A YEAR on from the announcement of the first coronavirus lockdown Bill Jacobs has been talking to some of the experts and politicians in the eye of the pandemic storm. Here are their reflections on 12 months of Covid-19 and tough restrictions on all our lives.

EAST Lancashire leaders have missed contact with their loved ones but witnessed an outpouring of community spirit.

While they see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, they do not see a swift and smooth exit from coronavirus and its restrictions but hope vaccination is the start of a return to something like normal.

Professor Dominic Harrison, public health director for Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “I have spent the last year working very long hours during weekdays and almost all the weekends. I have missed seeing my four grandchildren.

"I have spent a full year seeing the sun rise and set outside of my tiny attic window whilst glued to a laptop screen in Teams or Zoom meetings.

"The pandemic has been the biggest professional challenge of my life – but I count myself lucky. I have been able to work from home when others have been out in front-line work more exposed to the virus and keeping us all going. I have been paid my salary every month when others have lost businesses or livelihoods.

"The worst aspect of the pandemic, apart from the enormous death toll, has been the way in which it has affected the country so unequally. Those with the most education and wealth have generally been able to avoid the highest risk of infection and death. Those with the least share of life’s chances have generally carried so much more than their fair share of the burden.

"I consider my main role now is not just to fight for the life of residents but also for social justice. As we exit the pandemic it is going to be critical those areas worst affected are helped most to restart their economy with extra help from central government.

"The pandemic has shown the immense kindness of communities, the willingness of people to care for each other in times of crises, the selfless giving of time and help by people in local public services. We must not lose the lesson of this as we exit the pandemic. Values of kindness, empathy and social justice may be the most important assets we need to take us into the next few years of rebuilding lives and livelihoods."

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, his Lancashire County Council counterpart, said: "This year has been incredibly intense.

"When Covid-19 first came to Lancashire, we really didn't know quite know how the virus worked.

"We've learnt an awful lot since then, and we've also made great strides with testing and now have an effective vaccine.

"That is such a game-changer.

"We really must remember that we are not home and dry yet.

"We need to draw on Lancastrian spirit for a little while longer to help us get over the line.

"Even when all of the restrictions have lifted, we will still likely have to learn to live with Covid-19 and its long-term effects as it is unlikely to be eradicated."

Kevin McGee, chief executive of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "It has been brutal for our staff and it is difficult to imagine what they have been through.

“I am so proud of how our staff, alongside partners across the wider health and social care system, have come together to support each other and everyone in the community through these horrific times.

"We are now administering the vaccine at great pace and let’s hope this is the beginning of the end of the grip this virus has on our lives.

“The number of Covid infections and hospital admissions continue to drop but, as restrictions are lifted, people must stick to the rules as they ease and help keep this virus under control. When you are offered the vaccine, please have it and we can continue to make progress back to our normal lives.”

Deputy chief constable Terry Woods said: "I feel very lucky to have remained in employment throughout the lockdown. I have never taken that for granted having seen so many people and families struggle financially throughout the pandemic. It has been professionally extremely busy and challenging and with a young family and both of us key workers. It’s been a juggle at times but we’ve been proud to serve our community.

"I have always found East Lancs communities resilient, caring and pragmatic. That has been my experience throughout this pandemic. Yes, a small minority have let us down at times, but the truth is it’s normally the same people who let us down outside of the pandemic and we have dealt with them robustly. The overwhelming majority have been brilliant.

"The sadness of seeing Lancashire’s daily death tolls rise in our command centre is something I will never forget.

"But the worst moment was Sunday May 17 when 19 year old student Aya Hachem was shot dead in Blackburn. The senseless loss of life and horrendous act in the midst of the pandemic ignited a sense of outrage I’ve not felt in many years of policing. We moved heaven and earth to track down the suspects. That was a week we were all stretched both physically and emotionally and all our thoughts remain with Aya’s friends and family.

"I’m optimistic that with the continued amazing speed of the vaccination programme mid-June onwards should present us with the new norm."

Miranda Barker, chief executive of the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: "Personally for me, lockdown has been a tale of two halves. Firstly being lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and get out with the dog in our open spaces has been a godsend. Being removed from all of our personal support systems has been the hardest thing.

"The building of new online communities, the support and reaching out, and the creation of new and surprising support relationships has been of immense value.

"I think things will be different - the 'new normal'. The blending of things we’ve learnt and things we’ve missed.

"I think there is a nervousness. Will there be controls still needed over the winter season? There is a lot left to become clear."

Blackburn Labour MP Kate Hollern said: "Personally, I miss having my family around, hugs from my granddaughters and daily interaction with constituents - even going to a supermarket, sharing a smile with people in a queue or chatting to neighbours.

"I’ve seen community spirit in action throughout the pandemic. As we exit it, the government will need to make sure that places like Blackburn get their fair share of investment and support to re-build our community and local economy.

"The worst part of this pandemic has been hearing from constituents who have been unable to see and reassure their ill loved ones in hospital. The financial pressures have brought great distress to countless families.

"I have been touched at just how many people who have come out to volunteer. It has just shown the best asset we have in Lancashire is our caring community.

"I would love to say life will get back to normal in the coming weeks. I’m cautiously optimistic and we cannot make the mistake of rushing it. We have been here before, so it is important that we recognise the existing risk of infection and the government learns from last year’s mistakes."

Her Hyndburn Tory counterpart Sara Britcliffe said: "As for everybody during lockdown, it has been a very challenging year - not being able to see family, friends or loved ones and there have been plenty of times where it has personally felt quite difficult.

"We have faced restrictions for longer than most in and I know this has been incredibly frustrating and tough. As a community, we have come together. This is where we see the positives of the past year, it really has shone a light on just what a fantastic community we have locally.

"As we follow the roadmap out of lockdown and continue with our brilliant vaccine rollout, we will start to feel a sense of normality and really see that light at the end of the tunnel."

Cllr Stephen Atkinson, leader, Ribble Valley Council said: "The coronavirus pandemic has had a wide-ranging and devastating impact on our lives.

"But Ribble Valley’s collective response to the virus – from individuals helping their elderly neighbours to the many organisations delivering vital public services – has shown the strength and resilience of our local communities.

"The rapid roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine gives us all cause for cautious optimism in the months ahead."

Blackburn with Darwen Council leader Cllr Mohammed Khan said: "For me, lockdown has been tough. As a civic leader, as a ward councillor and also in terms of my family. I haven’t been able to hug my grandchildren for a long time.

"Our community responded amazingly. We have so many kind people in Blackburn with Darwen who have pulled the borough through despite how grim it has been.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel.

"We will be dealing with Covid for a very long time. Interventions like testing and self-isolation will become a part of life.

"But I truly believe better days are ahead but we have to keep on doing the right things to get the virus under control."

Cllr Mark Townsend, leader of Burnley Council, said: "The last year has been the strangest in all our lifetimes. For most life will hopefully in the coming months return to a sense of normality, but for the many who have lost loved ones things will never be the same again.

"The volunteering and partnership working to help those less fortunate than themselves has been inspirational and something we need to build on for the future. The can-do attitude that has prevailed throughout has shown just how innovative, strong and resilient we are as a community.

The retail, leisure and advanced manufacturing sectors have been hit particularly hard. From speaking to many of those businesses, I know they are desperate to get going again and are well prepared for the challenges ahead."

Cllr Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council, said: "The last year has certainly been the most challenging in my more than 50 years in local government.

"I think it is important to express our thanks to the people of Lancashire for the way they have responded. It has not been easy but they have acted with the stoicism and resilience we have come to expect from Lancastrians.

"I am sure that together we will come through this stronger and with a greater sense of 'community' that will help us recover from the economic effects of the pandemic."

Lord Tony Greaves said: "When the lockdowns started a year ago I made a list of books I would read. I’ve managed a few.

"Our extended family is small and we were lucky to live on the edge of East Lancs countryside and moorland for walks.

"I am fed up of Zoom and Teams. More than one 'meeting' a day makes me feel poorly.

"Now we have to get our vaccinations, keep getting tested, and start to live again. Still not quite like the old normal. We have to be more careful than of old, but a bit braver than of late."

Angie Ridgwell, county council chief executive and chair of the Lancashire Resilience Forum, said: "The past 12 months have been immensely difficult. There isn’t anyone who hasn’t been touched in some way or other by this awful disease.

"But I am so proud of how Lancastrians have responded in the face of such adversity.

"From an economic perspective, the restrictions have had a devastating impact. We know it has hit those already at a disadvantage hardest. If you live in a small or overcrowded house, work in close proximity to others or your livelihood is at risk, staying Covid-free is really difficult.

"The pandemic has brought a lot into perspective and I hope if one good thing comes from it, it’s that we appreciate the small things we took for granted.

"As we enter the lifting of lockdown there are still risks.

"Many people will emerge into a lonelier world and we must take time and care to ensure no-one is left behind."

Cllr David Whipp, deputy leader of Pendle Council and leader of the county council Liberal Democrat group, said: "One of the most wretched times for me was the double funeral of a couple from Barnoldswick who both died from Covid within days of each other. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

"By January the death toll was numbing. We lost sixteen people in a single care home in Pendle that month.

"We’ll be living with the consequences of Covid for many years. Many people are worn out or worn down. Sadly, there’s no magic wand. Living with Covid is likely to become the norm."

Green county councillor Gina Dowding said: "We are all now aware just how vulnerable so many of us are.

"We now have proof of how flexible, quietly competent, and community-minded local people are in dealing with a crisis. We now appreciate our natural world more, enjoy cleaner air from lower traffic levels, and the value of our local communities.

" This much is clear: we are better placed now to deal with the urgent climate and ecological crises; we clearly can adapt to doing things differently; and we will all pull together to shape a better, fairer, greener future. "