Shropshire Star

Two years of Covid: A reflection on the pandemic

At the start of 2019, if you’d told anyone that they’d be stuck at home for the best part of two years, unable to meet friends and unable to buy a Dominos pizza, they’d have laughed in your stuffed-crust face.

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The Covid-19 pandemic will never be forgotten

Pandemics were part of history. There was no way we’d ever lose our liberties and watch a contagion sweep through care homes.

The UK lost tens of thousands of lives – but at least cake, crisps and bubbles were served to our political masters who were seemingly above the rules introduced for us little people. Phew. Sue Gray and Jackie Weaver became unlikely stars while Captain Tom became an unlikely pin-up.

Marcus Rashford turned out to be a more capable politician than Gavin Williamson, who was presented with a knighthood in honour of his incompetence. Joe Wicks taught us all PE and created a massive global online following in the process as millions were confined to their homes and sought entertainment, escapism and education online.

An influential army of virologists, epidemiologists, infectious disease doctors, vaccine scientists, emergency room physicians, and public health figures went from relative obscurity to becoming household names. And, in the case of Sir Chris Whitty, knighthoods were actually earned.

We, however, have been the biggest stars. Just before Covid broke, the political discourse surrounded essential workers. Those in low-skilled, poorly-paid jobs were being denigrated by the political class. Binmen and care workers, NHS porters and Amazon drivers were deemed disposable. And then Covid showed the politicians how this country runs and we all stood on our doorsteps and applauded those who’d kept the wheels turning.

The biggest change has been in ourselves. After years of not knowing who lived next door, we’ve got to know our neighbours. And, in some cases, even like them. Chefs have delivered medicines, accountants have got day jobs delivering groceries and kids have organised bake sales to help those who can’t help themselves.

Covid has taught us to be kinder, more responsible and more thoughtful to the wider community. Unsung local heroes have made sure people haven’t gone hungry and have intervened to prevent the nation’s mental health crisis from worsening.

Those who have been lonely and isolated have found succour from others in their community.

It’s been tough on the frontline, however. And while NHS staff were lauded as heroes, many instead felt like cannon fodder. An overwhelmed system has been truly devastated as staff have left, absenteeism has soared, poor psychological health has taken root and there’s been a huge loss of life. Doctors and nurses have been expected to carry on regardless. Thankfully, most of them have. And without them, who knows where we’d have been.

It’s been a pandemic in which national Governments have performed differently. Sweden decided to let Covid rip while New Zealand decided to stop it at the borders. Multi-millionaires dumped staff in the middle of the pandemic while hotels opened their doors to the homeless.

A new wave of heroes emerged as the UK developed a vaccine that will literally save millions of lives. Vaccine researchers, therapists helping frontline workers, lecturers making PPE and volunteers distributing food stepped up to make a contribution.

Our language changed. From Omicron to furlough, the nation’s vernacular underwent a make-over as we got to grips with a disease that might have come from an odd encounter between a pangolin and a bat or that might alternatively have leaked from a laboratory. We will never know.

Last week, the Cheltenham Races returned – the very event that was allowed to go ahead at the start of the pandemic, potentially causing a huge spike in infections as Britain seemed to ignore the scientific advice and failed to lock down.

It’s been the oddest of years and the difficult truth is that the pandemic is far from over. Those with specific health needs are far from safe and though Covid is slipping from the headlines, a huge raft of issues have emerged, not least dealing with Long Covid.

We ought to thank the essential workers most of all by remembering a social media post from one of them. It read: If you would like to know how it feels to be an essential worker during this pandemic, then remember when the Titanic was sinking and the band continued to play? Well, we were the band.

Andy Richardson

“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

So said LP Hartley, and so it is true of Covid.

The pre-Covid age seems somehow gentler and softer, it certainly seems far distant. The collective trauma through which we passed remains remarkable: could we really have been banished to our own homes and told to wear masks for the best part of two years?

The two most profound changes in my case were clear. The first was recognising the value of my most important relationships: particularly the importance of parents, siblings and my partner. I’d never previously used the phrase ‘stay safe’ with any of them, though now I meant every word. I’d never previously worried whether my dad might catch an infection on his shopping trip to Asda, but now I did. I’d never previously left a bottle of whisky on the step for my brother-in-law, nor acted as a one-off delivery driver for my niece, taking a KFC order to his door, but now I did.

My work changed profoundly. The daily commute, a quick ride along the M54 while listening to Scala Radio, came to an abrupt end.

The sofa became the office and then, when we moved house, I created a new office and did a full working day in it – and then some.

I became a foot solider in the new army of work-at-homers, finding myself increasingly productive while missing the delights of the office vending machine and the daily packet of McCoys.

Heather Large

Covid has now been part of our lives for two years – and it feels like we’ve all been on the world’s longest rollercoaster.

There have been so many ups and downs, twists and turns that, for a long time, making any plans for the future seemed impossible.

Now we are all trying to return to ‘normal’ life – albeit with a few changes to how we lived pre-March 2020.

I’m still adapting to life after restrictions. Big crowds make me nervous now, despite never being bothered by them before, and I still feel ‘safer’ wearing my face mask at the supermarket.

I’m also more than happy to spend a weekend pottering around at home with no plans to go out, which wouldn’t have been the case a couple of years ago.

The pandemic has given me a new-found appreciation for the things that matter most and reinforced for me how none of us really knows what is around the corner.

Some friends of ours have accelerated their plans to move to France, which will bring them closer to their families. Their view is life is too short and after two years of separation and uncertainty, they should make their dream a reality while they can.

For me personally, the past two years have been eventful for many reasons, having got engaged and moved to a new area. As well as being exciting changes, they have provided me with a welcome distraction when I’ve needed it the most.

Along with the happy occasions, there have also been some sad times. We lost my grandad and also a dear family friend in 2020 and, because of Covid, couldn’t celebrate their lives in the way we would have wanted. The impact of the pandemic will be felt for many years to come.

For me, it’s going to take a while for life to feel like it’s fully back to normal but we’ve come a long way in 12 months. This time last year, my age group was still a way off from being offered a first vaccine dose, now we’ve been able to have three jabs. So, I’m determined to remain optimistic about what the future will bring.

Dan Morris

When I first decided to become a journalist, I laughably did so for a quiet life. Never did I dream that within the space of five years we’d have Donald Trump in the White House, BoJo Baggins in Number 10, our web-shattering exit from the European Union, and also, a global plague.

My real motivation for choosing this trade was to someday be part of a monumental moment of world history – in a job where I could be directly involved and, once in my grey hairs, tell my grandkids that ‘I was there, and this is what I did’. Be very, very careful what you wish for...

The pandemic was horrible, frightening and cruel. While it was a privilege during it to be part of a news team that brought crucial information to people when it mattered the absolute most, it will be a long time before I reflect on the last two years with much general affection.

Yet even as I write that, I am forced to concede that even in such dark times, wonderful memories were made that I will treasure forever. As many did, I watched my family rise to the challenge of this internationally chaotic situation while also dealing with serious personal health issues that already existed.

Some battles were won; others were lost. Yet every step of the way, my parents and partner proved the steel they were forged of, and made sure that the pandemic years were nothing less than their finest hour.

‘They were there, and this is what they did’.

One day I’ll tell the little ones that. It’ll be bitter-sweet, but it’ll be the proudest moment of my life.

Matt Panter

I’ve always led a pretty normal life. I enjoy the simple pleasures – meeting friends for a beer, watching football, going to the cinema or theatre and enjoying days out with the family.

Then, like everyone else, two years ago, while plodding along merrily, I suddenly walked, crash, bang, wallop into a brick wall. The pandemic.

Toilet rolls disappearing off shelves at a rate of knots, hand sanitiser suddenly worth more than your house.

I still remember vividly standing on the school playground, waiting to pick up my daughter, Eleanor, and chatting to mums and dads about Covid, when detail was still in its embryonic stages.

There was talk of the school having to close. “But, I’m sure it’ll only end up being for a week” was the general consensus. “Home schooling, what’s that?” We were soon to find out. Tears and tantrums. And that was just me.

Then came the announcement of lockdown, while I was working on a different newspaper.

We were told to pack up our essential office gear and go home. After 21 years, that was sadly the last time I’d see my colleagues in that office environment.

We communicated via Zoom, of course, but it wasn’t the same and then, at the end of that first summer, August 2020, several of us were made redundant. Our leaving do is still on hold!

Like so many other people, the loss of a job, one I’d done for so long, brought fear and trepidation.

But I was one of the lucky ones. After a month out of work, I joined the Star team but I do feel greatly for anyone hunting for work. I had rejections in between jobs – if the employer even bothered to respond – so appreciate how soul destroying it can be.

While work-related stress is one thing, losing loved ones, as so many did during the pandemic, is even harder to take.

As a family, we lost my fantastic mother-in-law Pat, suddenly, and she was someone who really embraced life. Unable to celebrate her time fully, with more people, was cruel and heartbreaking as, I know, thousands across the country can relate to.

It is the importance of family, treasuring every moment with them, that has really gripped me during this pandemic.

It’s been a truly awful time, one which has tested people mentally but, hopefully in years to come, while never forgetting the loss of loved ones, and the stress and strains the pandemic brought, we’ll also be able to reflect on our resilience, resourcefulness, an appreciation of nature and love for those we are closest to.

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