29th March 2020
Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week One of Self-Isolation
March 7 2020 I depart for Northern Italy to lead a two-week ski trip. Early on the morning of 11 March I am back in the UK and heading for two-weeks of self-isolation.
I was introduced to the concept of social distancing during my very short stay in coronavirus ravaged Northern Italy. As soon as I and my four colleagues arrived at Bologna airport for our flight home I noticed we instinctively sat apart from each other – even though, just a few hours earlier, we had been huddled around one small table in our hotel bar. Social distancing is now a way of life.
Wednesday 11 March 2020
Touching down at Stansted airport I wonder what happens next. All arrivals from China and Italy have been advised to self-isolate for two weeks. No-one takes any notice as we make our way through Arrivals. A transfer to Gatwick Airport, our point of departure, has been arranged for us. But finding our driver is a challenge. He directs me to Arrivals but he is parked outside Departures - in an unmarked blue minibus. When we finally get together we drive towards the exit. The six exit lanes are all empty except one. Our driver pulls up behind the only other car leaving the airport. We have to wait while its driver has an argument with the machine controlling the barrier. Finally, our driver can insert his ticket into the machine. The time ticks over from 15 minutes to 16 minutes and payment goes to £25. He is incensed and presses the Help button. A woman comes over and points out he could have used one of the five empty lanes. He pleads with her claiming he has no money. She tells him to ring a friend. He pays. He blames me for being in the wrong place. I think the blame is all his but do not want to enter into a discussion with him. I turn my head away. He is constantly coughing and not using a handkerchief. I am more concerned about being infected with the coronavirus than I was throughout my stay in Northern Italy. Our journey to Gatwick passes in a hostile silence.
I wonder how I am going to deal with self-isolation for the next fourteen days – as advised by the British government. Although I have been watching BBC World News continually there has been very little news about the UK. I am aware that people are panic buying but not me. All I have at home is a bag of rice, a bag of pasta, two bags of muesli, a can of soup and three cans of tuna. Apart from these, my cupboards are bare and my fridge and freezer are empty. My priority, when I got to Gatwick was to buy fresh milk and hand cream. I had been following government advice to keep washing my hands and now they were red and raw. Shopping done I head for home, by train. On the empty seat beside me is a newspaper headlining the large number of tourists now trapped in Italy as all the borders are closed. I am so grateful I am not one of them. When I get home and check my emails I discover my trip to Malta, due to depart in two weeks, has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The means the features I had been going to write about this trip will not be possible now.
Thursday 12 March 2020
I am awake at six this morning and worrying about the report I have to write for the office. I know the group I travelled with will be anxious to commence claims for refunds and compensation – a complicated and lengthy task. I decide this must be my priority and it occupies me for the next three hours. Next, I turn my mind to planning my self-isolation. The terrace of my flat has been dismantled to deal with a leak into the flat below so I can’t go outside or even open the patio door. This is a major blow as it is an attic flat with small windows. I then try to do an online shop but there are no slots available for either delivery or collection until the following Monday so I need to go out to get some food, somehow.
I decide that if I have to drive to Sainsbury’s, do a shop I might as well carry on for another 120 miles to my bolt hole on Sandbanks in Dorset. I would be better off there as I would have a nice view and could probably go out for a walk by the sea occasionally. Generally, my local Sainsbury’s is pretty deserted by seven in the evening so I decide to wait until then. Meanwhile, I pack for an extended stay in Sandbanks. On arrival at Sainsbury’s I discover there are still lots of people rushing around with loaded trolleys and whole sections of empty shelves. I keep my distance which means my meager shop takes quite a while. I had sorted out a makeshift face mask but no-one other shoppers are wearing them and the staff look at me suspiciously. Maybe they think I am planning a hold-up. I push the mask off my face so it as around my neck. I manage to scavenge enough food for the next five days. On arrival in Sandbanks, I unpack the car and finally flop into bed, exhausted.
Friday 13 March 2020
The weather today is awful so no hardship staying inside. Rain spatters continually against the patio door. I can see trees bowing down in submission to a gusting wind. I can hear the cars splashing through the large pool of water that was creeping across the road below me. As I am still confident that a planned trip to the Isle of Wight at the end of April to promote the annual Walking Festival on the island. I decide to write an article featuring the village of Bembridge on the island. This takes all day. I have a break to cycle for twenty minutes on my exercise bike and do some stretching exercises. I pass the evening dozing in front of the television. I am still very tired after my recent adventure in Northern Italy.
Saturday 14 March 2020
Another blustery day laden with heavy showers. I start the day slowly with a leisurely breakfast while I consider my options. I have my own online travel journal and post a new feature every week. As my next trip, Malta is now on hold I need some inspiration. I decide to write about my recent trip to Folgaria and my first encounter with the effects of the fast-spreading Coronavirus pandemic. This takes all day with breaks to cycle on my exercise bike and do some stretching exercises. I finish in the early evening and head to the very old fashioned bathroom to have a shower and wash my hair. I have to hold the shower head in one hand while washing myself with the other. The bathroom also gets a good soaking as I struggle to master this technique.
Sunday 15 March 2020
I have a plan for a project to get me through two weeks on my own and decide to start today. It is twenty-four years since I started working in travel as a tour leader and eight years since I started writing about my travels. I have taken thousands of photographs to illustrate my writing. There has never been time to sort through them discarding those I can’t use and cataloguing the others. Soon after I start working on images of Italy I develop a really bad headache. It is not relieved by Paracetamol. I have had a runny nose for the past two days, I feel very tired and slightly feverish. Although the latter could be the result of sitting too close to the radiator. The flat I am staying in does not have a very good heating system so I have moved the settee close to the radiator. I look up symptoms of coronavirus on the internet. No cough and I am breathing okay so no problem. I carry on with my project starting in Italy. The images bring back some lovely memories – especially those of my favourite resort, Madonna di Campiglio, in the Italian Dolomites. I last stayed there in December 2019. I am concerned for my friends there and send them an email. The response is reassuring, they are fine and being kept in order by the carabinieri who regularly patrol the village. Anyone going to work has to carry a certificate authorising them to do so. As I am still feeling a bit rough (real or imaginary) I drink a Lemsip and have an early night.
Monday 16 March 2020
I feel a lot better when I wake up. Although it is only 6 am the sun is shining. I need to get out after being confined inside for 3 days. I have a quick and go out. As I am very close to Poole Harbour I decide to walk around the harbour. It just feels so good to be out in the fresh air with the sun on my face. I walk briskly as far as I can along the path that encircles the harbour and then walk back again. I don’t want to go back inside so I spend some time watching a dredger in the harbour. Several joggers pass by and I decide to have a go at jogging. I have never felt motivated to jog before but the need to keep fit during this period of self-isolation is all the motivation I need. Since having both knees replaced I have taken on many challenges – cycling, trekking, skiing – but jogging was never on my list. Time to give it a go. I only managed about 400-hundred metres but my heart was pounding by the time I stopped. Good cardio-vascular exercise. I resolve to increase the distance I jog every day to build up my stamina. Back in the flat, I am ready to do some work and start by checking my social media accounts. It is very strange having time to read and respond to all the messages on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Then I start working on ideas for travel features – I am still optimistic I will get to the Isle of Wight at the end of April. Suddenly the day is nearly over. Time for my daily twenty minutes on the exercise bike, some stretches, dinner and bed.
Tuesday 17 March 2020
Today I start my walk by jogging first. It makes me feel good and loosens the tightness I sometimes experience at the top of my legs. When I get to the point where the harbour path peters out I decide not to turn back but to cross the road on to the Sandbanks beach. I have to pass between two rows of beach huts and as I do so I notice some writing on a large paving stone. This informs me that the patterned path I am about to walk along was designed and built by students of "Parkstone Grammar School, St Edwards School, and Livability Victoria Education Centre in Poole. Of the three the latter is the most interesting. This centre offers specialised, high quality education, therapy and care for disabled young people between the ages of three and nineteen. They also offer a residential transition service for eighteen to twenty-five-year-olds.
Above the path are some charming, vibrant paintings. These are the work of disabled children on a Poole Short Break. The children learn new skills and independence through planned activities while their parents get some time to themselves.
I am charmed by both enhancements of the seafront. I head for the firm sand at the water’s edge. I am surprised at the number of people already on the beach. Most of them are dog walkers but there are also some joggers and people doing exercises on the rocks that form the sea defences stretching out into the sea. Social distancing is being rigorously practised here. Most people move sideways and scuttle past me eyes fixed on the ground. Nevertheless, it is an exhilarating experience and there are signs that spring is almost here. I return to the flat ready to face the rest of the day inside and alone.
Some Government Statistics
By March 11 the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is 460 and 8 deaths had been recorded in the UK. By 17 March 2020 these numbers had increased to 1,950 and 71 respectively. A 45-year-old became the youngest victim.
More next week.
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing 4 books she turned to online travel writing and photography. Today she is editor, features’ writer and reviewer for ExperiencedTraveller.com and regularly contributes guided city walks to GPSmyCity.com