10th January 2021
Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 41 – #stayathome
My wings are clipped when Dorset is suddenly moved from Tier 2 to Tier 4 midway through week 41 of the pandemic and we are urged to #stayathome.
As 2020 comes to an end the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise at an alarming rate. Way back in the summer scientists predicted this second wave with deaths exceeding 65,000. This did not seem possible then but it is happening now. The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 has already exceeded 75,000. New Year parties are not allowed but this does not stop some people from organising large-scale celebrations. But most of us abide by the rules and give 2021 a very low-key welcome marking the end of a terrible 2020.
Monday 28 December 2020
After an early deluge of rain this morning the sun came out. I had some work to do this morning but needing something to spur me on I arranged to meet a Walking Companion this afternoon. We met outside my flat and set off walking briskly along the long promenade towards Bournemouth. Just before we got to Branksome Chine we turned off and made our way up the steps to the Pinecliff Gardens just below the cliff top. We paused in the gardens to enjoy the view – Bournemouth beaches to our left and Poole Beaches to our right. We continue to the top of the cliffs and follow the path through the woods. This trail features some wooden sculptures of wildlife including two bottle nose dolphins. Bottle noise dolphins are often seen off the coast of Dorset. These dolphins are intelligent and their curved mouths look as though they are smiling all the time. We skirt the village of Canford Cliffs and then complete the circle by taking a path going down to the promenade and back to our starting point. We part company – it still feels strange not being able to invite anyone into the flat for a cup of tea – but rules are rules. I am glad we can at least go for a walk with one other person – at a distance. I feel so much better for the fresh air and exercise.
Tuesday 29 December 2020
I wake at 6 am when my alarm goes off and, as I have left it in the sitting room I have to get up to switch it off. Later today I discover my alarm is still set for 4 am (the time I had to get up at Gatwick Airport) so for the past week I have been getting up when the alarm goes off. I have then started and wondering why it was taking so long to get light. I rarely put my watch on these days. It is raining again this morning. As I have run out of milk I have to nip out to Tesco. I am nearly there when I realise I have forgotten my face mask. Fortunately, I am wearing a polo neck sweater so I pull it up to cover my mouth and nose and hold it in place with my teeth. I rush through the store to grab some milk as I feel guilty at not wearing a proper face mask. I mumble a greeting to the friendly assistant through my clenched teeth. The weather clears up in the afternoon and I go for a walk around the harbour. There is no-one on the water. I take some photos of a lopsided boat in the shallow water as the tide is out. It reflects my feelings in the current situation – adrift in a vast sea of emptiness. A situation that seems set to continue for many more weeks. The number of COVID-19 cases is still increasing rapidly which is very worrying.
Scientists are warning the government that unless tougher COVID-19 rules amounting to near lockdown or more severe restrictions than Tier 4 will probably be needed to prevent a coronavirus catastrophe early next year. Their view is that the UK is entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic and decisive, early, national action will be necessary to prevent a national catastrophe in January and February. The old rules will not cope with the increased transmissibility of the new variant. A stay-at-home message combined with incentives to isolate are considered necessary as vaccines are rolled out. Meanwhile the UK is experiencing record-breaking numbers of new cases every day. The NHS is on the brink of being overwhelmed and queues of ambulances have been reported outside hospitals in London and Essex.
In Wales a minibus of tourists was turned away from a beauty spot as hundreds of people break COVID rules. Police forces in Wales have had to step up patrols to stop cars breaching lockdown travel rules. Wales is now in Level 4 lockdown which only allows essential travel. Exercise should start and finish from home and not involve car journeys to other locations.
Wednesday 30 December 2020
This morning I am woken by a bright moon shining above the harbour. I open the window to capture this amazing sight even though it is bitterly cold outside. There is good news on the radio this morning - the Oxford vaccine has been approved so a vaccination programme should start soon. I have volunteered as a COVID-19 vaccination steward but I have not heard anything about any duties as yet. There is also a warning that more areas will be moved into Tier 4 at midnight tonight. I decide to go out for the day in case Dorset is moved from Tier 2 to Tier 4.
Upton Country Park has been on my list of places to visit for a while now. The last owner of the house and extensive grounds gave them to the local authority. Since then it has had a chequered history. Today, it is open to the public and subject to a new Discovery Project. This will involve expanding the park, restoring historical features and re-instating lost landscapes. The park is on the far side of Holes Bay one of the largest natural lakes in Poole Harbour. Its grounds stretch down to the water’s edge. I start by walking up to Upton House (not open to the public) and then explore some of the parkland. It is very wet and muddy and difficult to distinguish paths from lawns.
After picking my way across the lawn behind the house I follow the path around Holes Bay. It is very busy with lots of young families enjoying a day out. I turn back towards the main entrance intent on exploring the walked garden. There is a café in this garden doing a brisk business with take-away food and drinks. The centre of the walled garden is all lawn surround by a path edged with formal beds in front of the enclosing wall.
Back in Poole centre I head for Sainsbury’s to do my weekly food shop and maybe add a treat or two for New Year. In the store I have a query and join the queue for the Customer Service Desk. Query dealt with I turn to walk away and find I am trapped against the counter by two senior citizens arguing about who is next in the queue. I can’t get past them and have to ask the belligerent male to move at the same time pointing out he should be wearing his mask properly – it is dangling from his chin. The female aggressor takes the opportunity to push past me to the desk. But her efforts are in vain as the young man on duty points out that neither of them are in the queue which starts six feet away from the desk to comply with social distance rules. I hurry back to the flat and start seeing the old year out with mince pies and vino spumante. I have taken advantage of plummeting prices of mince pies due to a large surplus of this festive treat.
The daily total of deaths from COVID-19 is 981, the highest rise since April, during the first wave of COVID-19. The number of new cases every day continues to average around 50,000. As a result of the rapid spread of new cases huge swathes of England (75% of the country) are now subject to the tougher Tier 4 restrictions. Everywhere else is now in Tier 3, except for the Isles of Scilly in Tier 1, the lightest restrictions. Experts are blaming the more transmissible variant of coronavirus identified in the UK. As COVID-19 surges the government decides to delay the opening of secondary schools in England until January 11, with others due to return on January 18, in a U-turn on previous plans. The majority of primary schools will still reopen on January 4 apart from those in high infection rate areas. However, scientists and schools are urging the government to keep schools closed.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use and the government has ordered 100 million doses of it. These can be given up to 12 weeks apart, and add to the Pfizer-BioNTech jab already in use. This is good news and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary is claiming we can see the route out, a route guided by this vaccine. He announced that from today the NHS across the UK will prioritise giving the first dose of the vaccine to those in the most high-risk groups. People receiving the Oxford vaccine or the one from Pfizer/BioNTech, which is also being rolled out, will now receive their first dose of the vaccine followed by a second dose up to 12 weeks later. The aim is to give as many people as possible a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. But many believe this long delay between doses is not a wise decision.
Members of Parliament today approved the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill by an overwhelming majority. This historic bill enables the UK government to implement and ratify the post-Brexit trade deal agreed last week with the EU. The deal comes more than four years after the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, and a year after a transition deal was struck preserving much of the status quo this year. Negotiations have been held up for months on three issues: fisheries, ‘level playing field’ agreements to prevent unfair subsidies, and the enforcement mechanism of any deal. The agreement must still be approved by EU member states before it can take effect, with provisional EU approval expected before EU’s parliament votes in the New Year.
Thursday 31 December 2020
It is really cold this morning. The temperature is below 10ºC which means my brand new combi boiler has already leapt into action when I get up. I catch up with the news while having breakfast. An interesting snippet announces a large increase in sales of alcohol during lockdown while sales of deodorant have been much lower than usual. The sun makes an early appearance and the frost on the grass and the trees is glinting in its rays. Not many people around so it is a good time for a walk. I head for the beach. The sand on the dunes is frozen solid so I walk through them first and then stroll along on the water’s edge. It is a beautiful morning and I am not in any rush so I take my time. But, as the crowds start arriving I make my way back to the flat. I exchange New Year greetings with friends far and wide before a solitary celebration with more smoked salmon and vino spumante – and an excellent box set, The Night Manager. Throughout the evening and well into the night fireworks explode around the harbour. Goodbye 2020.
Friday 01 January 2021
Day 1 of 2021 is another very frosty morning. I go out as soon as it gets light and take my Canon camera for a walk. One of my New Year resolutions is to work on my photography. I walk around the harbour trying to feature frost in my images. I walk through the public gardens on to the beach. A young dog is having the time of his life racing along the water’s edge. Moving on I stop to watch a small group urging each other to take a dip in the sea. They finally do it but that is all – a dip – they are back on the beach a few seconds later. There are one or two serious swimmers in the water. Their red, raw skin when they emerge from the sea makes me shiver despite my five layers of warm clothes. The news this morning is a litany of raves and private parties that took place last night breaching all the COVID-19 restrictions. Standby for another surge in COVID-19 cases. It makes me so angry. I jump on my exercise bike and pedal madly for 20 minutes before getting down to work. Another resolution – improve my writing skills and revise the contents of my website. But first, just one more episode of The Night Manager …
All primary schools in London are to remain closed for the start of the new term following a government U-turn as it bows to protests and legal pressure from local authorities. Meanwhile the Department of Education faces a further rebellion from secondary school leaders in England over its demand that coronavirus testing of pupils is to become mandatory from 11 January. School leaders and teaching unions have been meeting to discuss their response to this demand. Many secondary heads argue that a testing regime is impracticable and unworkable.
Intense debates rage over the UK government’s decision to extend the gap between people receiving the first and second doses of vaccines to 12 weeks. The plan is to give priority to giving the first dose to as many people as possible. But Pfizer says their vaccine efficacy was tested when both doses were given up to 21 days apart. If a second dose is not available for any reason, patients may receive a different vaccine, according to contingency plans. Scientists across the world were locked in fierce debate on Friday over the wisdom or otherwise of the UK switching to a single dose strategy for Covid-19 vaccines. While there is trial data to support the second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab being given after 12 weeks, the same is not true of the Pfizer vaccine.
In the News Today
Police across the UK made several arrests and issued hundreds of fines for New Year’s Eve parties and large gatherings that breached strict COVID-19 regulations. Parties were broken up in Brighton, Manchester, Leicestershire, Sheffield, Essex, London and Lancashire where breaches of stay-at-home guidelines occurred. In Edinburgh, hundreds of people gathered around the castle despite warnings to keep away. The Metropolitan police said they had attended calls to 58 unlicensed music events and 217 people were handed fixed penalty notices. Another five people were reported for a possible £10,000 fine for organising large gatherings. In east London, police in Newham shut down a large unlicensed music event at a building in the Royal Docks. Arrests were made and the organiser of the event could face a £10,000 fine. In Bromley, south-east London, three vans full of sound equipment were seized, 11 COVID-19 tickets were issued and one arrest was made for “abstracting electricity” at another unlicensed music event. There is a long list of breaches. The worst must be an illegal party at the 500-year old All Saints’ Church in East Horndon resulting in damage to the venue.
Saturday 02 January 2021
This morning I get the bus into Bournemouth and then walk back along the promenade to Sandbanks. When I arrive at the beach there are very few people around. Before walking down to the beach I spend some time on the cliff top enjoying the views. It is a grey morning but the light has that lovely translucent quality you get over large expanses of water like the sea.
Soon after I started walking I stopped to take a photograph of some paddle boarders on the water. A stranger approached and suggested I wait until the paddle boarders were in front of a cruise ship moored on the horizon. It seemed pointless to resist so I do as I am told as he counts me down to the right moment. As soon as I have captured an image I turn to the stranger and tried to engage him in conversation but after admitting he was a photographer he marched off. The rest of my walk is uneventful but soon after I get back to the flat the siren goes on my mobile – it is an alert from the NHS Responder. It is a request for a check and chat and soon I am talking to a lovely lady who is self-isolating and dealing with terminal lung cancer – through phone calls with a local hospice. She is remarkably cheerful throughout our conversation. It makes me realise there are many people much worse off than me.
The UK government outlines further steps to help hauliers get tested for coronavirus before travelling to Kent or any port heading to France in a continuing effort to reduce disruption for drivers taking goods across the Channel. Ten new testing locations across the country will be created with more being added in the next few days. It is also offering to help any business set up a testing centre on its own premises to ensure trucks heading for France depart “COVID ready.”
Drug firms are hitting back at Government claims there is a shortage of COVID-19 vaccine insisting millions of doses have been delivered to the NHS. The health service is currently carrying out 250,000 vaccinations per week but needs to inoculate two million per week to reach its target of easing restrictions by Easter. Labour has accused the Government of failing to put in place a proper rollout plan and retired doctors anxious to volunteer their assistance are complaining of bureaucratic overload in order to do so.
Sunday 03 January 2021
This morning while I am enjoying my second coffee of the day I am surprised to see a Brittany Ferry gliding across Poole Harbour on its way to France. When I check the ferry timetable I discover it is the Cotentin, a freight ferry that has been brought back into service between Poole and Cherbourg. As freight going from the UK to France is subject to new paperwork hold-ups were anticipated at English ports. In fact, the only hold ups have been around the check points set up to ensure lorry drivers have the correct paperwork. A lot of deliveries have been held back. According to the local news only one lorry was booked on Cotentin today.
Walking around Poole Harbour at low tide this afternoon I spend a lot of time watching birds searching for food. One bird in particular, the turnstone, is doing exactly that, turning stones looking for food. These birds gather in flocks on the shoreline and when spooked rise as one – a huge white, black and orange cloud. When I get back to the flat I treat myself to two episodes of Roadkill – an absorbing political drama starring Hugh Laurie.
During an interview with BBC’s Andrew Marr this morning the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson says he is “fully reconciled” to the prospect of tighter measures on the horizon. What he does not say is that the government is on the verge of putting England back into a national lockdown. He insists education is a priority and urges parents to send their children to school on Monday in areas where primary schools are open - the majority of primary schools in England are set to open on Monday. This will be followed by a staggered start for secondary schools a week later, with GCSE and A-level pupils due to return first. But, teaching unions and some councils across the country have expressed concerns over the reopening of schools. And the National Education Union (NEU) has called for all primary schools to remain closed for at least two weeks following the Christmas holiday as the new strain affects children more than the coronavirus did before.
Prime Minister Boris announces that the UK plans to vaccinate tens of millions in the next three months, as a way out of the restrictions. He says the system to enable retired doctors to help with vaccination efforts will be speeded up. And that health secretary Matt Hancock is taking steps to get rid of the forms which have to be filled out by retired doctors. On Saturday, batches of the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca (AZN.L) arrived at hospitals ahead of the jab's rollout in Britain on Monday. Hundreds of new vaccination sites are due to be up and running this week as the NHS ramps up its coronavirus immunisation programme with the newly approved Oxford University and AstraZeneca jab. It comes almost a month after rollout of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech began, with more than one million people having now received their first dose.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 28 December, a total of 2,329,730 (total today 41,385) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 71,109 including a daily total of 357. Deaths with COVID-19 on the certificate have risen to 79,349 (a weekly statistic) an increase of 3,062. A week later on 03 January, the total of positive cases had risen to 2,654,779 (daily total 54,990) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 75,024 including a daily total of 454. Deaths with COVID-19 on the certificate have risen to 82,624 (a weekly statistic) an increase of 3,270.
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