Coronavirus: Hastings town centre pictured on day one of the UK lockdown. SUS-200324-111333001

A year like no other in Hastings and Rother: Looking back at the 12 months since the first lockdown

It has been a year like no other.

By Stephen Wynn-Davies
Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 4:56 pm

Today marks exactly one year since the UK was first placed into lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. Roads and town centres up and down the country fell silent, office workers relocated to their homes, and schools, shops, bars, restaurants, and just about everything closed its doors.

It was March 23, 2020, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson, outlined the strict new measures and ordered people to stay at home in his address to the nation.

The public was told to stick to the rules to ‘flatten the curve’ and to ‘protect the NHS’. In Hastings and Rother, the new measures were understood, and people stepped in to help support their community. The Hastings Freemasons donated more than 4,000 bottles of water to A&E staff and ambulance crews at the Conquest Hospital and residents from approximately 100 houses in Hastings generously donated tins and foods to a Hastings foodbank.

The number of cases was relatively low across the area, but widespread testing was not yet available.

By the end of the first lockdown, Hastings had one of the lowest Covid-19 infection and death rates in England and, when restrictions first started to ease in May, 1066 Country – the tourism marketing partnership responsible for promoting Hastings and Rother – took the unprecedented step of telling visitors to stay away. “Until life returns to some normality please do not come here,” said the manager of 1066 Country Marketing, Kevin Boorman, at the time.

As the nation gradually moved out of the first lockdown, the community spirit in Hastings and Rother continued. Local singer Ritchie Lee brought a smile to care home residents in Hastings, Bexhill and Rye with his outdoor performances in car parks and on lawns. And the former Hastings teacher, 104-year-old Joan Willett – inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore – helped raise thousands for the British Heart Foundation with daily hill climbs outside Old Hastings House where she lives.

Case numbers stayed low throughout the summer, but by early autumn there was a problem. Almost all schools in the area had reported cases of Covid-19, some schools had closed to whole year groups and by the end of September The Hastings Academy was forced to close to all students for two weeks.

The country went into national lockdown but cases continued to rise in Hastings and Rother. The cause turned out to be a variant of the virus that was first discovered in Kent. Hastings and Rother were placed into stricter tiers after lockdown and even saw the relaxed Christmas rules cancelled when they were placed into tier 4 alongside the rest of the South East on December 22.

It was only in the third national lockdown, introduced in January, that infection rates started to drop. Twelve months on, more than 11,000 people in Hastings and Rother have tested positive for Covid-19. More than 2,000 have required hospital treatment, but sadly a total of 651 people have lost their lives to the virus.

Earlier today, people across Hastings and Rother – including at Bexhill and Conquest Hospitals – stopped to remember the 651, their families and loved ones.

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