20th December 2020
Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 38 - Start of Vaccination Roll Out
As the roll out of vaccinations starts in the UK I am on tenterhooks in case the travel restrictions change and Christmas in Madeira becomes impossible. Especially as more holiday plans are ruined when the Canary Islands are removed from the quarantine-free list.
Week 38 of the pandemic sees another surge in COVID-19 cases. But the roll out of vaccinations has started so there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The government has issued a warning that it will take months to vaccinate everyone so we must still follow the rules of the tier we are in. And those tiers are subject to alteration due to a rapidly changing situation. Whatever happens, we are promised restrictions will be relaxed for a few days over Christmas.
Monday 07 December 2020
I get up early, pile on lots of clothes and start emailing and Tweeting British Gas hoping to get some help. It is a forlorn hope and when they do respond I am told to book an emergency call out while they investigate with the engineer who did my service last month. I am promised a call back before 6 pm this evening. Another day without any heat or hot water for an issue an engineer could fix in five minutes. I turn on the immersion heater to have a shower and this wakes the boiler up and it leaps into action. I still need an engineer to loosen the cap on the hose so I can adjust the pressure in the boiler myself. I have an appointment with the hygienist this morning and then lunch at the Red Lion with two friends. They are already there which I arrive and I join them. The waiter brings some menus and quizzes us regarding the number of households we represent. We teeter on the brink of being sent outside to eat but he accepts we are only two households and allows us to stay inside. We have a very nice lunch. Back at the flat I get a call from British Gas to say an engineer will be with me between midday and 6 pm tomorrow
Tuesday 08 December 2020
I am up early and start my first task of the day – writing my annual Christmas letter. This makes me think of the past year and to wonder how many of the people I am writing to have been affected by COVID-19. I switch the radio on and Christmas music wafts around me. Listening to Sleigh Ride I am suddenly back in Finland where I spent a memorable Christmas and New Year. During this trip we had a sleigh ride. It was so much fun it made me laugh out loud. The more I laughed the more the faster our driver made the horses go. We skimmed the snow-covered ground beneath us as we raced through the trees around a frozen lake. It was magical and so much fun.
Once I have written my letter I move on to my next task. The dreaded tax return. I am determined to finish it today. But, work on a new block of flats across the road has just started and the noise makes it difficult to concentrate. I can’t escape as I have to stay in and wait for the Gas Engineer who is due any time during a 6-hour slot. He arrives, just before 5 pm and quickly resolves the problem. But the long term diagnosis is not good. The boiler is fifteen years old so it has done well considering it was obsolete when it was installed. However, he leaves me some old tools so I can remove the cap the next time the pressure needs topping up. Soon after the engineer leaves one of my neighbours starts cooking supper. It smells as though boiled rubber boots are on the menu. I grab a warm coat and go out to get some fresh air. I walk down the hill and into the centre of Radlett. The main street is ablaze with Christmas lights – it feels very festive. But I am not read for festive fare yet so I buy a pizza for supper and walk back to the flat.
COVID Vaccine Update
Today the vaccine roll-out begins. It is the biggest vaccination campaign in the history of the NHS. Throughout the day every news programme features 90-year-olds being injected with the vaccine. About 70 hospital hubs across the UK will begin inoculating people aged over 80 - mainly patients coming in for planned treatments - with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, along with some health workers and care staff. It will take time to vaccinate enough people for it to have an effect on the pandemic and it is expected the vaccination programme will continue until at least the spring.
In the News Today
Brexit hits the headlines today. Trade talks have reached an impasse so PM Boris has agreed to go to Brussels later this week to try and break the deadlock. He is to meet the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leven after phone calls between then have failed to reach an agreement. Significant differences remain on fisheries, competition rules and how any trade deal would be enforced. Some people are predicting Boris will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and emerge triumphant but right now this seems very unlikely.
Wednesday 09 December 2020
Today sees a welcome return to Dorset. Only 3 days away but already missing the place which is an ideal retreat during the restraints imposed by the coronavirus. I stop at Sainsbury’s to get some petrol and do a shop. I have to prepare for my contingency plan in case the trip to Madeira cannot take place. This involves six bottles of Prosecco – tempted by the 25% reduction for six or more bottles. I learnt a hard lesson during this transaction. The price on the shelf was £5.95 (a good discount) but by the time they had been scanned at the till the price had gone up to £7. I queried the price rise. A member of staff went off to investigate. In hindsight (I know, 20:20 vision) I should have gone with her to show her the label I had seen. She returns with a label I have never seen before and waves it in front of my face at the same time offering me 25p off each bottle. I accept but still go back to the shelf that contains the Prosecco I had just purchased. There is no ticket on display now as it has mysteriously disappeared. I puzzle over this all the way back to Dorset. But then forget it when I burst out laughing at the sight of a tree stump by the roadside that appears to be grinning at me.
Overall UK cases of coronavirus are slowing dropping but Wales now has 3-4 times the rate of new cases compared to the rest of the country. This suggests that the short national lockdown, the firebreak, imposed a month earlier was a failure. Since the firebreak lockdown ended a month ago, Wales has tried to respond to a rise in cases by re-imposing fresh restrictions. On Friday, the latest set of tough rules saw hospitality businesses banned from selling alcohol and forced to close at 6 pm until 17 December at the earliest.
Thursday 10 December 2020
I am up early and after having breakfast started the task for the day to sort out my laptops and back them up. I work at this until early afternoon. During the morning I get some good news – the Madeira Christmas trip is going ahead. After lunch I walk briskly up the hill to Canford Cliffs. I am heading the post office to get some stamps to post my last few Christmas cards. I stroll back to the flat along the beach. The cliffs of the Isle of Wight are beautifully lit up by the sun. It is getting dark by the time I get back to the flat. I light the tee lights in my tree and have a gin and tonic with some nuts and raisins. I am celebrating the confirmation of my Christmas in Madeira. But I am aware that a lot can still change between now and the departure date. Throughout the evening I can hear the booming of what sounds like canons. The next day I discover the army was firing tanks at Lulworth Range.
The Canary Islands will be removed from the list at 4am 12 December. This is really bad news for the many people who have booked a Christmas trip to the Canary Islands.
The coronavirus infection rates are increasing in three regions of England – London, Eastern England and the South East. Kent, where the locals initially reacted angrily to being put under Tier 3, is now one of the worst-hit areas of the country. The government is moving to act on the recent rise in cases in the south of England and has announced these areas would have access to testing. And there have been warnings in recent days that London will need to be raised to Tier 3
In the News Today
Brexit is headline news again. The European Union sets out no-deal plans to limit travel and fishing chaos in January 2021 as hopes of a breakthrough as talks continue in Brussels are fading. Sunday 13 December becomes the final deadline for Brexit negotiations.
Friday 11 December 2020
My first task this morning is to complete my tax return – it is time to stop finding excuses and get it done. It is still quite complicated despite the government’s promise it would be more straightforward. But I succeed and submit it before going into Poole to do some shopping. There are floods around the bus stop so I am very grateful when the bus driver edges in cautiously to avoid splashing me. No trains are running between Brockenhurst and Southampton due to flooding today. It reminds me of the time I got the train down here and I had the same problem. Fortunately, a fleet of taxis were hired to take us to Southampton where we could pick up the train to London. The town is very busy which makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. More Christmas decorations have appeared and with Christmas music playing it is very festive. I get my shopping down as quickly as possible and then have to wait in a queue for the bus. I leave the required distance between myself and the woman in front of me. A man joins the queue behind me but he is too close. I ask him to move back. He tells me to get a life. I tell him I am trying to keep the one I have got and it is thanks to people like him that the virus is spreading. He does not respond and still does not move - so I move.
COVID-19 self-isolation is reduced from 14 days to 10 days as the government changes the rules. People who have been in contact with a positive coronavirus case and those required to quarantine after returning from a country that is not on the quarantine free list will only have to self-isolate for 10 days. This approach has been agreed by all four nations as they are confident the self-isolation period can be shortened. People are most infectious in the first two days before developing symptoms, if they are symptomatic, and for a small number of days afterwards. But by day 10, only a very small percentage of those infected can pass on the virus to others.
New restrictions apply in Wales from today. Pubs and restaurants will not be allowed to sell alcohol and they will have to close at 6 pm. But travel between Wales and England will be allowed.
Saturday 12 December2020
I am woken by wind and rain during the night and it is still wild and wet when I get up. I watch a man struggling to power his board by holding a pair of wings above his head. And a windsurfer failing miserably to get going. Both are battling the white horses in the harbour today. By mid-morning the sun has come out and the harbour is suddenly busy with kite surfers taking advantage of the strong winds – with varying degrees of success.
After lunch I go out for a walk. As the path around the harbour is very busy I and it is low tide I walk over the mud flats. I hoping to get all the way to the to the steps by the East Dorset Yacht Club. But there is a section it is not possible to get around as there is a large puddle of deep water right up to the sea wall. I try to get around it by walking further out in the harbour but there is too much water in that area. The tide has started to come so, as this usually happens very quickly I walk briskly back to the first set of steps and then walk along the path. When I get to the yacht club I walk along the little promenade. I meet a tiny dog that looks like a miniature Doberman but squeaks rather than barking – it sounds as though it needs oiling. Out to sea a flotilla of small yachts look as though they are racing.
In the News Today
As there is only one day before tomorrow’s deadline for Brexit negotiations and there is still no sign of an agreement the Prime Minister has announced he will be sending in Royal Navy gun boats to guard the Channel fishing waters. The French government shrugged off this move by quoting a famous wartime slogan “keep calm and carry on.”
Sunday 13 December 2020
It is dark when I get up at 6 am and walk through to the sitting room to turn off the alarm on my iPhone which I left there when I went to bed last night. Raindrops glisten on the glass of the patio doors in the light of the street lamps on the road below. It is not looking good for my visit to Kingston Lacy this afternoon. I decide to make my decision at noon. By then it is still very windy but the rain has eased a bit. I check the Kingston Lacy website and the park and gardens are open (the house is closed due to COVID-19 restrictions) and there is nothing to say the lights, Ignite, have been cancelled. I decide to go ahead. It is still raining when I get there but it is tolerable. The house is closed but there is plenty to see in the grounds. I walk around the fernery and then go through the Japanese Garden before following a trail through the Enchanted Forest where the fairies live. There are several young families walking on this trail despite the miserable weather. The children are in their element, racing around looking for fairy houses.
It is dusk by the time I walk along a section of the Woodland Trail to get back to the car park. It is raining steadily by this time and I want to leave my Canon camera in the car before embarking on the Ignite trail which will light up as soon as it gets dark. It took a while to get out as the entrances and exits had been closed in preparation for the even tonight. Each time I asked a man on duty how I could get back to the car park I was addressed as ‘young lady’ – but then, it was dark and I was wearing my woolly pixie hat. By the time I got back it to the car it was close to my entry time for the Ignite Trail – 4.30 pm. I join the queue for the trail. It is well organised and people generally respect distances. I take photos with my iPhone as I go along. The flames on the torches are dancing in a wind that has suddenly got up. It has been blown out some of them but it is still an impressive display. I pause to watch a dragon breathing fire. I stop to admire the woven sculptures of Mr Badger, Mr Robin and Mr Snail. I am enchanted by the set pieces of mythical woodland creatures in the Fernery – under the scrutiny of a unicorn hiding in the trees. It really is a magical experience.
In the News Today
An excellent article by Simon Calder in The Independent outlining the changes for travellers from the UK to European Countries from 1 January 2021.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on December 06, a total of 1,737,960 ((daily total 14,718) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 61,434 including a daily total of 189. Deaths with COVID-19 on the certificate have risen to 66,713 (a weekly statistic) an increase of 2,838. A week later on December 13, the total of positive cases had risen to 1,849,403 (daily total 18,447) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 64,170 including a daily total of 144. Deaths with COVID-19 on the certificate have risen to 73,125 (a weekly statistic) an increase of 3,371.
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