An email leaked to ITV News has revealed that Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary invited staff to a ‘bring your own’ event at No 10 just months into the pandemic.
Perhaps most galling, Martin Reynolds asked colleagues to “make the most of the lovely weather” while enjoying drinks in the garden on May 20, 2020.
For all of us who were adhering to the lockdown rules at the time, news of the email has been difficult to swallow.
But the thought of up to 100 government employees gathering together to enjoy a drink in the early summer sunshine must be profoundly infuriating for those who were holding our NHS together at the time.
So too the latest revelations around two parties at Downing Street in April – when staff are reported to have brought along a suitcase filled with wine. Boris Johnson was not at either of these parties - but still faces uncomfortable questions around alleged Covid rule-breaking at the heart of government.
Even before Covid-19 arrived in Northern Ireland, the health service here was limping along.
The arrival of a new and deadly virus pushed the system to the limit.
In a matter of weeks, everything changed and by May 2020, healthcare staff were living a daily nightmare as they coped with the ravages of a global pandemic.
Tens of thousands of outpatient appointments were cancelled, staff were diverted from their usual jobs to bolster the fragile frontline, while the public was urged to only drive where necessary and avoid DIY – all in a desperate bid to limit the pressure on our hospitals.
Nurses were moved to intensive care units, whether they liked it or not, and listening as families said anguished goodbyes over the internet .
For some families, staff were able to wheel dying patients to hospital windows, giving them one last chance to see one another.
The psychological impact of these experiences, for staff and the affected families, cannot be overestimated.
Through it all, frontline staff were working in sweltering and restrictive PPE – who can forget the images of doctors and nurses finishing their shifts with painful welts on their skin after hours in tight face masks?
The fact is that in May 2020, even a break from the ward just to go to the toilet was considered a luxury – a world away from what was happening at 10 Downing Street.
And at the end of a long shift, perhaps after holding the hands of several patients as they slipped away, there were some who couldn’t even return home to the comfort of their own families for fear of bringing the virus back to their loved ones.
The situation was just as bleak in healthcare settings outside of our hospitals and care homes were particularly hard hit.
They reported a lack of PPE and support for staff, while many residents, already confused and frail due to dementia, were left bereft as all contact with their families was cut off.
Unable to understand the overnight cessation of visits by loved ones, some care home residents simply faded away.
And let’s not forget that just two days after the now infamous ‘bring your own’ event at Downing Street, Northern Ireland’s health minister announced the relocation of every resident at a north Belfast care home.
Conditions at what was then known as Clifton Nursing Home became so unsafe during a Covid outbreak, during which nine residents died and a member of staff was left critically ill with the virus, that officials were forced to take the unprecedented step.
In March 2020, a message posted on Mr Johnson’s official Facebook page said: “We will get through this together, and we will beat the virus.
“To win this fight, we need everyone to follow our advice: as far as possible, we want you to stay at home. The more effectively everyone does this, the faster this country will recover.”
In light of the revelations in recent days, it is abundantly clear that we have not gone through the pandemic together.