It was less than three months ago, on 31st December, that China alerted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to several cases of an unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people. The virus was unknown.
Three weeks later Wuhan was placed under effective quarantine with air and rail departures suspended. The WHO stated that the outbreak did not yet constitute a public emergency of international concern and there was “no evidence” of the virus spreading outside of China.
PICTURE: Dave Young
A month later, on 31st January, the United Kingdom confirmed its first virus case, but there was no documented transmission within its borders until 28th February. Only three weeks ago, on 7th March, Government advice to stay indoors and keep out of contact with others was confined to people who experienced viral symptoms or had recently travelled in a few other infected areas globally. On the 11th Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak presented a budget that described COVID-19 as “expected to have a significant but temporary effect on the economic outlook”.
And since then? On the same day, the WHO announced a pandemic. The next, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the nation that they should prepare “to lose loved ones before their time”. And suddenly there was a rush of hysterical statistics and reactions to them. No matter that evidence of the lethal effect of the virus on averagely healthy people was, and remains, low. Scientists paraded daily by the Prime Minister have talked of mortalities of quarter of a million, half a million lives. The only safe course, insisted Health Minister Matt Hancock, was social isolation of the entire population, confining themselves to their immediate households, preferably indoors. And so, on Monday night, came the decree of almost total lockdown.
Work at home for as long as your work lasts (which may be not at all for the majority of Hastings workers engaged in tourism, hospitality, music, arts etc). Keep your children at home – you are now their teacher. No shopping except for “essentials”: food, drink and drugs. No eating or drinking out. No sport. No social gatherings. Avoid community spaces. If you have a “second home” in Hastings, don’t come here.
And while many businesses have been given financial support and some employees a guaranteed slice of their wages to keep them on the payroll, the self-employed and those in the gig economy – again a sizeable proportion of the Hastings workforce – are looking at financial meltdown.
So what’s the exit strategy? Mr Johnson, in his casual way, talked on 19th March of “turning the tide” of the disease in 12 weeks. But how so? Suppose that the rate of infection is substantially slowed by the regime of social isolation in this period. Are those who haven’t been infected then okay to resume normal socialised living? But they won’t have gained any immunity by their isolation. So that will surely just extend the process.
And HIP? We intended this issue to be our last provided in printed form until some semblance of economic normality is resumed. Even that has turned out impracticable under lockdown conditions. So here we are, in digital form only.
We have chosen rainbow colours to show hope for the future, rather than fear, and focus on the positives that this community-rich town can bring to bear on the catastrophe. We salute the efforts of HEART (Hastings Emergency Action Response Team) on page 7, and feature the request for help from Hastings Community Transport on page 3.
Follow us digitally in future weeks, as we maintain our mission to provide truly independent coverage of whatever happens next.
We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.