Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Denise Bradley

Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Archant

Face masks became a common sight, while pubs started finding ways to take orders through windows for summer dining.

Shoppers in Norwich staying safe in face masks.
Picture: Sonya Duncan

Shoppers in Norwich staying safe in face masks. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

And, then, as August turned to September, the virus figures began to increase again.

And with more widespread testing, the figures for the so-called second wave were much higher.

The later months of the year have seen outbreaks in meat factories, including Banham Poultry, Bernard Matthews and Cranswick Country Foods - with Norfolk placed on the government's watch list in September.

Banham Poultry in Attleborough, where there has been an Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

There was a coronavirus outbreak at Banham Poultry. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Schools reopened, but have been affected by outbreaks, with whole schools or year groups having to self-isolate, with care homes also affected.

New tiered restrictions saw Norfolk placed in Tier One - the lowest level of restrictions.

But, following the second national lockdown in November and start of December, it was put into Tier Two, despite protestations from MPs.

Since then cases have continued to rise, with a particular surge in Wymondham having caused concern and teams of Covid support officers out and about ensuring the public understands restrictions.

On December 23, people were shocked by the government's decision to put Norfolk and Suffolk into the new Tier Four - essentially a third lockdown.

Mobile coronavirus testing stations are continuing to visit Norfolk and Wavney towns. Picture: Sarah

More than 550 Norfolk people who tested positive for coronavirus died this year. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

But, amid the gloom, there has been hope that 2021 will see steps back to normality.

Vaccinations against Covid-19 began at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and James Paget University Hospital in December, with the most vulnerable the first to get the jabs.

Kenneth Ireland was the first patient at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to receive his coronavirus vaccine

Kenneth Ireland was the first patient at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to receive his coronavirus vaccine - Credit: Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

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