Introduction: Perspectives on the Pandemic

Claire Kennedy and Simon Morioka are co-founders and joint managing partners at PPL.

In late January 2020 the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in the UK. By June 2020, our world had changed beyond recognition.

Much has been made of the collective experience, of an event that both separated us from each other whilst enveloping everyone in an omnipresent, invisible threat.

And yet as the weeks and months have progressed increasingly there has been recognition that even whilst the pandemic simultaneously affected communities around the world, the experience and impact of the virus has inevitably been personal.

Everyone has both a shared and individual story.

One of the most tragic elements has been the exacerbation of existing inequalities, and the way COVID-19 threatens to worsen these long after the first wave has passed.

There is nothing unique or surprising about this.

Whilst the initial pace with which COVID-19 spread left many of us feeling helpless and traumatised when faced with the enormity of the threat, the probability and impact of such an event has had pandemics at the top of the UK National Risk Register for well over a decade.

In a pandemic, it turns out that many of the normal rules still apply. Not least amongst these rules has been that socio-economic factors (what we like to describe as “the wider determinants of health”) continue affecting outcomes for individuals as significantly as anything we do in a medical or care setting.

The following essays represent a range of personal perspectives of those who have worked through the crisis, including in support of key health and care services and the local communities they serve.

There are many other perspectives and many other potential lessons to be learnt; we have tried to highlight some key areas, but also not to duplicate other existing resources and definitely not to speak for everyone.

Particularly, for first-person accounts of the experience of living through the pandemic, including from some of those hardest affected, we would encourage you to visit online National Voices’ excellent “Our COVID Voices”, referenced in Charlotte’s piece.

There is a huge amount of learning out there - it is incumbent on all of us to work to apply it.

The COVID-19 outbreak represented the biggest challenge to the NHS since 1948 and led to a full-scale mobilisation of resources across health, local government, the voluntary sector and local communities in response.

By July, when it was judged that England had achieved stage 3 in the government’s timetable for easing lockdown measures, at which “re-opening of… higher-risk businesses and public places” could begin, ONS data shows that cumulative excess deaths had exceeded the five-year average by over 50,000.

How do we reconcile our justified pride in all of those on the frontline, and the lives they saved, with the terrible toll that the pandemic has exacted on them, and on families and communities across the UK?

Only by reflecting on what went well, and what needs to change; and by “building back better”, can we show appropriate respect to all of those lost, and to all the sacrifices that have been made.

And if none of us have all the answers, we at least have a much better grasp of the potential for what is achievable, in previously unimaginably short periods of time, and an opportunity to make a difference in the months and years ahead.