Greater Lincolnshire
December 30, 2020 9.56 am

2020: How Lincolnshire coped with COVID

A rollercoaster year moving at high speed

2020 has been a tumultuous year. What we expected to be another 12 months of droning on about Brexit turned out to be much worse.

When leavers celebrated Brexit Day in Lincolnshire on January 31, all we knew about COVID-19 was a brief offer of support and guidance from the University of Lincoln to students and staff with connections to China and Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated.

But by the end of February warnings were on the increase, a Skegness GP closed its doors temporarily due to fears patients had been infected, Lincoln Cathedral was giving advice on the virus, new “coronavirus pods” were set up at hospitals to deal with travellers returning from China who felt unwell, schools had closed as tests began and five local pupils had been isolated following a ski trip to Italy — one of the countries the virus rapidly spread to.


MARCH

Coronavirus had officially arrived in Lincolnshire by March 6 as government confirmed “up to four” people had tested positive for COVID.

The government’s coronavirus dashboard several months later says there had been two confirmed on March 3 — but the next one isn’t listed until March 9.

The first case in North Lincolnshire wasn’t far behind, being confirmed on March 10. North East Lincolnshire would confirm its first case 10 days later.

From there began the slow decline into a country ruled by restrictions as numbers rose, new rules were brought in and, eventually, the virus brought further disruption.

Three coronavirus pods at Lincoln County Hospital. Photo: Connor Creaghan for The Lincolnite

Health bosses at the time tried to reassure people that the risk to the general public “remains low” and that there was “no reason to panic”.

Government bosses also moved to reassure the public, including saying that schools would not close.

However, within days students were being sent home, local councils cancelled public meetings, events were postponed, hospital departments were closed and planning for a much worse situation was stepping up.

An innocent public, not quite sure what was true or not, began stockpiling shopping including loo rolls and food and supermarkets were forced to bring in limits on purchases.

Not everyone was bothered, however, as thousands of visitors flocked to Skegness despite advice from council and health bosses urging people to socially distance and government guidance not to make non-essential travels.

Thousands flocked to Skegness despite travel warnings. | Photo: Cygnet House Dental Studio

On March 20, the Prime Minister announced a shutdown of all bars, pubs, clubs, cinemas and leisure facilities in the UK, then just days later, on March 22 he closed all non-essential shops, banned gatherings of more than two people and told people to stay home.

Lockdown number one officially began on March 23. It came with a penalty for those breaching the rules – but some said it should be greater.

The first person in Lincolnshire to die from coronavirus was confirmed on March 27. At the time there had been 689 deaths nationwide.


APRIL

The lockdown sparked a number of fears around the economic impact on the high street and the cost to families, councils and other businesses.

Employees were put on furlough as businesses shut their doors and emergency services began responding to worst case scenarios — including a new mortuary in Woodhall Spa.

But it also sparked a number of positive stories as communities pulled together to push through all the struggles

The regular ‘clap for carers’ began in early April, and was observed in large numbers on Thursdays at 8pm to applaud all essential workers who were on the frontline during the virus’ peak.

The Woodhall Spa mortuary. Photo: John Aron

The weekly event gathered so much momentum that the next week the iconic Lincoln Cathedral lit up blue in honour of the NHS.

It wasn’t just the cathedral that sported colours to support key workers, Peter Spaczynski became a local celebrity for his ‘rainbow house’ on Bunkers Hill in Lincoln.

As well as Peter, Kate Eilidh and her children decorated their home, colouring the bricks in chalk to make a rainbow of their own.

People in Lincolnshire have also been coming up with innovative ways to put a smile on everyone’s faces throughout COVID-19 lockdown, including bus driver Adam Wales and his entertaining TikTok videos.

People found new ways to raise morale.

Organisations and individual around the county began making protective equipment such as 3D-printed face shields, masks and scrubs

For example, For The Love Of Scrubs, a Lincoln-based group, encouraged the local community to use household fabrics and create protective scrubs for frontline NHS staff.

Local distilleries tackled the hand sanitiser shortage in March, making their own from the high volumes of alcohol they produce.

It wasn’t all plain sailing as plans to release sky lanterns for the NHS were labelled “total madness”.

It was almost easy to forget the troubles of the pandemic as people began sharing their joy.

However, the situation continued to rumble in the background with numbers rising throughout the month.

‘Rainbow house’ with the completed thank you message for key workers. Photo: Steve Smailes

In order to help hospitals cope with the pressures, more than £342 million of debt was written off from United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust and Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Trust’s books by government.

To get local democracy back on track, councils were given powers to hold meetings remotely.

As bank holidays and other events took place, people were warned not to go out — for example to the coast.

The first police fines were also issued to lockdown rule breakers. Some people, however, demanded tougher police state-like lockdown crackdowns.

ULHT’s chief executive Andrew Morgan spoke to staff through a live video while sat in one of the trust’s store rooms in order to demonstrate how much PPE stock the hospitals had.

It was especially tough for police at times as cabin fever began to set in, with one night shift reporting that almost every officer on duty was reportedly involved in violent or abusive situations.

Speedsters also began taking advantage of the quieter roads to reach some high miles per hour, sparking warnings from officers.

Elsewhere, millions began being handed out to struggling businesses to keep them afloat.

Lincolnshire’s multiple testing sites, built in the run-up to lockdown, were also scrapped for a much larger one based at the Lincolnshire Showground. Later in the year more sites would also be built as testing became more focused.

Councils also reported starting to see the impact on their revenue streams as income from car parking, licensing and planning took massive hits.

Although they received millions in funding from government in a bid to cover the impact of the virus, some councils were keen to push for more.


MAY

May began with a stark reminder of the dangers NHS workers put themselves in when dealing with pandemics as tribute was paid to Anujkumar Kuttikkottu Pavithran, who tragically died aged 44 on Monday, April 27 after working with the NHS for nine years.

It came amid a continuing debate and concern over the supply of Personal Protection Equipment for the country and its health services.

Lincolnshire bosses also mourned the closure of nearly a quarter of the county’s businesses as nearly £200 million was paid out to support the local economy.

The impact of lockdown made itself known further as parents lamented the difficult task of providing their children with education through lockdown.

However, as the end of the first lockdown approached the debate around going back to school kicked in, with some fearing the transmission of coronavirus through young students back to parents.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during one of the press briefings.

Residents excited about the prospect of lockdown restrictions being lifted – particularly the most vulnerable – were also urged to “temper their expectations”.

On Sunday, May 10, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new coronavirus rules which would start easing lockdown in England from the following Wednesday.

A 50-page blueprint was launched which outlined what you could and couldn’t do — but many said it was confusing.

The government’s furlough scheme was also extended by another four months.

Shortly after, Lincolnshire began its phased return to work and school, though businesses argued little had changed.

A deeper impact of coronavirus also revealed itself as May’s employment figures showed more than 14,000 had signed up for Universal Credit since the start of the pandemic.

Care homes in Lincolnshire were also given £10.5 million in extra coronavirus cash in a bid to support residents and staff, as many transmissions and deaths were recorded in that sector.

The end of the first lockdown was a staged event, but eventually as rules began to relax, traffic levels began to return to pre-lockdown levels and businesses began to trade over the next few weeks.

Lincoln City themed scrubs were created for healthcare workers at Lincoln County Hospital. Photo: Fiona Robertson

Contact tracing was also set to begin in a bid to get a hold on tramissions and get people who may have been in contact with infected residents to self-isolate.

However, national debate continued to stir the waters, including the actions of the then-Prime Minister’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings was forced to defend a 260-mile drive in March from his home to County Durham with his ill child and wife.

Lincolnshire’s political leaders rallied around the advisor, however, public health officials feared his actions had damaged the core messages that the government were trying hard to promote.

Shortly after, Lincoln’s MP Karl McCartney was forced to defend his travel advice to a constituent too.

As the sun shined on Lincoln, people remained vigilant in lockdown. Photo: Steve McSmailes

Elsewhere Lincolnshire’s council leaders fell out over a letter sent by county council leader Martin Hill and his counterparts in North and North East Lincolnshire calling for talks on local government reorganisation to restart.

The news came as the same local leaders began to take on responsibility for the pandemic response in the county from emergency service leaders.

May also saw the final week of Clap for Carers, while hospital bosses were able to say they had never hit capacity during the crisis.


JUNE

The debates from May continued into June as shops gradually re-opened one-by-one. Some taking longer than others as staff and customers adjusted to the “new normal”.

Health bosses were confident plans were in place for the reopening of the county’s economy as shops and markets began welcoming customers again.

But even as they did so, some quirks in the new legislation were evident as people began to understand the rules. They included making hook-ups technically illegal.

Parents, initially continued to be reluctant about sending their children back to the classroom as some schools reported just a third of students returning.

Queues at Primark as restrictions started to be lifted. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

The big talking point at the beginning of June, however, was the series of protests around the country, including by Extinction Rebellion and the Black Lives Matter organisations.

Lincoln held its own Black Lives Matter protest which health officials supported going ahead, but urged caution over. No infection spikes were recorded after the event.

However, the large gatherings prompted sharp responses from those keen on complying with social distancing and COVID-19 rules with many quick to jump to criticism of those in attendance.

The first BLM protest in Lincoln in June 2020. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

As health services began reintroducing services, there was a big re-jig across the county’s hospitals, including Grantham Hospital being turned into a “green” COVID-free site.

Other moves saw certain procedures transferred between hospitals in order to better protect patients.

With cases decreasing, and the county going weeks without deaths at times, June looked like things would be getting better.

Health bosses even felt confident in saying the county might not even be touched by a second wave as more businesses looked forward to opening the following month.

It was too good to be true, as the month ended with the lowest number of cases since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown.


JULY

The next month began with a shock as thousands of previously unrecorded “community” cases were added to the statistics.

Meanwhile, an economic survey showed the “devastating impact of COVID-19” on businesses and the High Street.

The month started off quietly in terms of coronavirus, with numbers staying low as people slowly returned to the high street, including the local pubs and restaurants.

The government announced its new Eat Out to Help Out deal and brought in new street cafe rules as it looked to help boost business in the aftermath of the lockdown.

However, health bosses were cautious as they awaited the autumn and winter months – it would later transpire they were right to be so.

Castle Barber owner Azad Kaka with all the PPE on as he prepared for reopening.

It wasn’t long until panic struck, however, as the first Lincolnshire pub was forced to close due to staff with COVID-19 symptoms.

In a bid to control public health as cases continued to surge elsewhere in England, the government also brought in new rules to make face coverings mandatory in many — later most — indoor spaces.

The new rules, however, weren’t without resistance from local politicians including Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh.

Walkabout’s guidance ahead of its reopening on July 4. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

July saw the first Lincolnshire business lose its alcohol licence over a breach of coronavirus rules.

Some of the first business casualties also began to appear, including a gym in Grantham, which was liquidated.

Despite all of that, however, July was the month with the fewest cases and deaths since the pandemic began. Rising figures elsewhere though meant some restrictions, due to be lifted on August 1, were postponed.


AUGUST

August also began as a fairly quiet month as lockdown entered week 20, with councils preparing for applications of new pavement seating extensions.

Lincolnshire’s health bosses also revealed they had not yet used any pub or restaurant COVID-19 contact tracing data, a month on from the venues reopening.

But as Lincolnshire’s cases settled, something was looming across the border. Neighbours Newark had seen cases triple in their area, signalling the start of a sharp rise across the Nottinghamshire region.

The new cases included a big food (Bakkavor) factory right across the boundary with more than a third of the cases from there being commuters from the Lincolnshire area.

The testing site at Lincolnshire Showground. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

The rise would also mark the start of the county losing its own advantage on its neighbours. Increasing cases and the impact of coronavirus continued to see businesses close and events at Newark Showground were cancelled shortly after.

In more positive news, football teams, including Lincoln City, were looking forward to potentially returning to action from September and planning for how they could get fans into their stadiums.

The Newark outbreak, however, continued to affect Lincolnshire, at one point seeing Lincoln put on a COVID-19 “red list” due to commuters who had been affected.

As the situation continued to look dodgy, Boston Marathon would not be the only event to announce its cancellation in the coming weeks.

Case numbers at the end of August were low and Lincolnshire managed to make it without any hospital deaths for the entire month.


SEPTEMBER

September saw a government review cut more than 70 deaths off the statistics in Greater Lincolnshire with more than 5,000 deaths removed nationally as they focussed only on those who died within 28 days of a positive test.

Meanwhile hospitals, having started to reintroduce services, reported a reduced backlog of cancer treatments, but had seen waiting lists triple.

The month was not without some major headaches for both health bosses and residents, as new problems with booking tests at the Lincolnshire Showground and across the national network surfaced.

There was also a very quick onset of schools reporting COVID cases after youngsters returned and the debate over whether they should be open or not would continue until the end of the year.

The testing centre on Beevor Street in Lincoln. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

It was, however, confirmed that the University of Lincoln would be getting its own testing centre for when students returned in October as the start of term was pushed back a month.

As cases continued to rise, more events were cancelled including Lincoln’s South Common funfair which was shut down by the City of Lincoln Council.

On September 9, however, the rules were changed again — bringing in a new single measure to replace the existing bans on more than 30 peoplemeeting and the rule of two households. It became known as the “rule of six” — and wouldn’t last long.

It quickly became clear why, as by September 11, there had been more COVID-19 cases than the entirety of August. Hospital bosses were quick to say that there was “no doubt” the virus was making its comeback in Lincolnshire.

North Lincolnshire was threatened with local lockdown as cases tripled in the area.

| Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Government also gave hospitals across the region an additional £15 million to upgrade their A&Es as the figures continued to rise.

On September 21, more new rules were announced, with compulsory face masks everywhere and a pub and restaurants 10pm curfew brought in.

Further limits were also brought in on how many people could meet or attend certain events and tighter penalties including £10,000 mega fines were brought in.

To balance the new measures a new COVID-19 tracking app was launched and further financial measures were announced.

However, despite reassurances and nearly nine months of experience at this point, shoppers began stockpiling again as the expectations of a second lockdown increased.

By the end of the month, there had been a 400% spike in COVID-19 cases in September compared to the previous month and infection rates across Greater Lincolnshire had doubled.

Health bosses, despite concerns over the numbers, said the area was unlikely to see any local lockdowns before wider national restrictions were brought in — and they were right, but it would be another month before they were proven to do so.


OCTOBER

October started with some hiccups as it was revealed an elderly patient was stopped from entering Grantham Hospital’s Urgent Treatment Centre and forced to defecate outside, in public view.

However, more good news saw the county’s capital get a new testing centre on Lincoln University’s campus while Grimsby established a new site on the Duchess Street Car Park in the town.

Disaster struck, however, as neighbouring Nottinghamshire and Nottingham City found themselves heading into a local lockdown, causing worries for health bosses.

As numbers spiked, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed a new three tier “alert system” to tackle coronavirus on Monday, but rejected a second national lockdown.

A day later, it was confirmed, Lincolnshire would be put on the lowest tier level, only slightly confusingly called the “medium” tier. It would be joined by both North and North East Lincolnshire to begin with.

The confusing message some people using the NHS COVID-19 app were seeing. | Photo: The Lincolnite

The new alert system caused confusion when it sent out phantom notifications telling people they were in COVID levels they weren’t — but bosses quickly moved to reassure the population the initial recommendation of “medium” was correct.

The national debate centred around a mounting argument for a circuit break lockdown, but the Prime Minister continued to resist the notion.

However, numbers continued to rise, and soon after South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire entered into further tier 3 lockdowns.

North East Lincolnshire continued to deteriorate further with the authority and its neighbours North Lincolnshire both edging towards a higher tier.

On October 29, the announcement came for the pair of councils — they would be moving in to tier 2.

Lincolnshire bosses argued it would not follow its Greater Lincolnshire counter parts.

But then, on October 31, a press conference was called by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who confirmed the whole country would go into a second month-long national lockdown throughout November.


NOVEMBER

The lockdown 2.0 news took local health bosses by surprise, and the county’s leaders said they were “disappointed” by the latest measures.

Despite some Lincolnshire MPs being vocal over their concerns around the second lockdown, they all voted for it.

It saw business yet again forced to close, and some said it showed that the national test and trace system was not working.

One Lincoln family backed that up by being fed up with what they said was “harassment” from the service.

The lockdown also sparked another, albeit brief, wave of lockdown panic buying as shoppers stocked up ahead of it.

People were panic buying toilet roll again. | Photo: Ruth Hollingsworth

There was however a growing complacency to the rules and many up and down the country chose to have one last blow-out — and that was no different in Lincolnshire.

The second lockdown started quietly for most, with just a few fined for breaching rules.

However, as other areas of the UK began to show signs of slowing, the numbers in the Greater Lincolnshire region continued to rocket with several record days for cases and deaths.

Soon the county found itself meeting the the national rate of infection, and shortly after that a “critical incident” was declared at the county’s hospitals due to staff shortages and large numbers on patients combined.

November also saw the first Lincolnshire MP isolating following a meeting with the Prime Minister and another MP who later tested positive for coronavirus.

Health bosses soon began predicting that it was likely Lincolnshire would go up to a higher tier of restrictions once lockdown ended.

The rise also saw an increase in the number of schools closing or sending classrooms home.

| Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Despite schools and care homes being the main COVID-19 outbreak hotspots, government and health bosses continued to disagree with calls to close them.

For a long while Lincolnshire was in the dark about what would happen when it came out of lockdown, but as numbers increased fears grew that it would end up with the toughest restrictions allowed.

In some pre-lockdown news, however, the government chose this moment to begin discussing its plans for Christmas, seeing restrictions lifted partially to allow three households to meet in an exclusive bubble for up to five days between December 23-27.

The night before the second lockdown. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

On November 26, the government confirmed that all of Greater Lincolnshire would be put into the toughest tier 3 of COVID restrictions from December 2.

The new rules meant all shops can open, but pubs and restaurants were only allowed to stay open for takeaway services, similarly to now.

Schools, universities and places of worship will stay open, though may be subject to household bubbles.

Unlike the previous tier 3 rules, gyms would be able to open and people were allowed to take part in outdoor sports such as golf, tennis and Sunday football.

The rule of six continued to apply outdoors but there was to be no mixing of households.

Local leaders said they were “disappointed” and “frankly devastated” that Greater Lincolnshire will be placed into the toughest restrictions when it comes out of lockdown on December 2.

Tier 3 infection areas, including Greater Lincolnshire, would be better placed to go into more relaxed restrictions if they accept mass testing support, health secretary Matt Hancock said.

The news dashed many hopes of a Christmas pick-me-up and saw a number of events around the county cancelled, including the Lincoln Castle Illuminated event.

However, there was more good news to come as some towns around the county, including Skegness, confirmed they would be getting additional testing centres.

Elsewhere, students in Lincoln were preparing to go home as mass testing began ahead of the end of term.

At the end of November, the total number of cases confirmed for the month — 14,785 — was more than double that of October.


DECEMBER

As December began a government vote confirmed the new tiering system, with just one Lincolnshire MP voting against the measures.

Lincolnshire health bosses were confident the county could return to some of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in England as it heads into 2021, but warned people need to “work our hardest now”.

They were to be sorely disappointed when the next review took place on December 16 and Lincolnshire was kept in tier 3 with the majority of the country.

The decision caused consternation for some council leaders, particularly those in districts with the lowest infection rates.

South Holland leader Gary Porter felt he had failed his district over the COVID restrictions. He said the area should be in a lower tier as many residents travelled to Peterborough which was under laxer rules.

However, his argument would no longer hold water following the review when Peterborough was then put into the toughest restrictions days later.

South Holland District Council leader, Lord Gary Porter.

The country has been given an early Christmas gift though as the Pfizer vaccine was given the go ahead and rolled out to hospitals, including Lincolnshire’s, and then GPs.

Infection rate numbers also began to fall — though remain well above the UK average.

Midway through the month, it was revealed that nearly a third of patients in Lincolnshire’s hospitals acquired coronavirus while being treated.

Under pressure staff at some of Greater Lincolnshire’s councils will be rewarded with an extra day off.

December also saw a new variant of the coronavirus confirmed in the UK, with more than 1,000 cases across 60 local authorities.

Lincolnshire’s cases up to December 20.

On December 16, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the Christmas rules would stay but said it was everyone’s personal responsibility to keep numbers down as the mutation was 70% more infectious, though not more dangerous.

However, it wasn’t to be as just three days later, Mr Johnson U-turned on his words, bringing the Christmas break down to just the big day itself, and putting several areas with high rates into a new, tougher tier 4 lockdown.

By the following Monday morning, the new virus had not yet reached Lincolnshire, but just a week later, the mutation was here.

Over Christmas, the county’s infection rates have continued to drop down the table, however, this is mainly because rates elsewhere in the UK have increased dramatically.

Nationally, the number of daily cases confirmed has broken records with 53,000 cases on Tuesday as the new variant sweeps across England.

The government announced on Monday that school children preparing for exams, or of primary school age, will return to class next week but not all school age children will go back.

Health services have reported being under pressure due to increased patient numbers. With ambulance services reporting almost as many calls on Boxing Day as at the height of the first wave.

In good news, however, the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine has been authorised by UK regulators.


And now, to the future

Economy chiefs say there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that business will return next year, but are predicting a rough start to the year.

Health bosses are predicting a “bleak midwinter” ahead and have reiterated warnings to behave over Chrstmas as deaths spike.

And council bosses are hoping that the numbers will come down enough to escape the Hotel California that is tier three.

But with the new COVID mutation spreading like wildfire across the country, the Prime Minister could announce an even higher tier of lockdown, or shut down the whole country again by the new year.

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