Original article from Kent Live
Figures reveal the ongoing impact of coronavirus in Kent, one year after Boris Johnson first told the nation to “stay at home” in the wake of the pandemic.
During the past 12 months, COVID-19 – “this invisible killer”, as the Prime Minister described it in his national address – has been stamped onto the death certificates of more than 140,000 people in the UK, as either the underlying cause or a contributory factor.
Across the world, coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 2.65m people.
Closer to home, more than 5,000 families in Kent have experienced the heartbreak of losing a loved one to COVID-19; while others have lost jobs, seen businesses closed or suffered the crippling loneliness of being isolated from friends and close relations.
Yesterday, March 23 2021, marks a year of the fight against COVID-19.
It was on this day last year that a somber Mr Johnson told the nation to, “stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives”.
Marie Curie – an end of life charity – planned a national day of reflection, which included a minute’s silence at midday, followed by a bell toll.
'Every death is a tragedy'
From the start of the pandemic up to March 12 2021, a total of 5,349 people in Kent had died either from COVID-19 or with the virus as a contributory cause.
Of those deaths, 3,578 passed away in hospital, 1,287 in care homes, 263 in their own homes, 174 in a hospice, 32 in another communal establishment and 15 “elsewhere”.
During that time, 24,890 people in Kent had died from all causes, meaning more than one in five deaths were either caused or contributed to by the virus (22 per cent).
The week ending January 31 2020 saw the first death from COVID-19 registered in England, in Medway, Kent.
There were no more deaths in Kent until the week ending March 20, when two people died in Tonbridge and Malling and one in Swale.
But the worst period in the crisis came during the second wave of the pandemic, during the week ending January 15 2021, when there were 416 deaths of patients suffering from COVID-19.
Marie Curie’s Chief Executive, Matthew Reed, said: “The last year has been one of the most traumatic and uniting in modern history.
“With so many of us losing someone close, our shared sense of loss is incomparable to anything felt by this generation.
“Many of us have been unable to say a real goodbye or comfort our family, friends, and colleagues in their grief.
“We need to acknowledge that and recognise we are not alone.
“That’s why it is important that we all come together to reflect on our collective loss, celebrate the lives of the special people no longer here, support those who’ve been bereaved and look towards a much brighter future.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Every death from this virus is a tragedy and our condolences go out to everyone who has lost a loved one.
“This global pandemic challenged health systems across the world and our priority has always been saving lives, with an approach informed by the latest advice of our expert scientists.
“We are making incredible progress through our vaccination rollout as we battle to return life to normal, with more than 24 million people receiving their first dose. At the same time our world-leading genomics capabilities are helping countries to identify new variants.
“The government has always been clear there will be opportunities to look back, analyse and reflect on all aspects of COVID-19 and this will include an independent inquiry at the appropriate time.”
In Kent – after the first death in January – people first began to test positive for the virus during the first week of March 2020.
During the first wave, the infection rate reached a peak of 58.55 infections per 100,000 of the population during the week ending April 22, before the lockdown caused infections to fall – down to a weekly low of 4.30 infections per 100,000 in mid-August.
But as people mixed more freely over the summer months, the infection rate began to climb once more.
During the week ending October 28, 97.31 per 100,000 people were infected with the virus, and that continued to climb, rising to a peak rate of 753.31 for every 100,000 of the population of Kent in the week before Christmas.
Since then, the latest lockdown has caused the infection rate to fall, down to 29.21 per 100,000 people during the week ending March 10.
The good news is that as of March 7, 40.3 per cent of the adult population of Kent had received their vaccination against COVID-19 – a total of 635,934 people.
During the peak of the second wave, on January 4, there were 1,321 hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in hospitals run by Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, Medway NHS Foundation Trust, East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust and Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust.
That was 40.2 per cent of all beds available.
On that day another 34 beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients at hospitals run by Medway Community Healthcare and 40 at hospitals run by Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust.
Meanwhile, the number of ventilator beds in use in the area peaked on January 19, when 90 of them were occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Across all hospitals in England, more than 5,000 critical care beds a day were occupied during the last week in January 2021.
That compares with around 3,000 a day during the same week in 2020 and in 2019.
Business and employment
COVID-19 has had a far-reaching effect on everyone in Kent, even those fortunate enough to avoid being infected with the virus, or to see family and friends fall ill.
Coronavirus has seen shops and businesses forced to close for long periods of time – some permanently – while thousands have been placed on furlough or asked to work from home.
In Kent, the number of people claiming unemployment benefits almost doubled between last March, when the first lockdown began, and November 2020, rising from 35,802 to 70,349.
These figures are a combination of claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Universal Credit (UC) who fall within the UC ‘searching for work’ conditionality.
They show that before the pandemic, just 3.2 per cent of the working age population of Kent were claiming unemployment benefits.
By November, that had soared to 6.2 per cent.
Meanwhile, across the UK as a whole the redundancy rate has rocketed, as companies have increasingly been forced to lay off workers.
In March 2020, the redundancy rate was running at 3.9 redundancies per 1,000 employees.
By October that had peaked at 14.2 per 1,000 employees, which was even higher than at the height of the 2008 and 2009 financial crash, when it reached 12.2 per 1,000 employees.
With up to 8.9 million people on furlough, and many businesses unable to trade as normal, the average number of hours worked per week, per person dropped by more than six hours.
The figure fell from an average of 32.3 hours worked per week, per person between April and June 2019, to 25.9 in the same three months of 2020 – the lowest since 2008.
The accommodation and food industry – which includes pubs, hotels and restaurants – was hardest hit, with a 54 per cent fall in average weekly hours worked.
Meanwhile, the high street was struggling even before the pandemic, due to increasing numbers of people choosing to shop online or visit out-of-town retail parks that offer free parking.
But COVID-19 has massively accelerated the destruction of many retail businesses.
In 2019, 43 companies failed, affecting 2,051 shops and 46,506 employees.
Last year, 54 companies collapsed, impacting more than twice as many shops (5,214) and more than double the amount of workers (109,407).
High street chains that have fallen into administration over the last year include Debenhams – the oldest retail chain in the UK – Arcadia, Go Outdoors,Victoria’s Secret, Oasis and Spicers.
Meanwhile, money pumped into coronavirus support schemes – such as paying the wages of furloughed workers – has pushed up public sector debt to levels not seen since the early 1960s.
At the end of January 2021, public sector net debt made up 97.9 per cent of the UK’s GDP (gross domestic product) – up from 84.4 per cent at the end of March 2020.
Again, this is even higher than the figure seen during the 2008/09 financial crash, with public sector debt rising from 34.2 per cent of GDP at the end of March 2008 to 49.7 per cent a year later.