Intensive Care nurse Dawn Bilbrough sat in her car in tears and raged at the selfish individuals who stripped her local supermarket of all fresh fruit and vegetables while she worked a 48-hour shift. Her phone video highlighted the worst of society - the selfish and greedy who have made a difficult situation even harder - and it went viral.
But we mustn’t forget that this crisis has also brought out the best – such as those at Trefloyne Manor, Penally and numerous others too. They’ve set up “Dawn’s Chorus” in response to her film, using their AA Rosette restaurant and chefs to prepare home-cooked meals for the local doctors’ surgery, cottage hospital, ambulance station and pharmacy.
Bluestone has set up as a hospital. Food shops and other retailers are voluntarily putting parcels together in communities from Angle to Llanpumsaint. This outpouring of goodwill and resilient community spirit is a ray of light in these testing times and should give us hope that when this ends, we will rebuild our area into an even better and stronger place than it is now.
...16 weeks ago volunteers were collecting voting intentions; now they’re collecting prescriptions...
My office in Whitland (like every other MP and AM) has been inundated with cries of help from people who are confused, worried, upset and afraid. But we have also been flooded with wonderful offers of help. Yesterday a local lady who is self-isolating because of her health wrote:
“My car is sat on the drive. If there is anyone that needs a car to get from A to B for essential travel please put this offer out there.”
Last week, we set up an “I need help” and “I can help” button on my website. We were able to re-deploy technology and expertise that we used and developed during the recent election.
So whilst only 16 weeks ago we were gathering volunteers to pick up our voting intentions; this time it is volunteers to pick up prescriptions. We were able to match up those in need with local volunteers and it plugged a gap for the few days that it took for our local councils to get their larger volunteer operations up and running.
It is these local examples plus thousands more, which leave us all in no doubt about the seriousness of the crisis currently faced by the UK, and the challenge that tackling the coronavirus pandemic presents - and I thought Brexit would be the most complex and testing challenge of my lifetime.
A meeting of COBRA used to be almost unheard of, now they are almost daily. I know that in Boris Johnson we have a PM who would not countenance the measures we have taken unless there were no other options. I also have faith that in the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer, we have two global experts to guide us calmly through the wall of noise (and synthetic expertise) that follows our every move. Every day I witness the quiet professionalism of our civil service teams, who in most circumstances go unnoticed and unrecognised. I include both our local Councils in that praise too.
This crisis is of a magnitude that is faced once a generation or less, and the measures being taken to combat it are without precedent since the Second World War. But they can work.
Some of the innovation around essential equipment and drugs is happening at a breathtaking pace, displaying the best of our creative minds and manufacturing skill.
The biggest public health emergency of our lifetimes calls for the kind of combined and decisive action from government, businesses, communities and individual people that is only seen in times of conflict. For many of us, we have never experienced anything quite like this, ever – closed shops, deserted streets, and police patrols breaking up groups of people normally enjoying spring parties on the beach.
News bulletins with images of health professionals in masks and protective suits further add to the feeling that our country, in fact our world, may have changed forever.
Our pledge to protect the NHS and save lives cannot be achieved alone. Our lives are already curtailed to an unimaginable degree. Our nation is built on our independence and free spirit. We just aren’t used to keeping our distance from one another and staying at home, with normal life put on hold for many weeks. Yet the vast majority of our friends and families have done just that, uncomplainingly and with their focus on the greater good.
Could any of our great nations have fought this alone?
Many others have stepped forward to volunteer, like the thousands signing up to support the NHS, Withybush and Glangwili Hospitals, or the army of retired medics and police officers who are coming back into service to help us defeat coronavirus.
This must be a collective effort across the four nations that make up our United Kingdom. It has struck me how (with a few exceptions) our four governments have suspended the usual hostilities to work together in common cause. Perhaps when we emerge from this, public attitudes towards the union will have changed too. Could any of our great nations have fought this alone?
We are also seeing businesses large and small across our country responding to these times of exceptional difficulty. From household names temporarily shutting their stores and offering online-only services, to local restaurants and pubs turning at speed into takeaways, companies are showing extraordinary resilience in the face of adversity.
West Wales is off limits. For now...
Normally at this time of year we are welcoming the world to west Wales, but for now, and not without controversy, we will be largely off-limits. The attractions and beauty spots of west Wales will all still be here long after coronavirus has been defeated.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has put in place an incredible package of support worth many billions of pounds, to protect business and workers against the economic emergency caused by the coronavirus. These apply in Wales too. For the first time in history, the UK government is going to step in and help pay people’s wages. The sheer scale of this intervention highlights a shared ambition to protect public services, people and businesses through this period of uncertainty and disruption. We have put no limit on how much we are willing to invest in our UK-wide response.
COVID-19 is no respecter of boundaries as the PM and Prince of Wales will attest. It is a silent and invisible killer causing fear and trepidation. For the first time for most of us, we just can’t take our health, our jobs or our way of life for granted anymore.
But it is these challenges that bring out our finest characteristics too, compassion, generosity, resilience, determination and innovation.
Our counties will recover. We will cherish what we have, and value what we have learnt.