It may feel like a lifetime ago, but it was just about a year since we started hearing about a new form of coronavirus.
Previous strains of the infection – severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) – caused 774 and 858 deaths worldwide respectively. This novel coronavirus 2019-nCov looked like following a similar path.
On 29 January, there was a fair bit of attention in the popular press about this Covid-19. But although there had been 130 deaths from 4,500 cases in the 16 countries it had spread to, all 30-odd people who’d been tested in the UK had negative results.
The main concern back then was that all the media attention would drive the worried well to their GP practices and place extra strain on services. Official advice was simply to avoid travelling to the Chinese province of Wuhan, where Covid had originated.
By the end of January, two cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the UK. England’s CMO Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘The NHS is extremely well-prepared and used to managing infections and we are already working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread.’
Some 100 UK cases had been identified in early March, yet PM Boris Johnson was merrily going around shaking their hands in clear contravention of scientific advice to avoid physical contact with people. The nation was out on the doorsteps clapping for the NHS heroes, while Johnson was apparently flipping them the middle finger.
A £20 million pledge for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine came in March, weeks before the UK locked down.
The initial work to conduct pathogen gene sequencing, begin clinical trials and get a vaccine ready was projected to run across an ‘extremely ambitious timeline’ of 16 weeks.
Meanwhile, GPs and frontline clinical staff donned what PPE they had at their disposal and battened down the hatches for the almighty storm ahead.
At Pulse, we did what we could by way of support, providing Covid-19 resources and our clinical crises series to help you to manage non-Covid subacute problems you might come across while hospitals ploughed all their resources into coronavirus care.
At the time of writing, the first cohorts of patients were set to be vaccinated against Covid-19 within days. The optimistic among us see a glimmer of hope on the horizon.