Covid A Year On - When coronavirus came to the district

St Albans Charter Market had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.

St Albans Charter Market had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. - Credit: Archant

The district's first case of coronavirus was confirmed at a Harpenden surgery at the start of March 2020, bringing a grim realisation that nowhere was safe from the spread of this disease.

A patient who had visited Davenport House Surgery in Bowers Way on the evening of February 25 tested positive shortly afterwards, prompting a deep clean of the premises and the small number of other patients present contacted with advice.

At the time, Luton Airport remained open for flights, including to parts of Italy in the grip of the virus, and the University of Herts and Westminster Lodge leisure centre said they had introduced tougher cleaning measures, but the general attitude was not one of alarm.

Jim McManus, director of public health for Herts county council, said: "Current evidence indicates that most cases appear to be mild, with patients experiencing flu-like symptoms."

A week later, and St Albans BID was looking at donating hand sanitiser to city centre businesses to ensure local shopping continued in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, the Bishop of St Albans was offering his own four golden rules about COVID-19 and the Rotary in Harpenden Community Showcase was cancelled.

The first edition of the Herts Ad after the inaugural lockdown.

The first edition of the Herts Ad after the inaugural lockdown. - Credit: Archant


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"Some may think we are being unnecessarily cautious," said a Rotary spokesperson at the time, but hindsight proved it was the right decision to have made.

Herts county council stepped up its response to the crisis with a public advice campaign encouraging handwashing as more positive cases were identified, but we were still a long way off social distancing and facemasks.

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It was then confirmed that the sixth person to die from the virus in the UK had been receiving treatment from West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust, which covers St Albans, Hemel Hempstead and Watford. Tragically, more than 300 people were to die from coronavirus in the 12 months to come.

Reluctant to impose a nationwide lockdown, the Prime Minister advised people not to go to pubs, triggering a 90 per cent drop in revenues for local boozers within 24 hours, but at the time with no financial support to recompense, prompting the launch of the Stick One In voucher campaign by Save St Albans Pubs group.


The first few days of lockdown in St Albans.

The first few days of lockdown in St Albans. - Credit: Laura Bill

As the outbreak was finally declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, events across the district started to be cancelled, including Oaklands College's annual lambing weekend and a community day at St Paul's Church in Fleetville.

Cases were reported within schools, The Odyssey cinema in London Road closed its doors, gyms advised members to self-isolate if they displayed any symptoms, and local elections planned for May were cancelled. But this was just the beginning.

The Herts Ad of March 26 was the first edition published after the start of the inaugural lockdown, and in a bid to maintain community spirit during those dark days of uncertainty and despair we focused our coverage on the groups of volunteers doing their bit to help vulnerable members of society.

Meanwhile, retailers reeling from the impact of enforced closure began looking at new ways of trading, charities started feeling the toll of fundraising activities being axed, and we offered advice on coping with the mental health challenges of the lockdown.

It was the start of one of the most extraordinary years in the paper's long history, and looking back now on all that happened over those 12 months, it's with a sense of pride in what our communities achieved against overwhelming adversity, and we will be celebrating some of these remarkable stories in the coming week.

Throughout it all the Herts Ad continued its invaluable role of informing the public about what was happening in the local area, reporting on the various changes in pandemic restrictions and supporting our pubs and retailers during those periods when we weren't under lockdown. We are grateful for the support we have received from our readers and advertisers, and look forward to the time we can finally report on a post-Covid world.

If you would like to feature in our Covid A Year On coverage, please email hertsad@archant.co.uk


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