Funmi Peter Omale

Funmi Peter Omale . All photos in this story by Funmi Peter-Omale

By Funmi Peter-Omale/London

Covid-19. Coronavirus. nConV-19. Different names for the same virus, that is changing lives as we know it in this generation. The fear of its global pandemic has gripped everyone all over the world, governments and people alike. While we know it allegedly took off somewhere in a fish market in Wuhan, China, what has defied all logic and explanations is the ability of the virus to super spread and super mutate more than any virus known to man. The rate of spread, of infections and inability to immediately detect, is simply mind-blowing.

All over the world, scientists, epidemiologists, biologists, physicists and chemists are working round the clock, 24/7 to work out how the virus works out; as well as develop treatment and vaccine for future use. Already, human and animals, as well as lab tests, are ongoing presently, but none has made a definite headway, and though there are prospects for a couple of these tests in the US and the UK, we are being told the vaccines and/or treatments for Covid-19 may never be ready for the next one year at least.

Like other countries in Europe, the UK government initially slacked and stalled in taking preventive measures to limit the mixing and interactions of people. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, explained the delayed tactics were aimed at preventing unnecessary panic as well as to protect the National Health Service (NHS) and resources that would be much needed when the virus eventually became endemic, by which time all of us would now need to cooperate with government orders and instructions. In simple words, they don’t want the NHS to be overwhelmed and overburdened unnecessarily, until when absolutely necessary.

Stratford High Street. Desolate.

Towards this end, non-essential hospital appointments, routine checks and non-emergency surgery have all been postponed. In fact, for the last two weeks, we are being inundated in the post and by email not to visit our GPs and not to attend hospitals except for emergencies. Plus we are told to ring NHS 111 if feeling unwell, coronavirus symptoms or not. Similarly, at pharmacies, only 5 to 10 people are allowed in at every given time.  Such are the dire measures being introduced at these difficult times.

Well, the UK has now reached that height; the curves of infections and mortality have now skyrocketed. As at the time of putting this report together, over 233 people diagnosed have passed while over 5,000 cases have been confirmed.

This week, the PM flanked by government scientists, senior NHS medical officers and Health Minister has been giving a daily press briefing, to update on what government is doing and what the people should do to keep themselves and others well. So far, schools have been shut, the government has announced relief packages for workers and businesses; and emergency funds for the NHS. Just this morning, we woke up to the news that the government had also got an agreement with private hospitals and medical centres to use their facilities – meaning additional 8,000 hospital beds and about 10,000 medical staff. So far, thousands of medical students, retired nurses and doctors and other volunteers have also joined the mainstream NHS staff to complement and help out. All these are aimed at forestalling the critical pandemic and critical situations evident in places like Italy and Spain, where hundreds of people succumb to coronavirus related infections every day.

Boris Johnson and his cabinet are working round the clock getting companies to manufacture more medical equipment, getting them distributed where and when needed and ensuring the most vulnerable, put at about over one million people, get help and support to keep them well. They have kept hopes alive, with the PM making emphasis on the need for people to respect instructions and orders and not to disregard medical advice.

The Chancellor of Exchequer, Sunak Rishi, said the pandemic would undoubtedly cause “temporary disruption” to the economy but affirmed that government is poised at using every opportunity to not only cushion the impact of the pandemic, but also to support and help businesses to keep afloat. Already, so many businesses have announced closures permanently and laid off staff. These include budget airlines popular with holidaymakers, transport companies, cruise companies, privately owned small business and so on.

Starbucks closed.

Some have called in administrators and are hoping they’d perhaps get some relief from the government, after Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced additional reliefs at the end of this week. According to Sunak, “we want to look back on this moment and remember the many small kindnesses done by us and to us. We want to look back on this time and remember how we thought first of others and acted with decency.” He said covering the wages of millions of UK workers and deferring the next quarter of VAT payments for businesses until the end of June, added to other measures, amounted to a cash of over £30 billion – an equivalent of 1.5 percent of the GDP. Altogether, the Chancellor’s packages are estimated at a staggering £350 billion, including loan guarantees, small business grants and emergency funds for the NHS and all.

An empty bus stop

Announcing a lockdown of leisure places, during the week, Prime Minister Johnson affirmed: “What we are doing is extraordinary – we’re taking away the ancient inalienable right of freeborn people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub. But I say to people who do go against the advice that we are getting – the very clear advice from our medical and scientific experts – you’re not only putting your own life, the lives of your family, at risk – you’re endangering the community. And you’re making it more difficult for us to get on and protect the NHS and save lives.”  He asserted that if people comply with government orders and instructions, “thousands of lives will be saved and the country will bounce back to normal faster.”

Effect of the lockdown in London

Ironically, the PM father, Stanley Johnson had on a live TV breakfast show during the week, defiantly asserted that he’d continue to attend his favourite pub unless the PM out rightly closed down pubs and enforced compliance!

Notwithstanding this, the latest order by the Prime Minister means the following are to remain closed until further notice:

  • Pub
  • Theatre
  • Gyms
  • Cafes
  • Restaurants
  • Night club
  • Function rooms
  • Betting shops
  • Casino
  • Social clubs
  • Day centres –

 

Whereas the following are still allowed to remain open, but people are not allowed to mingle and respectable distancing must be maintained;

  • Takeaways
  • Post offices
  • News agents
  • Shops and stores (goods, clothes, groceries)
  • Department stores
  • Hairdressers and barbers
  • Pharmacies
  • Post offices

 

Already, all sporting activities have come to a standstill for over two weeks, though some parents are still allowing their children and wards to be involved in non-contact sporting activities. Government is now taking measures to enforce the stay at home order.

Consequently, Transport for London, TFL, has closed down 40 tube stations, until further notice. Similarly, buses routes and timings have been adjusted to reflect the new reality on ground as par the partial lockdown as announced by the government.

When this reporter went round on Saturday, she observed that most shops and stalls are shut, and there is only a trickle of people on the streets, mostly on grocery shopping and/or pharmacy runs (as evidenced in the long queues!). Stratford City in East London is a hub nub of sporting activities, housing the Olympic Stadium, West Ham FC stadium, cafes, Westfield Shopping Centre, open play and sporting areas. But yesterday, the streets and shops were empty, as people are complying with the stay at home order. At the Stratford station, a hitherto bubbling place, just a few people were milling around. Though the station was open, some of the lines have been suspended for engineering works while some fall under the category closed by TFL.

At Stratford Centre, the story was the same, except for a few people queuing at the tills of Sainsbury’s and Lidl, while McDonald’s, Starbucks, Costa, KFC, Burger King and other restaurants that are opened, have all stripped their premises of sitting areas. They were only accepting takeaway orders and are not allowing customers to hang around or stand too close to one another. The main shopping mall was eerily quiet, even with a few sellers being on hand; so were all the banks within the mall. Stratford was like a ghost town…

At pharmacies like Boots and Superdrug, at Tesco’s and Costco, ASDA and so on the management have security men at their entrances allowing just a few numbers of people in at a time. Thus, there are long queues of customers patiently waiting for their turn – often ending up disappointed not getting the groceries they needed.

Generally speaking, people may have found it really hard to comply with the stay at home order at the beginning of the week; things are changing now. From Saturday, fewer people are on the streets as national gardens have now been shut and fewer cars and buses are operating. In addition, the Bishop of Canterbury has enjoined Christians to stay at home and told church leaders to conduct virtual services online instead. It is expected that other religious leaders will follow suit in the coming days.

-Funmi Peter-Omale, journalist, a native of Ibadan, Oyo State, who lives in London, wrote this originally for TheNEWS.

See more photos below:

Empty shelves at Lidl

Empty shelves

Sainsburys Stratford

Costa stripped of tables and chairs.

A frozen food section

Lidl in store bakery closed

Empty freezers Lidl