TODAY marks two years since Boris Johnson ordered the country into a lockdown in a bid to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

People across Southampton have told the Daily Echo that "fear and anxiety" characterised the 24 months that followed - with only the vaccine programme offering a respite and route back to normality.

Since the Prime Minister's televised lockdown order some 500 people in Southampton alone have died in deaths linked to Covid.

Latest figures show more than 75,000 positive cases in the city during the pandemic.

Despite being two years on since the stay-at-home order was broadcast into the living rooms of millions, Covid is back on the rise.

Daily Echo:

Dr Debbie Chase, director of public health at Southampton City Council

But Dr Debbie Chase, director of public health at Southampton City Council, said the recent increase is no cause for concern - but has urged people to take up the Covid vaccine and wear a mask.

Dr Chase added: "A trend we are seeing nationally, as well as locally, is an increase in Covid-19 cases, which considering the easing of restrictions, is to be expected.

"However we are cautiously optimistic and do not feel that this is cause for concern, as there are a number of important behaviours we can continue to practice in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe whilst further preventing the spread of the virus.

Daily Echo:

Empty Southampton streets during lockdown

"We encourage you to continue to wear a face-covering in crowded public spaces, to ventilate your space to allow fresh air to flow or consider meeting your friends outdoors as the weather becomes warmer, to wash your hands often, and to stay at home if you are unwell or displaying any Covid-19 symptoms.

"One of our main objectives continues to be protecting those most vulnerable to Covid-19 through vaccination, whether that be your first, second or booster jab."

She said the community banded together in lockdown "showing compassion and resilience through this truly unprecedented time".

She said Southampton can "look back in pride at how far we have come".

Businesses are among those today reflecting on their battle for survival - with lockdown throwing retail and leisure firms into disarray, despite furlough and support schemes.

Aiden Lavin, co-owner of the popular Southampton pub The Dancing Man said lockdown caused "fear and anxiety".

"It was not only a worry about getting the virus, we were worried about the future," he said.

Daily Echo:

Aiden Lavin, co-owner of a popular Southampton The Dancing Man

"The first lockdown was a nightmare, we feared we might lose our business.

"Not being able to open the door meant a lot of waste, we were throwing away beer."

Aiden said during lockdown staff left to pursue new careers but The Dancing Man was "kept busy" when it started a delivery service.

Speaking on the reopening of his business, Aiden said he has seen a "massive change".

Daily Echo:

The Dancing Man

He added: "We still have a way to go, trade is fairly different now.

"We have refined the way we do things, and overall I don't think we will reach the staff we had previously.

"We have learned a lot along the way.

"It was horrible, but being the optimist I am there are a few things we have learned about ourselves and our business."

Another business owner, Jed Gorrie who runs Shenanigans in Bedford Place, said his business struggled during the lockdown.

"When we closed, we were closed for ages," he said.

Daily Echo:

Jed Gorrie who runs Shenanigans in Bedford Place

"As we don't serve food, we couldn't even open as soon as other places did.

"We were closed for longer than most.

"Once we did reopen, everything went very well and business was booming.

"We managed to survive."

Despite renewed optimism this year, Southampton Bid has confirmed that sales continue to lag behind 2019 levels.

However, last month’s performance against 2019 was the strongest since October.

Food and drink in the city is also "dramatically bucking the trend", the group said.

Sales in February are 14 per cent higher than the same month in 2019.

Giles Semper, chief executive at Go! Southampton, said closing during lockdown "felt like a terrible blow" for businesses.

Daily Echo:

Giles Semper, chief executive at Go! Southampton

He added: "All of us remember seeing the city centre virtually devoid of visitors – an unnerving and unwelcome sight.

"We were to experience several demoralising false dawns before life began to return to some semblance of normality.

"We should remember that ‘essential businesses’ soldiered on throughout.

"They were staffed by brave individuals who were key workers but were never really acknowledged as such.

"While we salute them, we should also recall how badly many customers behaved towards them.

"Perhaps these customers were themselves afraid of Covid, but in my mind, their conduct was and is unforgivable."

Daily Echo:

Portswood volunteer Hermione Regan (right) with fellow helper for Southampton Coronavirus Mutual Aid Group in 2020

Inspired by other mutual aid groups, the Southampton Coronavirus Mutual Aid Group was set up on Facebook on March 15, 2020.

It acted as an outlet for people looking to support their community and neighbours during the pandemic, and WhatsApp groups were established across the city.

The group then set up an isolation hotline for people living alone.

A spokesperson from the Southampton Coronavirus Mutual Aid Group said: "The early pandemic was a really frantic, difficult time to navigate with the situation changing continuously.

"We were just a grassroots initiative, trying to somehow stay on top of everything and coordinate all of these pick-ups of prescriptions and food.

Daily Echo:

Hampshire firefighters deployed to work with medics on hospital frontline

"The group soon became a community network, particularly through those WhatsApp groups and people started undertaking some incredible acts of community solidarity.

"Sometimes it was as simple as walking a dog or picking up a prescription, at other times, it was helping people to move flats."

Two years on we are still seeing an increase in the number of covid cases and deaths across the city and the rest of Hampshire.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in Southampton 499 deaths involving Covid-19 had been provisionally registered up to March 12 this year.

Daily Echo:

Clap for Carers in Southampton, May 2020

Of these, 340 were in hospitals and 114 in care homes, while 41 occurred in private homes and one in a hospice.

There were also two deaths in another communal establishment and one elsewhere.

According to latest figures, the number of coronavirus cases in Southampton increased by 840 over the weekend.

A total of 75,194 cases had been confirmed in Southampton when the UK coronavirus daily dashboard was updated on March 21.

In Eastleigh there have been 40,805 cases since the start of the pandemic, followed by 35,588 cases in Winchester, 43,927 cases in the New Forest, 37,189 cases in Test Valley, and 31,811 cases in Fareham.

Some 69.8 per cent of Southampton's population has received at least two doses of a Covid jab - with 52.1 per cent having received a booster or third dose.

Outside of the 12-15 age group, people aged 25-29 have the lowest vaccine uptake in the city with 62.6 per cent having received a vaccine.

According to latest NHS data, University Hospital Southampton had 13 Covid patients as of March 15. This is down 18 on January 1 - the highest peak so far in 2022.

Just one Covid patient at UHS was on mechanical ventilation as of March 15.