100,000 UK Covid deaths: 'I never imagined I'd report on so many deaths in one year, from just one country. Our country'

It was about this time last year it dawned on me we should take coronavirus seriously here in the UK. Stories out of Wuhan and a few other parts of Asia were extremely worrying.

We’d already had suspected cases in Glasgow that fortunately turned out to be a false alarm. January 28, 2020 changed everything though. The first two Covid cases were reported and confirmed in Hull and that was to mark the beginning of what has been the country’s deadliest year since 1918.

When we started reporting on the first few cases in the UK, we did so with trepidation. We counted each case individually; there were so few it was possible at that time to report the area they were from, the GP surgery and hospital they attended and a description of the circumstances.

We didn’t name patients and we were careful not to identify family or friends. Of course this didn’t last long. It became clear, pretty soon afterwards, that it was impossible to do that with every case.

A projection on the British Medical Association in London to mark the point at which 100,000 people have died of coronavirus in the UK. Credit: PA

Dozens began to be reported each week, then each day until, to our dismay, we were reporting the first British death, then tragically numerous British deaths.

Back then none of us knew what to expect. We could only look to China really, or Italy for any real comparison. Those countries quickly became the barometer of where we might get to and it didn’t look good.

We stopped reporting individual cases and started focusing on people who had died. Listening to family members break down as they told us they couldn’t see or even speak to their loved ones before they died. The numbers of deaths crept up and it became quite evident we were indeed following the trajectory of Italy and Spain.

In a series of special reports last week, Editor Emily Morgan visited hospitals across England to witness first hand the pressure the health service is under

Every day, another family member of someone who died wanted to speak, to tell the world to take this seriously because what they were going through was horrific.

I’d never spoken to so many people who’d lost family or friends. Never tallied so many deaths before on each and every bulletin we broadcast.

On March 17 last year, the government's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance tried to put a number on it. He said if we kept deaths below 20,000 it would be a good outcome. We all gasped. Twenty thousand deaths?! Surely even that figure was not only grim but a long way off. In fact, it was only six weeks later we passed that milestone - and passed many more since.

Sir Patrick Vallance on March 17, 2020: Keeping deaths under 20,000 would be a good outcome

It isn’t easy reporting on deaths, especially large numbers. What every death is not, is a statistic. Yet, with so many, the fear is each one gets added in with another and they become a blur of numbers.

That is why it is so important to reflect on individual cases, speak to family and friends, use victims’ names, photos and memories. It is impossible to do this with every one but crucial to do it with as many as possible.

Emily Morgan's coronavirus reporting from April last year

One hundred thousand people, who have died of Covid-19 in this country, is one hundred thousand lives lived. I never imagined in my whole working life I would report on so many deaths in one year, from just one country. Our country. I have visited numerous hospitals over the year and witnessed the toll coronavirus takes on patients.

I cannot put into words what it is like seeing so many sick people in one intensive care unit. For weeks afterwards I think of individual patients I’ve met and wonder ‘did they make it?’

For so many, I will never know the answer. For a small number, I do. Sadly, it’s frequently not happy news and it hits me like nothing else. I think one death is too many, reporting on many thousands is difficult to comprehend.

The UK now has one of the highest death tolls from coronavirus in the world. There will come a time when we will ask why and how. And there will come a time when we will recover. But today is not that day.

Today is a time to remember those people who didn’t make it and reflect on those lives lost. The sad reality is that there will be more. Many more. The deaths we are seeing today and indeed will see for the next two or three weeks will be those who caught the virus at Christmas.

Tens of thousands of people got it in late December and the numbers are only just coming down. It is just a sad fact now that many thousands more will die.

This is not a milestone to be proud of but it is also not one to forget. We have not been through this much to do that. Let’s remember the dead and keep asking why. One day we might find the answer.