Staff on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic in the region have been praised as the UK marked two years since the first lockdown this week.
The milestone was recognized on Wednesday as Stirling racked up another 235 positive Covid cases on Tuesday – with the latest strain of the Omicron variant offering a stark reminder of the threats still posed by the virus.
Since the first case was reported in Forth Valley on March 6, a total of 174 people have lost their lives due to Covid in Stirling and more than 11,000 deaths linked to the virus confirmed across the country.
The pandemic has caused life to be different for almost all of us in our daily lives – with deserted high streets, mask wearing and long queues at makeshift vaccination centers becoming some of the defining sights of the ongoing fight with the virus.
As the country marks the anniversary of the lockdown announcement on March 23, 2020, we’ve spoken to some of those at the center of the effort to save lives.
Nicola Green is a senior charge nurse for the Acute Assessment Unit at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, dealing with patients as they initially arrived for treatment throughout the pandemic.
She said: “The pandemic has had a massive impact on how we work within the unit.
“Implementing the many policies and adapting to the use of PPE has been very challenging at times but it has also brought us closer together as a team and we have drawn on each other’s strengths.
“We worked hard to help patients keep in touch with their family when they were unable to visit as communication was really important.
“Even though there have been some really tough and testing times over the last two years, each day something happens which reminds me why I do this job and how rewarding it is to care for patients at a time when they are seriously unwell.”
Another key element in the local NHS response to the virus was the mass rollout of life-saving vaccinations – a drive which has seen almost 69,000 people in Stirling receive at least two doses and more than 61,000 being given three jags.
Fiona Coan, NHS Forth Valley’s immunization team manager, said: “It’s been a very busy time for the local vaccination team and they have worked incredibly hard to keep pace with the rapid rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination program and ensure local people across Forth Valley were vaccinated as quickly and easily as possible.
“Vaccination has been a key weapon in our fight against Covid-19 and I’m proud our team has played a part in helping to protect local people, especially older and more vulnerable population who are most at risk.”
Cathie Cowan, NHS Forth Valley’s chief executive, said: “The last two years have been an incredibly difficult time for everyone, including the NHS, however I am incredibly proud of how local health and care staff across the Forth Valley have responded to the many challenges and changes they have faced.
“The care and compassion they have shown throughout the pandemic has been incredible and they have worked slowly to deliver the very best care and services to local patients and their families.
“It’s also important to remember that the pandemic isn’t over yet and the recent surge in Covid-19 cases over the last few weeks has placed additional pressures on services which were already facing high levels of demand.
“Health and care staff are doing everything possible to maintain local services and I ask everyone to continue to be patient and kind as we work together over the coming weeks to respond to surges in demand whilst focusing on our ongoing recovery plans.”
The tone of caution was also reflected by Stirling MSP Evelyn Tweed.
She said: ““It’s no exaggeration to say it’s been an incredibly long two years since Covid-19 arrived on our doorsteps and changed our lives overnight. At this time of collective reflection, my thoughts go out to those who have lost loved ones and worked so hard during the hardest times that most of us can remember.
“We’ve come a long way since March 2020, with vaccinations and new treatments helping saves lives and reduce serious illness. And as we approach the warmer months, there are signs that as a nation we are bouncing back with the strength and tenacity that is so central to the spirit of Scotland.
“But cautious optimism, time and healing are still needed. We may have learned more about the COVID and how to combat it, but the virus hasn’t gone away. As restrictions ease, it’s important we all continue to trust the public health guidance and each other.
“I look forward to what I hope will be a summer of recovery and reflection, and pay tribute to each and every person who has helped to keep us safe during these past two difficult years.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.