Inside the outbreak: during the Covid pandemic, photographs in England


Guardian photographer Chris Thomond lives in Manchester and spent much of the year under tight lockdown measures while traveling to coronavirus hotspots in northern England to photograph life during the pandemic. He looks back on his year

By Christopher Thomond

Early on during the pandemic, I had seen a short film from the Philippines and read a longer blog from northern Italy that featured photographers in hazmat suits and with cameras under protective covers. My fellow photojournalists followed paramedics as they handled critically ill patients, empathetically showed physicians in overheated hospital emergency rooms, or portrayed intimate moments as spouses and other terrified family members said goodbye to loved ones as they were carried out of their homes on stretchers, some for the last time.

In the weeks that followed, I was captivated by the daily updates of iconic photographer Peter Turnley’s remarkable black-and-white street portraits of New York (and later Paris, his adopted home) (and later Paris, his adopted home). They showed tired emergency staff outside trauma centers, lonely subway passengers, homeless wanderers, and an array of invaluable employees and ordinary people just keeping it together. The largest city in the U.S. soon became one of the centres of the outbreak and experienced a correspondingly high death toll. Turnley showed tremendous bravery walking the streets each day, and his empathetic attitude to people rewarded him with tender moments that he skillfully captured for history.

March 16: Piccadilly in Manchester, when some companies encourage their workers to work from home and some businesses close for a few days as the corona virus spreads across the country
“City centers have been hollowed out as many offices have closed and workers have been working from home.

It’s so difficult to paint an enticing image of an empty city scene. To me, it looks like a Sunday morning from decades ago, before seven-day shopping was permitted.”
Recently, it was suggested that I write about my own year of covering the pandemic. On the last day of January, as half the country prepared to celebrate the UK’s exit from the EU, I was at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral as security fencing was erected to contain the first planeload of Britons evacuated from Wuhan, which had been struck by the coronavirus.

In the weeks that followed, alarming developments were observed from around the world, but there was a relative lull in activity in my area.

January 31: Plans at Arrowe Park Hospital in Upton, Wirral.
That all changed one late afternoon in mid-March when I answered an unexpectedly frantic call from a photo editor asking me to take photos of busy hospitals. For a few days, wire agency photographers had been catching breathtaking photos of raging activity and ambulances outside London A&E units. The pictures confirmed the impression that the NHS was in danger of being overwhelmed as the coronavirus spread rapidly.

It would be another week before the nationwide lockdown was enforced, but we knew it was coming. Senior editors had to explain the constantly shifting story for the next day’s print edition and were desperate for photos from the province to balance the visual coverage from the capital.

I drove past two hospitals, but all was quiet, and a fast call to the marketing staff at a third hospital verified that they were still quiet and would not let me on the site. We had to acknowledge that incidents were happening sooner in London than in other parts of the world and change course. Given the understandable lack of access to NHS hospital wards, the slim prospect of accompanying emergency crews, and the scarcity of protective equipment, I was charged with recording the daily realities of everyday life in the north of England – and sometimes beyond – as the country grappled with the biggest global health crisis in more than a century.

March 18, 2020: Vicky Sergeant and her daughter Kleio write messages in chalk in support of NHS staff at the Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire, where several coronavirus patients were being treated
“The emergency ambulance bays are visible from the road, but the hospital looked no different than normal.

I happened to see the uplifting scene as a young mother and her daughter delivered messages of under


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