Covid-19: The south marks one year since first lockdown

One year ago today the UK was put into a national lockdown.

The Prime Minister addressed the nation at 8pm on 23rd March 2020 - the message stay at home.

In his address, Boris Johnson made it clear the only way to stop the spread of Covid-19, and reduce the death toll was to follow the rules. If we failed, the NHS would not be able to cope.

The initial announcement outlined a national lockdown for a temporary period before it would be reviewed. The only reasons we were allowed to leave our homes were

  • Work, if you could not work from home

  • For exercise once a day

  • Medical appointments

  • To buy essential food

Boris Johnson announces a national lockdown on 23rd March 2020

The next evening, the Government appealed for 250,000 people - to help the NHS cope with the pandemic. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said they wanted people in good health - for shopping, to deliver medicines and to help the most vulnerable.

As the new rules came into force across the Meridian region, supermarket shelves were left empty, due to some people stock-piling.

Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda all began to limit the sale of food - and items such as toilet paper and soap. Customers were restricted to just 3 of any one product.

Supermarket shelves were left empty as people began stockpiling

The Supermarkets brought in the rules to help ease the pressure, but the queues continued. Top of the list of items that ran out were toilet rolls and everyday items like eggs. flour and pasta.

It became impossible to get a supermarket delivery slot and click and collect was just as hard. Social distancing was introduced as were the long queues to get inside and when you did many shelves remained empty as key items were rationed.

March 23rd was of course the first day of home-schooling for millions of children across the country. Most of the schools were closed on Friday 20th March.

Millions of children were taught at home for the first time

Lessons were put online so pupils could access their education remotely, but for some whose parents are key workers measures were put in place so children could continue learning in the schools themselves.

Some parents said it was difficult to motivate their children to work from their rooms when there are other distractions in the house, but for others, children even decided to puttheir school uniforms on so they felt like they were at school. Concerns were raised that more pupils may turn up than expected, with the Department of Education urging parents to keep their children at home unless their work is deemed critical to the Covid-19 response.  They wanted to ensure the places go to those who really need it.

Usually busy streets became deserted as life changed like many of us had never experienced before. 

Our overcrowded railways were deserted and hundreds of planes at Gatwick and Heathrow were grounded. Ports in the region - the busiest in Europe, largely came to a standstill with the usually murky water turning blue

Gatwick Airport was virtually deserted

With the elderly and vulnerable told to shield, the lockdown was also to lead to many good deeds with an army of volunteers helping where they could.

Every Thursday at 8pm people came out of their homes and workplaces to clap for carers and healthcare workers

The key was not to overwhelm the NHS but it was put under enormous pressure with routine surgery cancelled. But one memory of the early days stands out. Every Thursday at 8pm when we all came out to clap for carers. 

By the end of March 2020, it became a weekly ritual across the south. People gathered on their doorsteps, balconies and at their windows to applaud those working on the coronavirus frontline.

The weekly cheer was the brainchild of Annemarie Plas. It was seen as an opportunity for locked down communities to come together - while social distancing - as well as showing their appreciation for NHS and care workers.

Today (23 March) will be a national day of reflection to mark the one year anniversary of the first lockdown.

A national day of reflection is being held - organised by the charity Marie Curie Credit: Marie Curie

A one minute's silence will be held at midday, to remember all those who have died during the pandemic. A doorstep vigil will also take place as part of the reflection, with people being urged to light a candle.

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