Covid-19: one year on from first death in London

Piccadilly Circus station during London COVID-19 lockdown. Pic: Kwh1050

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has sent thoughts and prayers to families and friends of more than 14,000 Londoners who died because of Covid-19, as the capital marked the anniversary of the first Coronavirus death.

“Today marks one year since we lost the first Londoner with a confirmed case of COVID. It’s been a year of sorrow and grief for so many people across London and the UK.” London Mayor, Sadiq Khan said on March 4.

One year ago, the first official Covid related death in London was confirmed but the identity, age, and general health of the victim were not revealed.

The news came just days after the UK announced the nation’s first fatality on March 2, 2020, after a woman being treated for the virus at the Royal Berkshire Hospital lost her life. She was in her 70s and was understood to have had a number of pre-existing underlying health conditions.

In a statement at the time Chief Medical Advisor Christopher Witty said: “I am sorry to report a patient in England who tested positive for Covid-19 has sadly, died. I offer my sincere condolences to their family and friends.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a Covid-19 press conference

One year on, the official UK death toll now stands at 123,783, with the latest daily figure of 242 on March 4, 2021.

The capital has the highest rates in the country, accounting for almost 15% of all deaths; it has now recorded over 14,390 Covid related deaths.

This is just weeks after hitting the grim milestone of 10,000 deaths on January 13, a landmark described by Sadiq Khan as “heart-breaking.”

First reported case

The first reported Covid-19 case in the UK came on January 31, 2020 from Public Health England after two Chinese nationals studying at York university tested positive for the virus.

The first case in London followed less than two weeks later on February 12 when a woman in Lewisham contracted the virus after recently returning from China.

A year on, the UK has had over four million confirmed cases with the latest daily figure standing at 6,385 new national cases, 504 of those accounted for new cases in the capital.

The true number of those who have contracted the Coronavirus in the UK however is believed to be much greater.

First death actually in January?

Scientists now suggest that the Coronavirus may have been circulating in the UK from as early as autumn 2019, months before the first officially documented case. Professor Tim Spector of Kings College London, who leads the Zoe Covid Symptom study has said that the data they have collected “clearly shows many people had the virus back in December (2019).”

A woman in a face mask in London after Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a new three-tier system of alert levels for England in November 2020. Pic: Aaron Chown, PA Wire.

It also now appears that the first death from Covid-19 in the UK may have come long before March 2. It was confirmed in September 2020 that Peter Attwood, 84, from Chatham in Kent, who died on 30 January 2020 had in fact contracted the virus before his death.

This comes after his daughter Jane Buckland, 46, requested for her father’s tissue samples to be tested for the disease. Attwood’s death was initially put down to bronchial pneumonia and secondary heart failure.

In light of the findings, the Office for National Statistics published a statement alongside its mortality figures on September 4 which said: “Previously, the first UK death involving Covid-19 was recorded as occurring on March 2nd. However, a death of a man aged 80-84 was registered in week ending 4thSeptember 2020, which occurred in week ending 31 January 2020.”

The discovery has led Buckland to question just how long ago the virus reached the UK. She added: “My father hasn’t even stepped outside the country his entire life, let alone recently.”

First lockdown

The UK first went into lockdown on March 23, 2020, following an announcement from Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The restrictions then began to ease slowly seven weeks later, eventually allowing hospitality to begin opening its doors once again on July 4.

The summer saw a further easing of restrictions and the popular Eat Out to Help out scheme. Since then, the UK has seen restrictions eased and then tightened on more than multiple occasions.

The first lockdown announcement was announced by UK Prime Minister on March 23

The UK has now been in a national lockdown since January 5; this is the third lockdown and includes some of the harshest measures we have seen since the first lockdown in March last year. Plans to ease the nation out of this lockdown were announced on February 22 with schools set to return back next week on March 8.

The blueprints included plans to start the reopening of non-essential retail and outdoor dining from April 12, but Johnson has insisted the path out of lockdown will be focused on “data not dates.”

The lockdown is now clearly working in reducing infection rates throughout the country; March 1 saw the lowest UK covid related deaths since October 26.

Cases are continuing to fall and London which was facing the highest rates of infection in January with projections of 1 in 20 having Covid in some parts of the city now has lower levels of cases on average than the rest of the country.

This is most likely thanks to the tighter restrictions that have been placed on London from December 14 when it was placed into tier 3 and then further restrictions as the city was placed in tier 4 on December 19.

Piccadilly Circus during London COVID-19 lockdown. Pic:  Kwh1050.

In the week to February 24, Lewisham saw the lowest rate of infection of any London Borough at just 42.8 per 100,000 people.

Hackneys level fell to 57.1 and although Croydon also saw a fall of 17% in cases.

All London boroughs experienced a decline in cases aside from Islington and Tower Hamlets where cases rose by 1.8% and 0.6% respectively.

Despite the drop in cases and hospital admissions, Mayor Sadiq Khan stressed the importance of still adhering to the current lockdown rules.

He wrote on Twitter: “The number of Londoners battling COVID in hospital is dropping, but we must not undo all the hard work we’ve done to get here. Let’s not waste it all now. Stay at home, London.”

The major factor separating this lockdown from the previous is promise and hope provided by the vaccination programme.

The vaccination process is well underway in the UK after becoming the first country to approve the use of a covid vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTechCovid-19), with over 20 million people now having received their first dose.

With an aim of offering all of those aged 18 and over the vaccine by the end of summer, the country could be returning to some form of normality relatively soon.

The journey out of lockdown is dependent on the pace and success of the vaccination programme but is hoping that all sectors including nightclubs will be able to reopen after June 22.

Speaking at a downing street press conference on March 1 Matt Hancock said that the decline in cases was a clear sign that the vaccine was working but warned: “[L]et’s not blow it now”.

The passage out of lockdown will no doubt be a slow and cautious one but at last the finish line appears to be in sight.

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