2020 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic
COVID-19 is a pandemic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. This page will be updated as the situation develops.
A pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan, China was first reported to the World Health Organisation ('WHO') Country Office in China on 31 December 2019. It spread globally during early 2020. It was characterised by a rapid spread of flu-like symptoms with difficulty in breathing in severe cases, with increased mortality in those over 60 years of age and those with underlying health issues.
On 11 February the WHO announced "coronavirus disease (COVID-19)" as the name of this new disease. The virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003 although, while related, the two viruses are different.
On 11 March WHO characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic, a global outbreak. During March it escalated quickly in Europe and elsewhere leading to several countries prohibiting international movement and ‘lockdowns’ in regions and countries, with measures for ‘social distancing’.
- On 5 March COVID-19 was listed as a notifiable disease in England. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved governments had done so by 26 February.
- From 16 March the government began listing social distancing guidance advising large gatherings should not take place: it advised against all non-essential travel and social contact, to include working from home where possible and avoiding venues such as pubs, restaurants and theatres. These were updated daily with further restrictions requested (but not mandated) of individuals and organisations.
- On 18 March the government announced loan guarantees (CBILSCoronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, a government backed loan scheme) for some businesses following forecasts of a significant drop in business. For the hospitality and leisure sector there will be a business rates holiday and a £25k cash grant per retail and leisure business for those without specific pandemic insurance. This was subsequently extended to include other measures, including a 'furlough' scheme by which the government funded up to 80% of wages for laid off staff.
- On 23 March the government advised more severe measures which closed the shops and resulted in a partial 'shutdown', with people told not to leave their homes.
- On 25 March the Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed, emergency powers legislation under which subsequent Orders were made legally to regulate activities by the authorities in England, Scottland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- On 17 April the partial shutdown was extended for a further three weeks. The government pay scheme for furloughed workers was extended until the end of June and would be extended again "if necessary".
- On 22 April Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, said social distancing would have to stay in place until a vaccine was available, with “highly disruptive” distancing needed to be in place for “really quite a long period of time” and until at least the end of the year. An unprecedented 20% contraction in the UK economy in April followed lockdown.
- On 10 May the government announced plans to ease lockdown restrictions in England to enable more people to go back to work, but that people should avoid public transport for social distancing reasons. At the earliest shops would not open until June and pubs and restaurants until July. People in England should now aim to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible, such as on public transport and in some shops.
- On 11 May the ORROffice of Rail and Road, formerly Office of Rail Regulation, the independent safety and economic regulator for Britain's railways which includes HM Railway Inspectorate published heritage railways recovery plan guidance, reminding them always to risk assess their return to service.
- On 12 May the furlough scheme was extended until 31 October but with employers to be responsible for part of the cost from 1 August.
- On 9 June it was announced all shops could open in England from 15 June. From the same date face coverings became required while using public transport in England, but guidance remained to avoid public transport where possible.
- On 23 June relaxations were allowed on social distancing, and opening of pubs from 4 July.
- On 17 July further relaxations were announced to allow use of public transport and, effective 1 August, updated advice on going to work, and opening most remaining leisure settings, with appropriate social distancing.
- On 31 July the following day's relaxed restrictions were withdrawn following an increase in cases, leading to fears of a 'second wave'. The SVRSevern Valley Railway's reopening was not affected. The three-month period to the end of July showed a further contraction in the UK economy of 7.6%.
- From August were frequent and short notice changes in guidance with both further relaxations, local lockdowns being introduced and restrictions on overseas travel. Despite some recovery from May onwards, the UK economy in August remained 12% below the pre-pandemic levels.
- Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull saw local restrictions from 18 September as infections and hospital admissions rose across the UK and elsewhere. From October a three tiered system of restrictions were applied with the SVRSevern Valley Railway in tier 1 (medium) and parts of the West Midlands in tier 2 (high).
- On 31 October the government announced a further lockdown in England from 5 November to 2 December. The furlough was re-extended to 31 March 2021. At 3 December the restrictions reverted to an enhanced, three-tier system.
Timeline of events on the SVRSevern Valley Railway
The railway reopened in February 2020 as planned, operating between Bridgnorth and Bewdley only, due to repairs on Falling Sands Viaduct and track relaying between there and Bewdley Tunnel. It was intended to reopen the line throughout from 4 April.
The last public trains ran on Sunday 15 March. The SVRSevern Valley Railway monitored the developing situation daily and followed Government guidelines, considering the utmost importance was the safety and well-being of volunteers, staff and customers. Due to the changing situation Government advice also changed surrounding gatherings, to which the SVRSevern Valley Railway responded as it felt was necessary and sensible.
- 17 March: it postponed train services for the rest of the month.
- 18 March: it postponed train services and closed The Engine House and Refreshment Rooms for the rest of March and throughout April. It also cancelled the following events: Easter Holidays, Spring Steam Gala, Open House Weekend, Spring Diesel Festival and 50th Anniversary event.
- 20 March: it confirmed that the pubs at Kidderminster and Bridgnorth would close. It also launched an emergency appeal for funding to help the railway survive. By 24 March this had raised £50,000.
- 26 March: an updated appeal was launched for share purchases and donations, seeking £250,000 "to keep the Railway ticking over for the next three months".
- 2 April: the appeal reached £120,000.
- 9 April: the total closure was extended until at least the end of May.
- 15 April: the total closure was extended until at least the end of June, and the 1940s event cancelled.
- 16 April: the appeal reached £416,193.
- 24 April: the appeal passed £565,000.
- 30 April: the appeal passed £650,000.
- 7 May The SVRSevern Valley Railway announced it would apply for a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for £50,000 to help heritage businesses who have suffered because of the COVID-19 crisis. It was also working on the application for a CBILSCoronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, a government backed loan scheme loan. A visitor survey was to be launched to attempt to gauge the feelings of our regular visitors, to give an indication of consumer confidence and what level of visitor numbers in the coming 12 months.
- By 13 May the appeal raised more than £680,000 in donations and share purchases.
- On 21 May the SVRSevern Valley Railway launched a survey, to gauge public attitudes to reopening.
- By 1 June the appeal raised more than £745,000.
- In early June it confirmed there would be no train services in July and Steam on the Road, Classic Car Day and On The Buses events were cancelled. Services for August were provisionally advertised to run on 1, 8, 9, 15, 22, 29, 30 and 31 August.
- On 11 June it announced the railway would gradually bring back its 1,800 volunteers, along with paid staff, 95% of whom were currently on furlough. Gradually works recommenced, with relaying at Foley Park restarting from 15 June. It was planned to reopen pubs on 4 July and recommence passenger services at the beginning of August.
- On 23 June it announced that the King and Castle Pub at Kidderminster would reopen on 4 July. Three days later it announced that the Railwayman's Arms at Bridgnorth would also open on 4 July.
- On 2 July the services were announced for trains from August: travel on set services at specific times from Kidderminster or Bridgnorth; tickets only for compartments purchased in advance (no tickets on the day), and travel in pre-booked compartments accommodating a maximum of six people, reserved for the visitor's exclusive use all day.
- From 3 July subscribers to the SVRSevern Valley Railway’s YouTube channel were treated to a series of 'SVRSevern Valley Railway Comeback' behind the scenes videos showing the build up to the reopening to passengers.
- On 15 July the SVRSevern Valley Railway announced the award of £250,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Emergency Fund, the maximum amount possible under this emergency scheme.
- On 23 July the Railway's gala management advisory group took the decision to cancel the Autumn Steam Gala and Autumn Diesel Gala as there seemed little prospect of being able to mount safe and financially viable events that would appeal to a gala audience.
- On 27 July three days of test running started, with staff and volunteers as passengers to test operations prior to the public restart.
- On Saturday 1 August passenger services restarted as planned, with the day being a sell-out. The Fight Back Fund total was more than £800,000.
- By 6 August the Fight Back Fund total was more than £900,000.
- During August Comberton Place offices were closed to visitors. The same month the SVRSevern Valley Railway submitted an application to the Historic England Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage. Tickets went on sale for an amended Christmas services programme.
- On 20 August services for September were announced, on a Wednesday to Sunday basis, and also including a diesel diagramme (the first diesel passenger services in 2020). A limited number of seats in open carriages was included, for groups of 1-4 passengers. By mid-September variations on the plan were announced for October (Friday to Sunday, plus half-term and Ghost trains) and November (weekend) services.
- On 9 October the SVRSevern Valley Railway was awarded £906,000 from the Culture Recovery Fund.
- 2 November: it postponed train services for a month, including the start of Christmas services.
Effects on the SVRSevern Valley Railway
The combination of February's flooding and land movements, the continuing planned work at Falling Sands and coronavirus and meant the SVRSevern Valley Railway was faced with a serious financial challenge. Three-quarters of paid staff were temporarily 'furloughed', volunteers instructed not to attend, and only minimal contract engineering work continued. The railway remained unconnected between Bewdley and Kidderminster..
The SVRSevern Valley Railway also announced it would not be able "to make our crucial annual investment into the Railway. This amounts to £4.5million, and funds essential restorations to our infrastructure and rolling stock, along with apprentice training and a desperately needed overhaul of our IT infrastructure".
The Railway stood to lose up to £6 million income in 2020. In mitigation, it successfully applied to HSBC for a £1.5 million loan under the CBILSCoronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, a government backed loan scheme scheme, which alongside its existing overdraft facility would mean £2.5 million available. The SVRSevern Valley Railway Charitable Trust won a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to support the reopening of the Railway. Wyre Forest District Council awarded the Railway £50,000 under its discretionary business grant scheme but, even after donations and grants, by September SVRSevern Valley Railway(H) had still lost £2.8m in revenue. It later received £906,000 from the Culture Recovery Fund.
With the intervention rate for furlough payments dropping from 1 August 2020 the SVRSevern Valley Railway made up to 40 roles redundant among salaried and zero hours staff who were unable to return to their previous roles, and for whom the Railway was unable to find alternative employment.
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