Covid: Six things we've learned since the country first went into lockdown 200 days ago

  • By ITV News Content Producer Amani Hughes

March 23 seems like a lifetime ago.

Some 200 days have passed since Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation to announce strict lockdown measures and restrictions on life, to curb the spread of a virus known as Covid-19.

It was unprecedented, the British public were told to stay at home, only leave to shop for essentials or one form of exercise a day, travel to and from work only if absolutely necessary and do not meet family members or friends.

People had anticipated that something like this was around the corner, as cases soared and deaths mounted, but perhaps no one had predicted the scale of the measures.

It was a complete curb on the normal way of life.

London the day after Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown. Credit: PA

Since then, we have learnt a lot more about the virus, which has touched almost every country in the world.

We now know more about the symptoms of Covid-19, how effective some treatments are, how close we are to approving a vaccine and the debilitating long-term effect the virus can have.

Here are six things we have learnt since lockdown began, 200 days ago.

1. Covid symptoms to watch for are wider than first thought

We now know a lot more about coronavirus symptoms, compared to at the start of the pandemic.

Initially a high temperature and a new, continuous cough were the two warning signs you had Covid-19, however on May 18 it was announced that loss or changed sense of smell or taste were to be officially added to the NHS coronavirus symptoms list.

Health officials had been saying for months prior that the symptom was identified in patients.

Experts criticised the government in being slow to act and not adding anosmia – the loss of smell which can also mean loss of taste – to the symptom list earlier.

The decision came later than our European counterparts and around two weeks after the World Health Organization (WHO) added it to their list.

The main coronavirus symptoms are:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back

  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours

  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

2. Britain's 'world beating' Test and Trace system has proved anything but

The NHS Test and Trace system – hailed as ‘world beating’ by the prime minister – has encountered many hiccups and problems along the way.

When it was first launched back in May, it came amid a tumultuous time for the government, as they dealt with the fallout from Dominic Cummings’ alleged lockdown breaches.

An app was meant to accompany the system – the track element – but its release was delayed by several months and was eventually rolled out in September.

The government hired thousands of contact tracers. Their job? To contact people who had been exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19 and tell them to isolate for 14 days in a bid to limit the spread of disease.

However, some contact tracers reported they were not in touch with anyone and local teams were found to more successful at reaching the close contacts of people who had tested positive for the virus.

The Test and Trace system has been heavily criticised. Credit: PA

Experts warned that the system had to rapidly improve to cope with the pressure expected once schools fully returned.

But in the week ending September 30 just 68.6% of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were reached – its lowest weekly percentage since Test and Trace was launched in May.

The government is missing its target of reaching 80% of close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus.

Recently, the latest figures showed just one in 10 coronavirus tests were being processed within 24 hours in England and in the latest embarrassing headache for the government, an Excel spreadsheet error meant 16,000 cases went unreported.

This meant the number of cases soared in dozens of areas of England and there was a delay to find  the contacts of those who tested positive for the virus, in some cases by around a week.

Boris Johnson has admitted the UK doesn't have enough coronavirus testing capacity at present, which means the effectiveness of the Test and Trace system is compromised, as authorities cannot track the spread of the disease.

Coronavirus tests are not available in some of England’s worst affected area and some people have been offered slots miles from their homes.

The PM has promised testing capacity would increase to 500,000 by the end of October.

3. 'Long Covid' shows the debilitating effect of the virus can linger

At the start of this pandemic, no one could predict the devastating impact the disease would have on the population of the UK.

As it stands, more than 42,000 people have died from the disease in the UK and more than 544,000 have tested positive.

While many recover fully from Covid-19, it is now becoming apparent that the virus has a debilitating long-term effect on some people.

The condition is known as ‘Long Covid’.

A study by King's College London found an estimated 10% of people with the virus take at least three weeks to recover, with 250,000 people in the UK alone thought to experience symptoms for 30 days or more.

There is no defined list of symptoms of Long Covid, as there is for Covid-19, but a lot of sufferers report severe fatigue.

Other symptoms include breathlessness, muscle aches, joint pain, 'brain fog,' memory loss, a lack of concentration, as well as depression and mental health problems.

Severe fatigue is a common symptom of Long Covid.

At this stage, there is no treatment for Long Covid, as it is a recent and unknown condition, but doctors say patients should boost their immune systems through healthy eating, drinking less alcohol, and gentle exercise.

One sufferer, Matt Bromley, told ITV News the disease has affected his life in every way.

He is currently suffering from a tightness in his chest, heart palpitations, headaches and dizziness – 19 weeks on from having caught the virus.

"After four and a half months of being unwell, it's impossible to know how long it will take me to recover," Mr Bromley said.

"Talking is extremely difficult and when I do have a conversation for five minutes or so, I'll need to lie down afterwards for 45 minutes or so for it to recover," he says.

"I have also lost some dexterity in my left hand and am suffering from extreme fatigue (post viral fatigue).”

People suffering from the long-term effects of the virus can access the NHS Covid-19 rehab service.

4. Some treatments have had a positive impact for survival and recovery

There are various drugs that are being trialled around the world to treat people with severe cases of coronavirus.

In the UK, as part of the Recovery trial, the anti-inflammatory drug Dexamethasone was found to be highly effective - scientists say 4,000 to 5,000 deaths could have been prevented in the UK alone, had they known about the drug’s effectiveness earlier.

Another UK trial found Dexamethasone cut the death rate by 20% for people needing oxygen.

The drug works by limiting the immune system’s overreaction to the disease, and preventing further damage to the lung and other tissues.

Dexamethasone is found to be effective in treating Covid-19. Credit: PA

The antiviral drug, Remdesivir, originally developed to treat Ebola patients, has been found to cut recovery time by about four days.

On the drug’s effectiveness, the WHO said: “It has generated promising results in animal studies for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which are also caused by coronaviruses, suggesting it may have some effect in patients with Covid-19.”

Another drug which is being trialled is REGN-COV2 - it was given to President Donald Trump after his positive Covid diagnosis.

REGN-COV2 is made up of two monoclonal antibodies (REGN10933 and REGN10987), which are man-made to act like human antibodies in the immune system.

The antibody cocktail works by binding to a protein on the surface of the virus, stopping it from attaching to cells and replicating, while allowing the immune system to attack the virus.

Regeneron has linked up with the pharmaceutical giant Roche to increase the global supply of REGN-COV2 if it proves effective.

President Trump has also touted Hydroxychloriquine as an effective tool to fight Covid-19.

However, the UK’s Recovery trial and the WHO stopped trialling the drug, as they found it does not work as a treatment for Covid-19.

5. Scientists believe they're on track for a vaccine by the end of 2020

Despite the development in drugs to alleviate symptoms of Covid-19, a vaccine is still the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases.

Scientists around the world are working around the clock to develop a vaccine for coronavirus.

The head of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, believes there is hope for a vaccine by the end of the year.

He called for solidarity in the fight against the virus and a commitment from world leaders that any successful vaccines will be distributed fairly.

“We need each other, we need solidarity, and we need to use all the energy we have to fight the virus” he said.

The UK is backing several vaccine candidates. Credit: PA

The UK has access to several vaccines, but the Oxford University candidate is showing promising early indications.

Preliminary results of phase one/two clinical trials of the Oxford vaccine candidate suggest it is safe and induces an immune reaction.

Clinical trials may have gathered enough safety and efficacy data by the end of the year, and there may be enough data to put the vaccine before regulators this year.

Another candidate in the race is US biotech company Moderna’s trial, the vaccine is “not far behind” Oxford and entered Phase 3 trials in July.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top public health expert in the US, admitted in June he is excited by the prospects in the country.

Another candidate being trialled is the offering from US biotech, Novavax.

Under an in-principle agreement, the UK has secured 60 million doses of the vaccine, and will provide infrastructure to Novavax in running a phase three clinical trial in the UK.

Credit: PA

Elsewhere, early phases of the BioNtech and Pfizer vaccine clinical trial suggest the vaccine induces a robust immune response in healthy adults.

The BioNTech, Pfizer candidate has been given an approval for the phase two/three trial of the experiment to begin in Germany.

The phase two/three study will enrol up to 30,000 participants aged between 18 and 85.

If successful in clinical trials, Pfizer and BioNTech plan to seek regulatory approval for the Covid-19 vaccine as early as October this year.

Priority groups such as frontline health workers, those with serious diseases, the elderly and ethnic minorities are first in line to receive a jab, should a vaccine be approved.

6. The clap for carers brought Britain together

The nationwide applause that became a weekly ritual for many across the country took off from that first Thursday in March.

Britons did not expect such a wall of noise to ring out from every corner of the United Kingdom, but the country got behind it, wholeheartedly.

Families, friends, couples, healthcare workers, took to their doorsteps, front doors, windows, balconies and outside hospitals to cheer on the people who were risking their lives in the fight against the virus.

Every week on a Thursday, people returned to bang pots and pans, cheer out, and clap.

Every Thursday, people clapped for the healthcare workers fighting Covid-19. Credit: PA

The ritual continued for nine weeks, until May 28, when the woman who organised the applause said it should be the last.

But it managed to achieve something during the bleak days of the lockdown. Britain came together to collectively show their appreciation to the frontline workers.

8pm on a Thursday became a way to communicate to the people on your street, those who you may have never spoken to before, to say everything may not be ok, but we’re in this together.