One year ago today – this is when we realised Covid-19 would hit Sheffield

One year ago today Sheffield’s director of public health stood in front of a packed Town Hall meeting and warned Covid-19 would hit the city.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 12:33 pm

In March 2020, there were only 85 people out of a population of 65 million who had tested positive for coronavirus and the Government said containment was working well.

Within weeks, the virus ripped through the country taking lives and causing serious long term illness. It brought the NHS to its knees, destroyed the economy and separated families with a series of lockdowns.

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Director of Public Health in Sheffield, Greg Fell, addresses a council meeting in March 2020

When Greg Fell addressed the March meeting of full council, it was the first time councillors understood the full implications of the rampant virus.

Julie Dore, who was Council Leader at the time, said no one realised how devastating and long lasting the pandemic would be.

“When I look back to early March, we knew Covid was going to reach our communities but at that point people were still talking about finding a cure and didn’t think it would be a problem,” she said.“I was 60, due to retire and I had a holiday planned to Germany. I sat there thinking at least I’ll be on holiday come June, it’ll all be sorted by then.

“When Greg spoke to full council that was the reality check that this was going to last months. It quickly became apparent it was going to be quite serious for us.”

Mr Fell has given hundreds of updates on Covid this past year and has always stressed he does not have “a crystal ball” but his predictions were accurate.

He said the situation was changing rapidly, testing pods in the community would be set up and there wouldn’t be a vaccine in 2020.

“There are no Sheffield residents affected by the illness but we know that will change,” he cautioned.“The situation, advice and guidance changes rapidly. There’s a lot of emerging issues and it is testing us.

“There’s a small number of cases in this country, there is not an outbreak, we are dealing with ripples. That will change but we don’t know when or where.

“This is an emerging issue and it’s not yet a pandemic but there’s no doubt the World Health Organisation will declare one.”

“Our services are focusing on the critical issues, particularly the most vulnerable people.”

And he was already concerned about the impact on the economy.

He added: “What really worries me is business continuity, especially in small organisations. Ensuring business continuity is an issue for us.”

It was also the first time we heard a phrase which has since become a habit: “The most important thing is hand washing with hot water and soap.”

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.