COVID-19: Lockdown anniversary a moment to reflect on the legacy the pandemic will leave

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It was 19 March 2020 when the prime minister told the country “we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks. And I am absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country”.

Four days later he locked us all down and those 12 weeks stretched – on and off – into a year.

The hope of coming through the pandemic with 20,000 COVID-related deaths morphed into 150,000 and counting.

We are, on the anniversary of the first lockdown, only just coming out of our third lockdown of the virus, the country is still in lockdown and our lives and liberties are still curtailed.

It was inevitable on the anniversary of the lockdown and this national “day of reflection”, the prime minister and his chief scientific advisors would be asked to reflect themselves – on what they might have done differently, and what the legacy of this past year might have on the rest of our lives.

The answers were illuminating.

Boris Johnson acknowledged there were “many” mistakes, the most significant for him being the “false assumption” that the virus would not be transmitted if people did not have symptoms.

Sir Patrick Vallance said the “one thing that would have been important to have early on would have been much better data about what was happening”, while adequate testing at the beginning of the pandemic would have made a “big difference”.

For chief medical officer Chris Whitty, it would have certainly have changed how the government responded in the early stages of the pandemic had we known about the “amount of importation [of COVID] from France and Italy”.

There are other glaring questions too side-stepped on Tuesday: whether the anniversary of the first lockdown should have come sooner and whether the prime minister’s reluctance to impose a second national lockdown – called for by scientists in late September but not implemented until 31 October – was his biggest, and most fatal, mistake.

But if the prime minister didn’t want the day of national reflection to be the beginning of the post-mortem of the government’s handling of the pandemic, it was a moment to reflect on what legacy the past year might leave on our lives to come.

When I asked him to look not to the past but to what lies ahead, he told me that he believed we would be dealing with this “difficult and distressing period” for “as long as I live”.

He told me that tackling the “loss of learning” for children was his biggest challenge.

For Professor Whitty, the lockdown has pushed people “on the borderlines of deprivation” into further hardship and could have a “massive impact” on health services in the future.

Finally, as we mark this first anniversary of lockdown, the end of this long crisis is coming into view.

But we will be living with COVID in some form, and its huge economic, educational and societal consequences for years to come.

After a dark and difficult year, the prime minister may not want to look back, but part of the long road back from COVID is to understand fully what went wrong so we can put it right for when another pandemic hits.

(c) Sky News 2021: COVID-19: Lockdown anniversary a moment to reflect on the legacy the pandemic will leave

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