27th December 2020
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 39 and Borismas Replaces Christmas
The expectation of spending Christmas on Madeira is keeping me going as the nights close in and Dorset is battered by wind and rain.
During week 39 of the coronavirus pandemic cases continue to rise at an alarming rate. Then, the UK Government announces that a new varian of COVID-19 has been discovered and it is suspected it his a quicker rate of infections than previous strains. This is proven to be true and the government acts quickly, first moving more areas into Tier 3 and then creating a new Tier 4 for the affected areas. Christmas becomes Borismas and celebrations are reduced to one day.
Monday 14 December 2020
I went to bed last night looking forward to my breakfast this morning and I am still thinking about food when I wake up. In truth I am thinking about food a lot so I must have a few sessions with my Think Yourself Thin self-hypnosis tape. Having lost 15 kilos and getting down to a size 10 I don’t want to revert to my old habits and put on weight again. The weather thinks it is April with a gusting wind and heavy showers interspersed with bursts of sunshine. I need some milk so I head for the local Tesco store. It is only a short distance but I battle against the wind to get there and then I get blown back. I have to pick my way around the huge puddles that have spread across the road and over the pavements. I am permanently poised to jump out of the way of cars splashing through them. I don’t want another soaking. My waterproof jacket is still very wet after spending over 2 hours walking in the rain yesterday. I write my review of the Ignite Trail I followed at Kingston Lacy yesterday. I then start posting images on Instagram – a new project. The oldest son of my Italian friends is also posting and we spend some time exchanging news. His family is fine which is good news. Giovanni is in Trento where he is doing his last year at school. I should be there now, in Madonna di Campiglio for my annual early winter visit. However, COVID-19 put an end to that – but I have my memories to cheer me up.
It was announced today that a new variant of COVID has been discovered in England and it is spreading more quickly than the original strain. It is thought this could be the cause of increased infection rates in London and south-east. This increased infection rate means that the whole of Greater London, most of Essex and South Hertfordshire will be put under Tier 3 restrictions from Wednesday 16 December. The Minister for Health said it was highly unlikely that the new variant would weaken the impact of the vaccine. Tests are being carried out at Porton Down. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon was taking this new development more seriously and considering whether additional precautions are necessary.
The next stage of COVID-19 vaccinations will start tomorrow as patients from GP surgeries in England will be vaccinated. More than 100 GP practices will receive the vaccine. GP practices will prioritise over-80s, along with health and care staff. The speed at which this programme can be extended depends on the supply. There are thought to be fewer than one million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the country - although more is due to arrive from Belgium soon. The approval of a second vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca could speed up the process. Care home residents in England are also expected to receive their first vaccine later this week. In Scotland, GPs are helping deliver the vaccination programme via hospital hubs but England is the first part of the UK to roll out the jab through GP practices.
The deadline for Brexit talks has been extended and talks will resume today. Sunday was supposed to the last day of talks but, following a phone call between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission a joint statement was issued and it appears the process still has some legs.
Tuesday 15 December 2020
I had planned a brief return to Radlett at the end of the week but it will be in Tier 3 from tomorrow so I now have to re-think my plans regarding my return to the Radlett flat before heading for Madeira. I will also have to organise my PCR swab test. It is a dark and light morning – sun comes out and it looks bright enough to go out and then, a few minutes later it goes dark and raindrops start pounding the windows. I work for a while and then the sun has come out again so I decide to go for a walk – I have just got ready when it starts raining again. So I decide to go out later, to Bournemouth to see the Christmas lights. I get the bus and have the top deck to myself all the way to Bournemouth. There are a few Christmas trees in the square with two fairground rides and some food stalls. There are not many people around and the man on one of the rides is getting desperate. He pleads with passers-by to take a ride. In the Lower Gardens there are some lazer light displays on the grass but nothing else so it is very dark in this section of the gardens. The Observation Wheel is lit up but there is no-one on it. It is either the weather or COVID-19 that is keeping people away. I don’t linger long as it is threatening to rain again.
Christmas is under threat as doctors warn that the relaxing of coronavirus across the UK at Christmas is a “blunder” that “will cost many lives”. In a rare and damning joint editorial the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Health Service Journal (HSJ) warned that the government’s Christmas bubble plan is “rash”. Currently, up to three families can form a Christmas bubble to meet in a private home between 23 and 27 December (22 and 28 December in Northern Ireland). This is despite escalating COVID-19 cases and the emergence of a new strain that is causing COVID-19 to spread faster. However, other tier restrictions on socialising will still apply over the period. They encourage the public to be as careful as possible but warn that many will see the lifting of restrictions over Christmas as permission to drop their guard. This could result in a third wave of the virus.
Michel Barnier has hinted that a post-Brexit trade and security deal could be sealed within days after Boris Johnson made a key concession. The EU’s chief negotiator said the prime minister’s acceptance of the need to ensure that there was fair competition between British and European businesses had unlocked negotiations. But, he said the pathway to agreement was still ‘very narrow.’
In the News Today
A man who lives in Scotland was so desperate to see his girlfriend who lives on the Ilse of Man that he decided to ride a jet ski from the mainland to the island. He had never ridden a jet ski before but calculated the journey would take 40 minutes. It took him over 4 hours. On arrival in the town of Ramsay he walked 15 miles to the capital, Douglas. Non-residents are banned from the island without special permission. He was caught at a busy nightclub with his girlfriend and subsequently spent four weeks in jail.
Wednesday 16 December 2020
I am woken at 4.30 am by the sound of the wind raging outside. I can’t get back to sleep as I start wondering how to deal with a return to Hertfordshire now that it is in Tier 3 and subject to tighter restrictions. I need to go back to pack for my Madeira trip over Christmas. But now I start wondering if that will take place as there is talk of not relaxing the restrictions over the Christmas period as cases continue to rise and relaxing the rules will only make the situation worse and result in more unnecessary deaths. I decide to use my self-hypnosis tape to try and get back to sleep. But it does not help as my concerns continue to race around my mind. Then, suddenly, I have clarity regarding the next article to post on my own website, Experienced Traveller so, I get up at 5 am and start working. As the weather is so bad instead of going for a walk with my Walking Companion we arrange to meet for a coffee at Compton Acres. I walk briskly up the hill to meet her there. The coffee shop has seating inside and out so we will be okay if we don’t pass the test to sit inside. But we pass the test due to my status as a bubble of one. After our coffee we have a walk around the shop which is full of beautiful things. I manage to resist the temptation to buy a door stop to add to my growing collection.
Boris Johnson is still resisting the advice of fellow ministers and scientific advisers to cancel Christmas. The UK will no longer have a unified approach to the easing of COVID rules over Christmas as the Welsh government confirms it is banning more than 2 households from mixing by law. Scotland’s first minister is recommending people forming a Christmas bubble should only meet for one and avoid overnight stays if possible. Meanwhile, Boris holds a press confirming Christmas will go ahead across the UK and urges caution. He tells people to think hard before arranging to meet family and friends and to have a ‘merry, little Christmas.’
Thursday 17 December 2020
Another wet, windy start to the day. I am up early and spend the morning working sorting out a COVID test for my Madeira trip and going through information for that trip. I have to have a negative PCR (swab) COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving in Madeira. This means it has to be done after midday tomorrow at the earliest. There are plenty of options regarding testing but the prices charged range from £60 to £220. By the time I have sorted everything out the sun has come out and I am ready for some fresh air. I set off for the local beach. It is busy this afternoon. I watch a man in a canoe surfing the waves.
A bride and groom are posing for wedding pictures. I am not sure if they are for real or models. The bride is carrying a bouquet of artificial flowers and away from the camera the groom looks very unhappy. No wonder as his wedding finery is no defence against a fierce wind. On my way back to the flat I am tempted in to Tesco by the sight of a huge stack of mince pies in the doorway. I excuse this surrender to temptation by telling myself they probably won’t have mince pies in Madeira. And what is Christmas without a mince pie (or 6)? When I get back to the flat I answer a call as an NHS responder and chat for a while to a lady who lives on her own in Lincolnshire.
Today the Health Secretary announced that large swathes of Southern England would be placed under Tier 3 restrictions from Saturday. This follows the first full review of tier allocations in England and will close pubs, restaurants and cinemas in the areas affected - Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey (except Waverley), Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex, Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, and Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire. 68% of the population of England will be living in Tier 3 from Saturday. But 2 areas of England, Bristol and North Somerset, have moved out of the toughest tier to Tier 2. Herefordshire will go down to Tier 1.
Hopes were raised when the European Parliament agreed to stretch the deadline for a Brexit deal to Sunday 20 December. But UK ministers were still putting the chance of an agreement at less than 50%.
Friday 18 December 2020
Another wet, windy start to the day. To cheer myself up I start checking flights as I have been invited to spend New Year with a friend in France. Currently France is not imposing restrictions on visitors from the UK. In a rash of optimism and due to the scarcity of flights during that period I go ahead and book with British Airways. I am aware everything could change in a matter of hours – and it does. Within 48 hours I have cancelled my flights and accepted an e-voucher from BA. I could fly around the world with the number of e-vouchers I am collecting during the pandemic. Maybe I will.
Meanwhile, back to the present. I have a busy day. First task, a COVID-19 swab test. I have already done one as part of a research project and find it very hard to do the throat swab so I have opted for a drive-in testing station. The car is rocked by the wind as sit inside setting the sat nav before leaving. Once the test is completed I am given a card with a reference number and told that although they say results within 72 hours that is not always possible. As free tests are available on arrival in Madeira this would not be a disaster, just an inconvenience. Back at the flat I receive an email from the NHS asking if I am still interested in taking part in vaccination trials. I do an eligibility test which I pass and I am informed my nearest centre is Southampton. I receive an email confirming that someone will contact me about a first appointment. I have the option to contact them and I do so. Very exciting but a bit scary. I don’t get out for a walk until after dusk so I can enjoy the pretty Christmas tree on the beach by Poole Harbour.
New evidence regarding the transmissibility of a mutant strain of COVID-19 means an emergency toughening of restrictions could be announced as early as Saturday. So far this new variant has largely been confined to London and the South East but an unscheduled meeting of ministers tonight will discuss new restrictions to control the spread of this new variant. It originated in Kent then spread rapidly to London and the home counties. Much of the south-east only went into Tier 3 yesterday but the new information about the transmissibility of the mutant strain is so worrying that ministers fear they may have to act immediately. Government scientists at the Porton Down laboratory in Wiltshire have confirmed ministers' fears about it being far more infectious than the original strain of the virus. PM Boris has been adamant that he will not change the law allowing up to three households to get together over Christmas, but has already advised families to keep their "bubbles" as small as possible. He has not ruled out the possibility of a third national lockdown after Christmas.
The fishing row rages on. Boris Johnson has told the EU that a trade deal could be agreed this weekend if they change their positon on the two outstanding issues – fish and state subsidies.
Saturday 19 December 2020
I am woken by rain thundering on the roof during the night. It is still wet and windy when I get up just after 6 am. I have some breakfast and then start playing with all the banking apps I have recently downloaded. I have finally overcome my fear of apps – all those transactions floating around in the ether was beyond my comprehension. But now I have found the apps can do so much more and more speedily that I am a convert. And all protected by face ID. A cycle of sun and heavy showers results in several rainbows throughout the morning. During one of the sunny spells I walk to Evening Hill around the harbour. Sometimes I have to walk in the road to avoid the puddles that have spread right across the path. Occasionally, I get splashed by waves coming over the sea wall. It is very exhilarating. Walking along the small promenade that skirts Evening Hill I spend some time watching two windsurfers struggling in the wind. One of them finally gives up and retreats to the shore pushing his windsurfer on the surface of the water.
I walk up the hill and then along the cliff path. There are some fresh flowers and Christmas decorations around the commemorative plaques on the fencing. Back at the flat I am listening to the radio when it is announced that from midnight London and most of the South East are going into the new Tier 4 which is pretty much lockdown. In this tier mixing of households inside will not be allowed on Christmas Day. In the other tiers people can only mix on Christmas Day. I wonder what that this will mean for my trip to Madeira. In theory everyone booked on the trip living in a Tier 4 area will not be allowed to travel. In practice they may have joined the rush to get out of London before midnight tonight. I watch in disbelief as the news on television shows crowded railway stations and packed trains. What better way to spread a life-threatening virus?
At 5 pm this evening new rules were announced affecting London and most of the South East. These areas will go into a new Tier 4, an effective lockdown. Festive bubbles allowing up to three households to meet across all the other tiers will only be allowed on Christmas day with overnight stays now banned. As before there will be no relaxation of the rules for New Year’s Eve. The Prime Minister ‘with a heavy heart’ announced he had no alternative. The spread of infections has to be stopped to prevent hospitals becoming overwhelmed and thousands more dying.
Tier 4 is a stay at home order and people in this tier should not stay away from home overnight and those from outside this tier are advised not to visit Tier 4 areas. Elsewhere people in England are advised to stay local and avoid overseas travel. Those in Tier 4 can only travel abroad for essential business. Social mixing in Tier 4 is reduced to meeting one person in an open public space. All non-essential retail will have to close, along with hairdressers, nail bars, indoor gyms and leisure facilities. People will be allowed to travel for education, childcare and to go to work if they cannot work from home and they will be permitted unlimited outdoor exercise. Exemptions to the “stay at home” message which applied in the November lockdown, will also apply in the new Tier 4 – including support bubbles, childcare bubbles and children whose parents are separated.
The restrictions will apply to all areas in the South East previously in Tier 3 and also the whole of London and the East of England – Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire and Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).
Wales brought forward a country-wide lockdown to Sunday 19 December with all festive plans cancelled with the exception of Christmas Day. In Scotland, COVID restrictions will only be relaxed for one day, Christmas Day and mainland Scotland will be placed under the tightest restrictions from Boxing Day. Level 4 restrictions mean the closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and gyms. They will last for three weeks and apply across Scotland, with the exception of Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and other island communities where restrictions have recently been reduced. These areas will be placed in level 3. A ban on travel to the rest of the UK will also apply over the festive period. Schools will return later than originally planned after the Christmas holidays.
Northern Ireland is not currently planning any changes to the rules that allow 3 households to meet from 23 to 27 December. But people are being urged consider only meeting with others on Christmas Day. A new 6-week lockdown will come into force at 1 am on 26 December.
In the News Today
Countries across Europe are bringing in new restrictions to control the spread of the coronavirus. Italy has cancelled Christmas by ordering a nationwide lockdown over much of the Christmas and New Year period. Non-essential shops, restaurants and bars closed, and Italians only allowed to travel for work, health and emergency reasons. Limited home visits will be allowed the curfew from 10 pm to 5 am will remain in place. The beloved Italian Christmas market has already been banned.
Other European countries have tightened restrictions ahead of Christmas following a surge of infections. The Netherlands and Germany have imposed lockdowns until January. The Austrian government has announced the will enter its third lockdown from 26 December when non-essential shops will be shut and movement outside homes restricted. Sweden has recommended wearing face masks on public transport during rush hour (reversing earlier guidelines), has cut from the current eight to four per table the number of people sitting together in restaurants, and banned sales of alcohol after 20:00.
It is hard to believe that this time last year I was wandering around the many Christmas markets in Vienna without a care in the world.
Sunday 20 December 2020
I do not sleep well as I am concerned that Solos may have to cancel the Madeira trip due to the flood new restrictions. I have to travel through Tier 4 to get to Gatwick Airport but will come within the exception of travel for work. Throughout the day I keep a check on train times. As I see cancellations of trains are starting I decide to travel earlier rather than later and make my way to the airport. There are not many people on the trains. All flights are departing from the North Terminal so the South Terminal is closed, apart from the train station. I take the shuttle to the North Terminal where I check into the Premier Inn which is immediately next door to the terminal.
I go straight to my room and stay there until I have to drop my bag off early the next morning. Solos have confirmed the trip is going ahead but cancellations are expected. I keep checking the news and it is not good. Several countries in Europe have banned, or are planning to ban, travel from the UK to prevent the spread of the more infectious coronavirus variant. When I finally go to bed, there has been no mention of Madeira and my flight with Easyjet is still scheduled to leave on time in the morning.
Within hours of the UK extending restrictions to a new Tier 4 the Netherlands banned all flights from the UK effective from 6 am on Sunday 20 December until 01 January. Belgium suspended flights and train arrivals from the UK from midnight on Sunday 20 December. Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, Austria and Bulgaria all announced they were planning the suspension of travel into their countries. Spain was keeping an open mind.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 14 December, a total of 1,869,666 ((daily total 20,263) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 64,402 including a daily total of 232. Deaths with COVID-19 on the certificate have risen to 73,125 (a weekly statistic) an increase of 3,371. A week later on 20 December, the total of positive cases had risen to 2,040,147 (daily total 35,928) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 67,401 including a daily total of 326. Deaths with COVID-19 on the certificate have risen to 76,287 (a weekly statistic) an increase of 3,160.
More next week – do I get to Madeira?
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