Covid-19 one year on: "There was possibility to tell everybody to panic but, on balance, our approach was right" says Northampton council leader

Remember toilet rolls stripped off supermarket shelves and hand sanitiser selling on eBay for £40

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 9:24 am
Supermarket shelves in Northampton were left bare of essentials such as toilet rolls. Photo: Getty Images

Northampton Borough Council leader Jonathan Nunn admits it would have been easy to push the panic button after confirmation of the county's first coronavirus case.

The announcement on March 3 last year that a holidaymaker who had just returned to Northamptonshire from a known hotspot in northern Italy seemed almost inevitable.

Supermarkets in the town were already seeing shelves emptied of toilet rolls and pasta.

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Northampton Borough Council leader, Jonathan Nunn

Hand sanitiser had been ripped from the walls in Northampton General Hospital and one enterprising soul from the town was flogging a £1.49 bottle of for £40 on eBay.

And Cllr Nunn admits health authorities could have fuelled that panic.

He said: "Isn't it absolutely extraordinary that's it's been a year? We never would have imagined that.

"I remember the first discussions I had back then with the Borough Council chief executive when we started to say 'is this a serious thing?' Across whole public sector a lot was going on with whats-ifs and speculating and preparing.

The virus was already national headlines when Northamptonshire's first case was confirmed on March 3

"At that time there was the possibility to tell everybody to panic, to come out of their businesses and clear the supermarket shelves.

"But I think, on balance, the approach taken back then was right.

"We had a novel virus which nobody had ever recorded before so couldn't be certain what we were dealing with.

"Everyone has been completely truthful based on what's in front of them. But that's been a dynamic situation and it's changed considerably.

"It's been the biggest crisis I can ever remember in my lifetime but in some extent it's been our finest hour.

"Look at how our residents have adapted, and businesses and public services, and particularly the health sector has."

Northampton was marked down as a Covid-19 hotspot following an outbreak of more than 300 cases at the Greencore sandwich-making factory in Moulton Park during the summer.

And cases topped more than 2,500 a week during January as a second wave swept through the county.

Numbers have plummeted lately, however, the vaccine roll-out has already seen nearly 200,000 jabs delivered across the county, and Boris Johnson's roadmap out of lockdown gives people hope that things will be back to normal.

Yet while others say the restrictions can be lifted soon, Cllr Nunn has words of warning.

He said: "In terms of where we are now, if we're not careful start to get a bit of end of term feeling about this and that's entirely wrong.

"We're not out of the woods, not by a long way.

"We haven't got strong control over reducing the cases and things are not heading in the right direction.

"When the Police tells us traffic is increasing again at a time when we're still under full lockdown regulations, it really worries me that if we're not careful we're going to get a bit complacent.

"The roadmap is a target, an aspiration. But it's by no means a guarantee and all the dates are 'not before' and it could be well after.

"I'd hate to see it turning into a death by a thousand knives where we don't end this, it drags all the way through the summer and maybe into yet another autumn.

"I think there's a risk of that. That risk is down to how each and every one of us behaves as we go about our daily lives.

"After a year we've absolutely had enough of it.

"For goodness sake, let's not mess it up now."