COVID 19 - THE TIMELINE OF A PANDEMIC

By Richard Fleury

The whole world will remember 2020 as the year of coronavirus.


In Faversham, as elsewhere, the outbreak has caused the biggest disruption to our way of life since World War Two.


This pandemic has affected us all in ways which were unimaginable only a few months ago.

Most of us now know someone who has had the virus. Some of them, sadly, have not recovered. Many of us will have friends or family who are carers or medical staff whose safety and welfare is being directly affected by decisions made at a national level.


With every passing day it has become more painfully obvious that the UK was sleepwalking into this crisis and our leaders got it very, very wrong.


Right now, the long-term consequences are impossible to predict. Our town and our country may not be quite the same again.


But whatever the future holds, we felt it was important for the Eye to record and try to understand how we got here.


So this is how it all started:

Sunday 12 January


China releases the coronavirus genetic code. The UK is one of the first countries to develop an accurate test and begins tracing potential carriers

Friday 24 January


The disease has spread to six countries. Globally respected medical journal the Lancet warns it could deadlier than the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic which killed 50 million.


Boris Johnson skips an emergency meeting of the Cobra national crisis committee.


Health Secretary Matthew Hancock says the risk to the UK is ‘low’.


Prof Chris Whitty, the Government’s chief medical officer, adds: “The UK is well-prepared...with excellent readiness against infectious diseases.”

Wednesday 29 January


The UK’s first two patients test positive for Covid-19.

Thursday 30 January


The World Health Organisation puts all governments on notice that the coming threat is a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ – the highest level of alert that the WHO can issue.

Friday 31 January


In the Lancet, Chinese researchers warn of a global epidemic. “Preparedness plans should be readied,” they urge, “including securing supply chains of pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, hospital supplies, and the necessary human resources”.


At 11pm Britain formally exits the European Union. By now, the coronavirus outbreak has overtaken SARS.

Friday 7 February


Public Health England says: “The risk to individuals remains low.”

Tuesday 11 February


Scientists modelling the outbreak advise a Cobra committee on measures including restricting leisure activities and public gatherings. Boris Johnson is absent.

Wednesday 12 February


The virus spreads into Europe as the Health Department states: “The NHS and wider health system is extremely well prepared for coronavirus.”

Monday 17 February


Faversham's MP Helen Whately joins the Health Department as Minister of Care as part of Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle.

Friday 21 February


As restrictions are imposed in badly-affected northern Italy, a UK government advisory committee of scientists finds "no objections" to keeping the risk level to the country at "moderate".


Meanwhile Boris Johnson enjoys a 12-day holiday with his pregnant fiancée at Chevening, a 115-room 17th-century grace and favour mansion by a lake on a 3,500-acre country estate near Sevenoaks.

Monday 24 February


Nine cases of Covid-19 are confirmed in the UK, as the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends countries prioritise testing and contact tracing.


The UK Government confirms it has sent nearly 650,000 items of health workers' Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to China.

Tuesday 25 February


Global cases exceed 80,000.

Wednesday 26 February


Scientists warn the Government's Cobra emergency committee the NHS “will be unable to meet all demands” from an unchecked pandemic. Again, Boris Johnson is absent.

Friday 28 February


Boris Johnson's advisor Dominic Cummings promotes 'herd immunity' or allowing the virus to spread unchecked. Cummings allegedly argues “protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.


The FTSE index suffers its biggest one-week fall since 2008.


The UK has 20 confirmed cases.

Monday 2 March


The first Kent case is reported as a Faversham father tests positive after a trip to Italy.


Some Queen Elizabeths' pupils self-isolate for 14 days as a family member is diagnosed.


After missing five Cobra meetings while he took a holiday, reshuffled his cabinet and prioritised Brexit, Boris Johnson attends for the first time. By now, every Western European country but one is infected.

Tuesday 3 March


Boris Johnson unveils his coronavirus 'action plan', advising people to wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. Hand-sanitising gel sells out. Faversham Boots limits purchases to two per customer. MPs warn of a national shortage of health workers.


Faversham MP and health minister Helen Whately tells them they are ‘talking down’ the NHS. “Let’s stop talking about a crisis in nurse staffing,” she says.

Wednesday 4 March


There are now 85 confirmed UK cases as Covid-19 begins to surge.


Italy and Spain shut down, pleading for other countries not to repeat their mistakes.

The virus has now reached 81 countries, with more than 90,000 confirmed worldwide cases and more than 3,000 deaths.

Thursday 5 March


A woman in her seventies becomes the first person to die in the UK after testing positive. More than 100 people are now infected in Britain.


Health Secretary Matthew Hancock claims ministers are working with supermarkets to ensure food supplies reach those self-isolating.


On daytime TV, Boris Johnson says: “I'm shaking hands continuously. I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody you'll be pleased to know. I continue to shake hands.”


Referring to 'herd immunity', Boris Johnson says: “Perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures.”

Saturday 7 March


Supermarkets accuse Matthew Hancock of lying. One executive says his claims about working with them are “totally made up”.


Boris Johnson attends an England v Wales rugby game at Twickenham.

Tuesday 10 March


The Government announces a £12 billion package of emergency support.


The WHO officially declares a pandemic.


The three-day Cheltenham Festival, attended by 250,000 racegoers is allowed to go ahead.


Nadine Dorries, a junior health minister, becomes the first MP to test positive.

Wednesday 11 March


Britain has 456 cases and has carried out 25,000 tests, according to officials.


Faversham's Newton Place Surgery tells patients with Covid-19 symptoms to call NHS 111.

Thursday 12 March


The UK stops testing people with mild symptoms, against WHO advice. Thousands are now believed to be infected in Britain.


Boris Johnson says: "Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who presided over six years of NHS underfunding and privatisation, publicly criticises Boris Johnson's response to the virus.

Friday 13 March


The Government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance explains the current 'herd immunity' approach, saying: “Communities will become immune to it...about 60 per cent is the sort of figure you need.”


With no vaccine available, the policy will result in some 40 million people getting ill and another 800,000 ending up in intensive care. The NHS has fewer than 5,000 intensive care beds and an acute shortage of ventilators, PPE and testing capacity.


Confirmed UK cases rise by more than 200 in 24 hours.


The government recommends not visiting pubs, restaurants or theatres.

Saturday 14 March

The UK's initial contact-and-trace strategy is abandoned. Testing is prioritised for those most ill in hospital.


Thousands sign a junior doctor’s petition demanding NHS workers are tested so they know if they are safe to work. The Government says it is aiming for 25,000 tests a day.


The NHS has 5,000 ventilators. Germany has 28,000.


Spain goes into lockdown.


The Faversham Community Coronavirus Help and Support group is set up to assist local people.


Sunday 15 March


Confirmed UK cases pass 1,000.


Boris Johnson promises daily testing will “hopefully, very soon” rise to 250,000.


The elderly may be quarantined for up to four months, says Health Secretary Matthew Hancock.


In Faversham, Age Concern appeals for helpers and supermarkets run out of pasta, rice, hand sanitiser and toilet roll as nation-wide panic-buying begins.

Monday 16 March


The UK’s death toll in hospitals rises to 55, with 1,543 confirmed cases. An estimated 10,000 people have already been infected.


The WHO urges governments to “Test test test!”


Boris Johnson advises – but does not order – people to work from home and avoid pubs, restaurants, theatres and non-essential travel. He insists the risk of transmission at mass gatherings such as sporting events is “relatively low”.


Schools stay open.


Imperial College scientists warn the Government's policy will potentially cause 250,000 deaths. Number 10 does not publicly mention “herd immunity” again.


On Twitter, Health Secretary Matthew Hancock, asks British manufacturers to make ventilators: “If you produce a ventilator, we will buy it.”


An immuno-compromised Faversham pensioner receives a home assessment visit from a DWP nurse who was in contact with a Covid-19 patient the previous day. The DWP suspends all face-to-face interviews for four weeks.


As Faversham's Tesco store restricts certain items, some customers subject staff to 'shocking' abuse. Others fill trolleys and use self-scan machines to break the two-per-person rule or make multiple trips per day.


Meanwhile Faversham Foodbank sees a surge in donations and offers to help. “People are being astonishingly generous,” says chair Charlie Hendry. “It has almost moved me to tears, some of the stuff we've been getting. More than we would normally get and we have had people sending money as well.”


Faversham's MP, health minister Helen Whately gives several disastrous TV interviews. She claims the NHS has adequate PPE and, on BBC Newsnight, fails to answer the question: "What is the point of not going to the pub if your kids are going to bring coronavirus from school?"

Tuesday 17 March

As 71 hospital deaths are confirmed, Boris Johnson jokes that the national appeal for ventilators should be called 'Operation Last Gasp'.


Number 10's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance says 55,000 people may now be infected and 20,000 deaths would be a “good outcome”.


A patient at Ashford's William Harvey Hospital tests positive.


The Department of Health ignores an offer of 5,000 new ventilators from a UK importer, followed by another offer of 50 million self-test kits.


Chancellor Rishi Sunak promises £350 billion-worth of government aid for companies.

Faversham Town Council cancels all events until June and Faversham's Youth Cafe closes. Faversham's pubs stay open. Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin claims there has “hardly been any” transmission of the coronavirus in pubs.


France goes into lockdown.

Wednesday 18 March


Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby compares the pandemic to “a nuclear explosion”.

The government finally announces schools will shut down from Friday.


Faversham's Abbey Physic Garden closes. The Covid-19 Mutual Aid Faversham group forms.

Tesco announces priority opening for the elderly and vulnerable every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for one hour between 9 and 10am.


Kent County Council allows elderly and disabled bus passes to be used before 9.30am

Thursday 19 March


The hospital death toll reaches 144 in the UK, a 40 per cent increase in 24 hours. There are now 3,269 confirmed cases.


With medical staff reporting PPE shortages, the Government downgrades the status of Covid-19. From today it is no longer classed as a High Consequence Infectious Disease like SARS and MERS and health workers are told to follow new guidance on PPE.


Boris Johnson claims he can “turn the tide of this disease” within 12 weeks and 'send the virus packing'.


Panic buying continues with 42 million extra shopping trips made nationally over the last three days. The hour set aside for the elderly at Faversham Tesco is widely ignored as staff are unable to enforce it. Shoppers at the town's Sainsbury's report similar scenes.

Friday 20 March

Johnson finally orders all pubs, restaurants, gyms and social venues to close in what a former cabinet minister will later describe as a “screeching U-turn”.


The Government announces a list of 'key workers', including health and social care staff and those working in education, local government, the food industry, national security, transport and communications.


Faversham's Jubilee Centre shuts. Faversham Market goes ahead for the last time before closing indefinitely. Faversham Town Council's May 2020 by-elections are cancelled.


Chancellor Rishi Sunak announces the government will pay up to 80 percent of wages for workers' at risk of being laid off.


England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jenny Harries, says: “The country has a perfectly adequate supply of PPE.” She claims supply pressures have been “completely resolved”.

Saturday March 21


Across the UK more than 230 people have died in hospital from the virus, with 4,000 confirmed infected.


Faversham's supermarket shelves are stripped. In the last four weeks, British shoppers have made over 79 million extra grocery shopping trips.


Supermarket chain Morrisons announces a daily 'NHS hour' for health workers from 7am to 8am.

Sunday 22 March

UK hospital deaths reach 281 with 5683 confirmed cases.


The WHO urges the UK to adopt the case finding, contact tracing and testing and quarantine that proved successful in China, Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea.


Downing Street makes emergency requests to research institutions for testing equipment.

In Faversham, as elsewhere, pubs are still busy as Boris Johnson threatens stricter measures.

Monday 23 March


The UK death toll is now 335.


Boris Johnson announces a national lockdown will start tomorrow. Pubs will close, with

people allowed to leave home to shop for food, medicine, exercise once per day and work.


Faversham's Wetherspoons drafts in off-duty staff, expecting one of the busiest nights of the year.


Johnson calls coronavirus “the biggest threat this country has faced for decades”.


Modelling of “targeted herd immunity” is included in a new planning document by a Government health technology contractor.


Shops selling non-essential goods are told to close. Gatherings of more than two people are banned. Vulnerable groups are told to self-isolate for 12 weeks.


Southeastern announces a reduced train service.


Dentists close due to lack of PPE.


Play areas across Swale close.


Faversham's Happy Endings rescue centre appeals for donations to keep animals fed.


Tuesday 24 March


The UK hospital death toll jumps to 422, the biggest daily increase yet.


London's tube trains are still crowded.


Swale Borough Council closes all offices and children's centres but its traffic wardens still ticket cars.


Kent County Council closes its recycling centres, including Faversham's Salters Lane site.


Doctors' and nurses' organisations warn NHS staff may threaten to quit over PPE shortages.


The Government launches an appeal for 250,000 NHS volunteers.


A new field hospital called the Nightingale is prepared at London's Excel Centre


Testing for the disease reaches about 6,500 a day. It will not reach 25,000 until mid-April, admits the Government.


Wetherspoon employees are told they will not be paid now pubs are closed. Their boss Tim Martin suggests his 40,000 staff should 'go to work at Tesco'.

Wednesday 25 March