Covid-19: Bedford's year in figures as we mark the anniversary of the first national lockdown
It's been an extraordinary 12 months
Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 23) marks one year since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that everyone across the UK was to stay at home for the first time, as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the nation.
It has been an extraordinary 12 months that have changed our lives in terms of health, financial well-being and simple social contact with family and friends.
And it has been a year in which everyone became interested in the daily numbers of the pandemic. One year on, what does the data tell us about how Covid-19 has hit Bedford?
Cases and deaths
Since the early days of the pandemic, we have been provided with regular updates on the number of new positive cases and, sadly, reported deaths.
In Bedford, 13,241 people had tested positive for Covid-19 by the morning of March 18, Public Health England data shows.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 521 deaths involving the virus were provisionally registered in the area up to March 13.
Of those, 431 occurred in hospitals, while there were 64 deaths in care homes and 20 at private homes.
A further six deaths occurred in hospices, other community establishments or elsewhere.
It means deaths that happened outside hospital settings accounted for 17 per cent of the overall toll.
Health experts have repeatedly said "excess deaths" – the number of deaths above the annual expected number – are a better measure of the overall impact of the coronavirus pandemic than simply looking at mortality directly linked to Covid-19.
ONS figures on this show that 1,927 people died of all causes in Bedford between March 2020 and February 2021 – the latest available data.
That was 27 per cent above the 1,514 deaths which occurred over the same period a year earlier.
The labour market
As well as being the biggest health crisis in decades, the coronavirus pandemic has also brought rapid change to the UK's jobs market.
Unemployment rates have surged along with a rise in job uncertainty, and many more people are seeking support from unemployment benefits.
One of the defining elements of the Government's response to the spread of Covid-19 was the launch of emergency income support schemes to protect jobs.
Back in March last year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, or "furlough" scheme, to help firms struggling with the impact of the virus.
By the end of May, just two months later, businesses had already put around 20,200 employments on furlough in Bedford.
At the same time, people in the area had made roughly 6,500 claims made under the separate Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
In January, 11,000 jobs were on furlough in Bedford, with 6,000 reliant on the SEISS scheme.
ONS figures show that in early March last year, 3,525 people in Bedford were claiming out-of-work benefits.
By mid-January, that figure had risen by 94 per cent to 6,850.
The figures include those aged 16 to 64 on Jobseeker’s Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants, who are unemployed and seeking work or employed but with low earnings.
The ONS has regularly cautioned that changes to Universal Credit in response to the virus mean more people can get the benefits while still being employed, which mean the figures can't be used to measure unemployment on a local basis.
It also said a small number of people who can claim both JSA and UC could be counted twice.
What about house prices?
The property market has also felt the impact of the pandemic, with the average UK house price rising to a record £252,000 at the end of last year.
The ONS said Government support schemes, particularly the stamp duty holiday, may be a factor behind the national rise.
In Bedford, the average cost of a property was £273,932 in February, just before the Covid-19 crisis hit, according to Land Registry figures.
By December, that had risen to £301,237 – an increase of 10 per cent.
After an extremely difficult year for many of us, the vaccine rollout is providing a glimmer of hope for a life not bound by restrictions.
NHS data shows 61,740 people in Bedford had received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by March 14 - despite a slow start.
More than 25 million people across the UK have had their first jab.