By Tara O’Connor, Local Democracy Reporter
It has been over a year since the first positive coronavirus case was recorded in Croydon, on March 10, 2020.
In the days that followed, the first Covid-19 patients were admitted to Croydon University Hospital, which recorded its first death from the virus a week later on March 17.
It was the start of months of pressure on the hospital which saw hundreds of Covid-19 patients dying.
When that first positive case was recorded in a care home in the borough there was not much testing available.
Looking back on this moment, Croydon consultant, Dr Yogini Raste, said it was the start of a harrowing few months.
She said: “I clearly remember when we got the first confirmed positive case in Croydon. That made me realise that the patient had got infected by somebody who had gone into the care home so it was in the community.
“That was a scary moment, it made me realise that the number of cases was going to be huge. From there it ramped up really quickly, within a few weeks we were full.”
The first wave was short but very intense with nearly 300 people dying in just two months.
The stories of those lost included GP Dr Krishan Arora, 57, who had worked in Croydon for 27 years and Dr Paul Kabasele, who worked as an ophthalmologist at Croydon University Hospital.
Dr Kabasele died aged 58 in May after battling the virus for one month in hospital and was remembered as a “truly gifted and hard-working doctor” by his colleagues.
As well as health workers, transport drivers were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
One of those lost was Croydon bus driver, Mervyn Mally Kennedy, who died on April 7, just three days after his 67th birthday.
There were also inspiring stories of recovery, memorably Pani Kyriacou, an NHS IT engineer from South Norwood, who walked out of the London Road hospital after a 98 day stay.
The condition prevented him from moving for months, after coming out of hospital he said: “It’s shocking to think what coronavirus can do to you. I was really trapped inside my own body.”
Since then, more than 30,000 people in Croydon have tested positive and more than 950 people have died from Covid-19.
580 of these deaths have been at Croydon University Hospital which has cared for more than 2,900 Covid-patients.
To deal with an influx of patients the hospital doubled its intensive care capacity and set up a ‘hospital within a hospital’ to treat non-covid patients safely.
The second wave
After a summer of falling infections Croydon’s hospital was caring for no coronavirus patients at the start of September.
But in the lead up to Christmas the number of positive cases rose sharply and the hospital was hit once again.
In January, cases peaked at 1,205 cases per 100,000 and more than half of the beds at Croydon University Hospital were taken by Covid-19 patients.
And the hospital was seeing sicker and younger patients according to ICU nurse Cassandra George.
Last month, the 27-year-old said: “Covid has been devastating in intensive care. As a team we try and keep each other up, make jokes when you can. You have to make your colleagues laugh when you can.
“It feels like this wave is worse, we are seeing sicker patients and younger patients who are getting just as sick.”
There are still coronavirus patients being treated at the hospital.
As of Tuesday, March 9, there were around 50 coronavirus patients in the hospital down from 280 when the pandemic was at its worst.
Last week, Clinical director at the hospital, Dr Reza Motazed, says the past year has been nothing like he has experienced in his 23-year medical career.
“I think that the numbers will go down but we shouldn’t let our guard down, we have to keep doing the basic things,” he said.
As more people are vaccinated and children return to school it feels like things are slowly getting back to normal.
George Dyer from Norbury was the first to receive the vaccine at Croydon University Hospital on December 8 – making him one of the first in the world.
After receiving the jab, the 90-year-old said: “I’ve felt helpless, but I’ve had to be sensible so I’ve stayed put. Now it feels like I can get my life back.”
Now, nearly 90,000 people in Croydon have received their first Covid-19 vaccination jab.
This vaccine is now being offered out to all those over the age of 55.
So far, six vaccination sites have been set up across the borough.
‘We have to go slow and steadily’
Cases have now dropped well below 100 cases per 100,000 but Croydon Council’s director of public health, Rachel Flowers, has warned against complacency.
For the seven days up to March 4, there were 40 cases per 100,000 in the borough.
At a meeting yesterday (Tuesday, March 9), Ms Flowers, said: “Thanks to some tremendous efforts of sticking to the lockdown we are now seeing significant reductions in infection rate in Croydon.”
She added that people need to be careful as we move out of lockdown while not everybody has been vaccinated.
“We still have to go slowly and steadily as it is quite possible that we see quick upticks in community transmission,” she said.
Ms Flowers said the risk now is variants of Covid-19 – There is currently surge testing taking place in South Norwood and Thornton Heath following the discovery of the Brazillian variant of the virus.
This follows the discovery of the South African variant in New Addington where 5,000 people were tested as part of an enhanced programme.
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