Covid Crisis: How the South covered the biggest moments

It's been an unprecedented and extraordinary year at ITV News Meridian. Our news team has been working throughout and our programmes have bared witness to all these events.

Information about the pandemic has been broadcast into people’s homes, helping them understand lifesaving public health messages.

But most of all ITV has been telling extraordinary stories: of sorrow, of courage, of recovery; as people have shared events, big and small, that have changed how we live and have defined this remarkable year.

The Meridian team have been strictly following social distancing guidelines. The majority of staff are working from home. If we are in broadcast critical roles - in the newsroom or out news gathering - we are always two metres apart.

In February the Government confirmed the first person in the UK had tested positive for Covid-19.

Father-of-two, Steve Walsh contracted coronavirus in the Far East, and is believed to have carried it home to Brighton.

Steve Walsh from Brighton contracted Covid-19 in the Far East

All the places he visited in Brighton on his return - a pub, a community centre, and nearby locations such as a doctor's surgery, schools and a care home took no chances.

They either temporarily closed or were isolated, on advice from the authorities.

The Deneway GP practice in Brighton remained closed

The Deneway Practice in Brighton was closed. A sign put up on the door put it down to 'organisational health and safety' reasons. Steve Walsh remained in London in isolation until he was allowed to return to normal.

Schools across the region were told to stay open - even if a pupil returned from an area affected by coronavirus, but had not tested positive.

Burford School in Oxford was closed in February after a student reported feeling unwell after returning home from Italy

Burford School in Oxford was shut after a student reported feeling unwell after returning home from Italy in February. And All Hallows Catholic School in Farnham was also closed because of a ski trip to Italy.

All Hallows Catholic School in Farnham was closed in February after students returned from a ski trip to Italy

Schools Minister Nick Gibb speaking in February

As the virus continued to spread, some holiday-makers were left stranded on cruise ships abroad.

Passengers stuck on board the Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan

David Abel and his wife Sally, who live near Banbury were quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan. They were confined to their cabin for more than a month after an outbreak of Covid-19 on board.

More than 500 people on the Diamond Princess tested positive for the virus.

David and Sally Abel speaking in February on board the Diamond Princess

The Abel's were taken to hospital in Japan before being allowed to come home on a flight organised by the Foreign Office.

In California, the virus-hit cruise ship the Grand Princess also prepared to disembark passengers who had been forced to stay on board because of the virus.

Passengers on the Grand Princess in California were affected by the outbreak

Jackie Bissell from Hartley near Dartford was confined to her cabin for five days.

Tragically in March, a woman in her 70's died at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, after testing positive for coronavirus. She was the first Covid-19 fatality in the UK.

The search then began for people who were in close contact with the woman. Cases were already confirmed in Bracknell Forest, Swindon and Buckinghamshire.

ITV Meridian reporter Mel Bloor, reports live from the Royal Berkshire Hospital

Many supermarket shelves were left empty due to some people stock-piling. New rules were brought in across the Meridian region, with Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda all limiting the sale of food, and items such as toilet paper and soap.

Customers were restricted to just 3 of any one product in a bid to halt panic buying.

And pharmacists reported being under extreme pressure supplying extra drugs to people who fear they may be in isolation for months.

Mitesh Patel, Pharmacist

Well as the south continued to live with restrictions over the summer, the warmer weather made it increasingly difficult for people to maintain social distancing on the region's beaches.

Beaches were packed across the south in August making it difficult for people to social distance

In August, the temperature reached 35 degrees in Reading. The Met Office issued an amber heatwave alert and thousands of people headed to our coastlines to make the most of the weather.

On the M27 in Hampshire and the A31 in Dorset there were tailbacks of 15 miles and car parks were full at Camber Sands in East Sussex. Red Alert warnings were put out on some beaches, due to overcrowding.

With some councils saying when the sun-worshippers left - they left behind mounds of rubbish. The huge number of people heading to the seaside led to roads being closed off.

This woman put herself forward for human trials for a Covid-19 vaccine

As the world raced to develop a vaccine against the virus, researchers in the south became the first to begin human trials.

Scientists at Oxford University were given £20 million from the government to produce doses of the vaccine to be made available by the autumn.

Scientists in Oxford began the first human trials

Professor Andrew Pollard, Director of Oxford Vaccine Group speaking in April

One month later in May human trials began on another vaccine - developed by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer based in Sandwich in Kent.

Pfizer started human trials for a Covid-19 vaccine in May

Berkeley Philips, Medical Director at Pfizer

As Covid-19 continued to cause lives to be lost - many of those who survived were left with longer term symptoms. A new study out revealed 1 in 20 people with coronavirus are likely to have symptoms for 2 months or more.


18 to 49-Year-olds affected by Long Covid

Long Covid is believed to affect around 10 percent of 18 to 49 year olds. Among those affected by the debilitating condition are carers, who are now paying a desperate price - after caring for those most in need.

Report by ITV Meridian presenter Stacey Poole

Well on 8th December 2020, the biggest vaccination programme in the history of the NHS got underway.

Hospitals in the South east have been among 50 across the country taking part - the first major step in the road out of this pandemic.

There was a round of applause at the Queen Alexandra in Portsmouth, as 99 year-old Michael Tibbs had the first vaccination in the south.

Other hospitals taking part include The Royal Sussex in Brighton, Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester and Frimley Park in Surrey.

The process will take months, and while many areas across the south remain in Tier, at least, now, there is some hope for an end to their isolation.