'Truly heartbreaking': Looking back at two years of Covid in Havering

r Boris Johnson has tightened restrictions following the Omicron Covid-19 variant being detected in Brentwood and Nottingham

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first Covid lockdown on March 23, 2020. Two other national lockdowns followed, with the last one phased out between March and July 2021 - Credit: PA

“It was pretty horrific, you couldn’t see anybody in there. He died alone in hospital, on his own.” 

Two years on from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first lockdown announcement, Richard Collett, 45, is recalling the loss of a regular at his barbershop, Emerson Park Barbers.  

The man had been a customer of his for years and was ill with terminal cancer before he caught Covid and died in hospital, Richard said.

“He was on his own. I think that is what’s hard for most families who lost loved ones," Richard said.  

“You’re expecting these people to go at some point, but you don’t expect them to go in intensive care with a nurse looking after them.” 

Richard’s story is one of many across Havering. As of March 23 this year, 84,643 people in the borough have tested positive for Covid, with 980 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. 

Toyah Kemal Yorgandji, 40, said her father, Ali Kemal Yorgandji - the former owner of Romford’s White Hart Fish Bar - also died of cancer during the pandemic. 

She said not being able to see him when he first went into Queen's Hospital was very difficult. 

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Not long before he died the family were able to visit him, but were restricted to going in one by one, a situation Toyah described as “truly heartbreaking”. 

Ali Yorgandji, the former owner of the White Hart Fish Bar in Romford

Ali Kemal Yorgandji, the former owner of the White Hart Fish Bar in Romford - Credit: Diane Kemal Yorgandji

Ali died in April 2021, just following the peak of deaths from Covid in Havering towards the end of 2020 and start of 2021.  

Cases of people catching the virus, however, reached their highest almost a year later, with the most recorded in a single day being 1,308 on December 29, 2021. 

According to Magda Smith, chief medical officer at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT), the reason more cases did not equal more deaths is clear - vaccines.

They were, in her words, a "game changer”. 

Havering Council leader Damian White described the last two years as “incredibly difficult”, and said his “thoughts are with residents who have lost loved ones, and particularly those who were not able to pay tribute to them in the way they would have wanted".  

“If you have suffered a loss in your family, or among your friends or work colleagues, you have my sincere condolences,” he added. 

‘Living with Covid’ 

The advice from medical professionals is to carry on taking precautions and practising “safer behaviours”, even as Covid restrictions continue to ease. 

The latest round of restrictions were removed on March 18, enabling travellers to enter the UK with neither a Covid test or a passenger locator form.

However, official government guidance and advice from the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) states people should not be complacent, with cases in Havering currently rising

Magda Smith, chief medical officer at BHRUT, said the trust’s staff continue to uphold good hygiene practices, such as handwashing and mask-wearing.  

The Department of Health and Social Care, meanwhile, directed attention to the government’s Covid-19 Response – Living with Covid-19 document published in February this year, outlining the path ahead. 

It includes a list of “safer behaviours”, such as getting vaccinated, opening windows if meeting indoors and wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces. 

Ms Smith’s recommendation, as the country moves forward, is to remember that “when you are in a crowded place, Covid is still out there”. 

Christian and Kirsty Snoxell 

As the first lockdown came into force, Christian Snoxell, 41, and Kirsty Snoxell, 37, said the biggest concern was their young kids. 

Kirsty, who is an executive assistant and was able to work from home, said she had to balance her job with home-schooling their two- and four-year-olds. 

Of those early days, she said: “We did what we could.” 

Christian and Kirsty Snoxell

Christian and Kirsty Snoxell - Credit: Ben Lynch

Christian, who continued to go into work as a firefighter, said it was the first three months that had the biggest impact. 

Kirsty said as restrictions continue to be lifted, she is “quite happy that it’s gone back to normal”. 

Fraser Clark 

Fraser Clark, 24, had just had his first trial shift at The Hop Inn when Boris Johnson announced the UK was going into lockdown. 

Able to get on the furlough scheme, and even putting his newfound time to doing some football writing, he said he was “lucky that I was living at home”. 

He was kept on in his new job and eventually asked, at the end of 2020, to manage the new bottle store opened next door, The Hop Shop. 

Fraser Clark

Fraser Clark - Credit: Ben Lynch

As things began opening up, he said he was “more relieved than anything else”. 

“There was a little bit of anxiety there but for me, especially by the third lockdown, I was just ready for any sense of normality to return.” 

Linda Elliott 

Linda Elliott, who turns 69 on March 27, said while her family was lucky, the lockdowns were “very lonely”. 

“I did find it a bit of a trial because I’m retired and my husband’s still working, and he works long hours, so when you couldn’t actually physically go and see people, the only respite I had was walking my friend’s dog," she said. 

Linda Elliott

Linda Elliott - Credit: Ben Lynch

By the time restrictions had begun lifting, she said she “couldn’t wait to get out”. 

Put off by the paperwork and testing which travelling involved last year, Linda said this year she is looking forward to going on holiday. 

“I can’t wait to get on the plane.”