The past year has been challenging for us all. The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK came at the end of January 2020 and we have been living with the pandemic ever since.
While most people who caught COVID-19 experienced mild symptoms and made a swift recovery, others became seriously ill and have felt the health impact for many months afterwards. Many have sadly lost family and loved ones.
COVID-19 has affected every single person: some have lost businesses, others their jobs; many have had to work from home and parents/caregivers have had to support their children with home learning.
The proportion of people in Devon with COVID-19 has been small when compared to the UK and the rest of the world. Worldwide there have been over 141 million confirmed cases and over 3 million people have died with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Sadly, we expect these numbers to continue to rise.
One thing that is not always mentioned but that is of real public health importance is that the pandemic has not affected everyone in society equally. As with so many diseases, those who have the least have tended to suffer the most. For example, particularly in the first wave, the virus disproportionately affected people living in poorer areas or who were members of Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. Some, though not all, of this difference was because of the type of work people did or because they had other health problems. The pandemic has made existing health inequalities worse, and the most vulnerable people and families have suffered the most.
I would personally like to thank the people of Devon for the way they have conducted themselves during the past 12 months. I have no doubt that a large part of why we have been spared some of the worst of the virus is that the people of Devon have done a good job of adhering to the national guidance and restrictions. It is important that we continue to be vigilant and stick to the guidance to reduce risk and prevent further spread.
I also wish to pay tribute to the work of all of our local providers, partners and organisations, including the voluntary and community groups, who came together when needed and have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to ensure residents received the services and support they needed. I would like to give a special mention to our health and social care workers who have been working on the frontline throughout the pandemic.
In this report, we review the past 12 months and describe the story of COVID-19, assessing the impact it has had on people’s lives and on local services, workplaces and businesses. We consider what action is needed to address the inequalities exacerbated by the virus and anticipate the longer-term health and wellbeing impact of COVID-19.
As with seasonal flu and other infections, we are going to have to continue to live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, particularly as new variants emerge. This year has been an unprecedented challenge, but we have learnt, adapted and are prepared for the next phase of our response to this pandemic.
Director of Public Health for Devon