31st January 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Dark Days in Week 44
Heavy rainfall curtails my outdoor activities this week and I turn to comfort food and box sets.
During week 44 we see record-breaking daily numbers of deaths due to COVID-19 and warnings that the coronavirus pandemic will get worse before it gets better despite a decrease in the number of infections in the younger age groups and the roll-out of the vaccinations. We are reminded we should stick to the rules of the national lockdown but still people persist in organising gatherings indoors.
Monday 18 January 2021
Early this morning I watch the sun rising over Brownsea Island on the far side of Poole Harbour. I really missed my shifts on the island as a volunteer last year. But some good news. I have been invited to sign up as volunteer again this year. But the roles for permanent staff and volunteers have all changed due to changes implemented as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Pre-booking and pre-payment is now in place so fewer people are needed on reception and volunteers will be multi-tasking rather than remaining in one role. I will have to do some new training, V Learning, online but that is fine. And, it is good to have something to look forward to. But, some bad news, an email from British Airways announcing the cancellation of my flight to Italy in March. I can’t find an alternative date so it looks as though I will not be seeing my Italian friends this winter and skiing is off the agenda.
The arrangement today is that I and my Walking Companion from Lilliput leave our homes at the same time and walk towards each other. When we meet we will decide where to walk. As I have set off late I jog around the harbour and onto the flat promenade below Evening Hill rather than walking up the hill. I then realise that we might pass each other being on two different levels. I scurry along the promenade and then run up the steps at the end (no easy feat) and emerge on the road in time to see my Walking Companion coming towards me. We walk through Lilliput and continue around Parkstone Bay before returning to Lilliput. On our walk we pass a piece of the Old Sea Cliff. It is separated from the sea by the landfill that created the Whitecliff Recreation Ground. The cliff is composed of white clay named Parkstone Clay and classified as the Pipe Clay Series. The white Parkstone Clay was used to make terracotta. The panels and the eagle on the Poole Park Gates are made of terracotta.
We part company in Lilliput. I start walking back towards Sandbanks but the aroma of fish and chips frying in the village fish and chip shop is too much. I buy a portion of chips, sit by the bus stop to eat them and then catch the bus back to Sandbanks. I have to pack up a defunct hard drive to return it to the manufacturers – in the Netherlands. This is the first time since we left the European Union I have dealt with a member state and I have to print out three commercial invoices to accompany the package. I am impressed when UPS arrive to collect the package 3 minutes before the appointed time. The message on the news this evening is “stay at home, if you break the rules someone will die” If that does not make the non-believers re-assess their behaviour, nothing will. A harrowing documentary featuring the Royal London Hospital is shown on the news tonight – it is horrendous with hospital staff and grieving relatives breaking down in tears. It has been reported that many members of hospital will need counselling when this is all over.
As of 04:00 GMT on Monday, almost everyone arriving into the UK must quarantine for 10 days - or five if they have a negative private Covid-19 test. All arrivals must also have proof of a negative test before being allowed into the UK. The closure of the so-called “travel corridors”, which allowed quarantine-free travel, will be in place until at least 15 February.
Almost four million people in England have had their first Covid-19 jab in the UK and vaccinations for the fourth group, people aged 70 and over and the extremely vulnerable will begin this week. However, this news does not mean vaccination in the first three groups - care home residents and carers, the over 80s and health care workers, and the over 75s – is complete as there are regional variations. But Boris Johnson has warned the UK is in a “pretty precarious” position as ministers prepare for the easing of lockdown restrictions from early March. The PM said the process would be gradual.
Tuesday 19 January 2021
When I wake early this morning I can hear the wind outside and rain drops spatter the patio door heralding the arrival of Storm Christoph in the UK. It looks set in for the day – and it is. I work all day with breaks for coffee and Stollen. I run out of milk so during a break in the rain I set off to walk the short distance to Tesco. The wind is so strong it is a battle getting there and avoiding the large puddles that litter the pavement and road. I get the last 2 litre bottle of semi-skimmed milk and buy a half-price pizza for supper. The wind blows me back to the flat where I settle down for an evening of light entertainment on television – mostly repeats but better than nothing.
A new variant of coronavirus has reportedly been identified among at least 35 hospital patients in Bavaria, Germany. Local news outlets first reported that an unknown variant of COVID-19 had been discovered at the clinic in the ski town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in south-east Germany. The new strain found in 35 of 73 newly-infected people at the hospital is neither the British nor South African identified strains. According to media outlets samples are now being examined and it is not yet known whether the variant is more contagious or more aggressive than other strains of the virus. The German Government is planning to extend a lockdown for most shops and schools until February 14 and to mandate medical masks for passengers on public transport.
Wednesday 20 January 2021
When I wake at 6 am I can hear Storm Christoph which is raging outside. I linger between the sheets planning my day – well, not so much my day which will follow the same pattern as most of my days during the pandemic – but wondering when to brave the cold beyond the cosy warmth of my bed. Today is my weekly shopping day so I get the bus to Poole despite the wind and rain. I go straight to Sainsbury’s which is emptier than usual. Everyone is wearing face masks apart from one old lady who is wearing one around her neck. Back at the flat I cycle on my exercise bike while watching the news. It is very depressing as they visit the Royal Derby Hospital which is inundated with COVID cases. One of the members of staff interviewed said that recently some COVID non-believers turned up outside her ward. Unbelievable! This evening I watched the film Victoria and Albert for a second time. It was filmed at Queen Victoria’s home, Osborne, on the Isle of Wight. It brought back happy memories of several visits to this lovely island. The Isle of Wight, having barely been affected by the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic is now struggling to cope with rapidly increasing numbers of infections. These have been attributed to Londoners escaping there to avoid lockdowns in the city.
In the UK Sage has warned the COVID-19 death toll will not fall for a few weeks despite lockdown measures and the vaccine rollout. Professor Andrew Hayward said that he believes although infections are currently falling among younger people in Britain, transmission rates among older age groups remain high. And, that it still may be a few weeks before we see death rates coming down substantially. This warning was given as the UK reported the highest number of daily deaths since the pandemic started. A further 1,820 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. This brings the UK total for those who have died after contracting coronavirus to 93,290. However, the true number of those who have lost their lives to the virus has already reached the 110,000 mark, once cases where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate is taken into account.
In Scotland lockdown restrictions will be extended until at least the middle of February with schools remaining closed to the majority of pupils. Nicola Sturgeon said COVID -19 case numbers have “stabilised", but any relaxation could “quickly send the situation into reverse”.
The government has announced it will carefully consider concerns that the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine’s initial effectiveness is low. Israel, which has already given about a quarter of its population a first dose, has warned that it could be as low as 33% effective after the first injection. However, it has been revealed that it is likely to protect against the more infectious variant of coronavirus that was identified in the UK and has helped drive up cases. ow initial efficacy may have implications for the UK’s vaccine strategy, which focuses on giving as many people an initial dose before providing the booster jab up to 12 weeks after. But the UK considers this data to be insufficient proof that the UK vaccine policy is wrong.
In the News Today
Jo Biden was sworn in today as the 46th president of the United States in what he called a day of “renewal” for the bitterly divided nation. At 78, Biden became the oldest president to take office. But in a more significant moment of history making, Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice president. She becomes the first woman to become vice president, as well as the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent to serve in the role. A notable absentee at the inauguration was out-going President Donald Trump who left via the back door.
Thursday 21 January 2021
The wind is still strong this morning but the rain has stopped. By 10:30 the sun has come out so I set off for a walk. I head for the beach via the Jazz Café and walk towards the Haven Hotel. I pass people huddled in thick coats and blankets outside their beach huts. Gulls are suspended in the air above me, struggling to make progress against the wind. The beach is relatively empty for once. Has the penny finally dropped regarding the need to stay at home or is the weather keeping people away? I meet Olive a 12-week old puppy. She was sold as a Border Collie but it does not look as though she will grow up to fulfil that prediction. Her new owners are currently awaiting the results of a DNA test. She looks very smart in her new knitted coat that was made for her by a friend.
I did not actually meet Barney-Off but I heard his owner shouting his name throughout my time on the beach. Barney-Off chased every dog within a 100 metre radius and grabbed every unattended article he laid his eyes on. So his owner is constantly screaming “Barney-Off”.
I take my time strolling along and taking photos. I spend some time watching the Brittany ferry Connemara coming into Poole Harbour. It passes really close to the slip-way for the chain ferry. It spent two days in Poole Harbour before crossing to Bilbao. I have discovered there are websites which track vessels which makes watching the traffic in an out of Poole Harbour more interesting.
Today the Home Secretary announced that the government is introducing a new £800 fine for people who attend house parties during lockdown. It will apply to people who go to illegal gatherings of more than 15 people in a home. Such gatherings are seen as irresponsible behaviour posing a threat to public health to both those attending and the police who attend to shut them down. The penalty will come into force next week and will double after each offence up to a maximum of £6,400. The £10,000 penalty for meetings of more than 30 people will still apply but only to the organiser. Patel refused to comment regarding a date for easing restrictions and re-iterated that people should not be travelling unless critical and essential.
This evening the police broke up a wedding party at a north London school attended by hundreds of people. The windows of the school had been covered so people could not see inside. The organiser now faces a £10,000 fine.
Commenting on the news that people are jumping the queue for the COVID-19 vaccine by tricking the NHS booking system the Home Secretary said it was "morally reprehensible" and must stop. Patel refused to rule out fines and other measures to prevent this happening. She said people doing this could be putting the more vulnerable at risk of dying from the virus. Anyone who books to get the vaccine fraudulently will be turned away."
Friday 22 January 2021
This morning I finally finish an article I have been writing about Watford. I have lived near the town for nearly 20 years and have always associated it with a town of shops and offices. But, during the pandemic I have had time to explore beyond the large shopping centre and I have discovered a fascinating history much of which is related in the Watford Museum. That was my first surprise, discovering the town had a museum. The museum relates the history of the town and in particular its association with the brewing and paper-making industries both associated with the River Colne that runs through Watford.
It is a lovely afternoon and the sun is shining when I go out for my daily walk. I walk to Evening Hill pausing every now and again to admire the beautiful reflections in the water. When I get to the bottom of Evening Hill I turn onto the small promenade that skirts the harbour. At the end I run up the steps to the cliff path above. I read that 30 seconds of intense exercise that gets the heart pounding every day is enough to keep you fit. My heart is definitely pounding by the time I reach the top of the long flight of steps. Job done.
There are reports today that Ministers are considering one-off payments of £500 to people who test positive for COVID-19 to obey the law and self-isolate. But the government says there are no plans for a £500 COVID payment to increase the number of people abiding by quarantine.
According to Prime Minister Boris there is “some evidence” the new variant of coronavirus is more deadly than the old one. Data suggests the new variant is associated with a 30% higher mortality rate. He said the evidence was not strong yet and more research has to be done. In a sombre briefing the Prime Minister warned there was more hardship to come. He went on to say that there was no possibility of lifting lockdown measures, which would be gradual and start with opening schools, until it was clear the vaccination programme was working. It will take weeks for the death rate to start falling but there were signs the rate of infection was coming down.
AstraZeneca is to cut deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union by 60 per cent in the first quarter of the year due to production problems, in a blow to the bloc’s efforts to push back against the virus. The British firm was expected to deliver about 80 million doses to the 27 EU countries by the end of March, but now only 31 million will be delivered. The decrease will further hamper Europe's Covid-19 vaccination drive after Pfizer and partner BioNTech slowed supplies of their vaccine this week, saying the move was needed because of work to ramp up production. The UK will not be affected by the shortfall, insiders stressed, because the majority of doses, produced in conjunction with the University of Oxford, are manufactured in this country. EU governments "expressed deep dissatisfaction with this.
Nissan commits to the UK and announces a deal that has secured the long-term future of its Sunderland plant.
In the News Today
It is a year since the world saw the first coronavirus lockdown that came into force in Wuhan where it is believed the pandemic started. At the time the world was shocked when the city was effectively sealed off from the rest of the world for five months. But it proved to be successful and now China is often referred to as one of the virus success stories.
In Washington thousands of National Guard were sent to sleep in a car park after guarding the Capitol for the inauguration of the new president, Jo Biden. They were later allowed back into the Capitol.
Saturday 23 January 2021
While I am having a coffee break I am intrigued to see a young lady in a swimming costume and her fully clothed companion wading through the shallow water in Poole Harbour. This is unusual as people never swim in the harbour. It is also very cold today and it makes me shiver just watching them. They are very brave. With all the swimming pools currently closed due to the pandemic swimming in wild waters is the only option. This courageous young lady is intent on a swimming lesson and finally has a go in the knee deep water. It only lasts a few seconds, less time than it took to walk out into the water.
I worked all morning and then went for a walk on the beach (towards Bournemouth). It was late afternoon and I thought it would not be crowded but I am wrong people are still arriving. After a while I get bored with slaloming through the crowds and turn back. As I walk along a woman is marching towards me – I am as close to the water line as I can be without getting me feet wet. There are people on the other side of her but I can see she is not going to give way. I turn away from her but then a wave rushes in. I retreat, we collide as she is still intent on not giving me an inch. Does she really not know the distance that equates to two metres. Or maybe she is just a COVIDIOT. She laughs in my face. Through the scarf I have pulled up over my face I compliment her on her stupidity in these days of keeping a social distance. I retreat to the flat as quickly as I can.
Pictures circulating on social media today appeared to show big crowds at Heathrow Airport yesterday with no obvious social distancing. Labour’s shadow health secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called on the Government to “get a grip” of the situation. He said: “The Conservatives’ indecision and incompetence has left holes in our country’s defences.
A Government spokesperson said: “We are in a national lockdown to protect the NHS and save lives. People should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary. You must have proof of a negative test and a completed passenger locator form before arriving. Border Force have been ramping up enforcement and those not complying could be fined £500. A spokesperson for Heathrow pointed out that immigration halls are controlled by Border Force officials – who are helping to implement new rules around negativeCOVID-19 tests for passengers – and not by airports. He added: “We’ve been clear since last May really that social distancing in an airport environment isn’t really possible.
In the News Today
The Government has quietly extended lockdown laws to give councils the power to close pubs, restaurants, shops and public spaces until July 17 this year. The news will be a major setback for those hoping that life might return to normal by early summer once more people are vaccinated against coronavirus. It comes after Boris Johnson admitted late last week that "it's too early to say when we'll be able to lift some of the restrictions".
Sunday 24 January 2021
Heavy rain beating a tattoo on the roof above me wakes me just before my alarm goes off at 6 am. But, by 8 am the sun has come out and sky is blue. I have another shopping emergency – my supply of muesli is getting low and it is a brand only stocked by Tesco. I decide to get the bus to Westbourne to see if its small branch of Tesco stocks it. I get the bus to Robert Louis Stevenson Avenue and walk to Tesco. I wonder why the road is named after a famous author. The store does not have my muesli but they do have my favourite cereal at a great discount. I buy 5 boxes and pack them in my rucksack the set off to walk back to Sandbanks. Soon after I set off I discover the connection with Robert Louis Stevenson – the site of his house Skerryvore where he lived between 1885 and 1885. When it was built the house was named after the Skerryvore Lighthouse built by the Stevenson family on the Argyle Coast. A copy of this lighthouse still graces the garden. The house was destroyed by enemy bombing in 1940. But the garden, designed and constructed by the Bournemouth Corporation in 1957, remains as a memorial to the writer. He wrote several books while living here including Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
After wandering around the garden I start walking towards Sandbanks, conveniently meeting up with a bus on the way. I take advantage of a ride to Branksome Chine to walk along the beach from there back to the flat. It is said that during the eighteenth century Branksome Chine was a regular route for smugglers heading inland. John Betjeman, former Poet Laureate, wrote ‘walk the asphalt paths of Branksome Chine/In resin scented air like strong Greek wine’. The chine is lined with pine, maple and beech trees. A solarium opened at the southern end of the chine in 1932, the first in England. The British public were not enthusiastic about the beams fo an artificial sun and it was soon converted into the café that now occupies the site.
A medical chief, Professor Anthony Harnden, warns today that immunity from a first vaccine dose could be as low as 33%. This is based on data from a study carried out in Israel that seems to suggest that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab are needed before high levels of immunity can be reached. This refutes an earlier claim at the end of December that short-term protection from one dose was very high. The UK government is considering this data but will continue their strategy of delaying the second dose in order to vaccinate as many people as possible. Harnden also warned that it was a race against time and the virus would continue to mutate so we may have to get used to annual vaccinations to keep up with the mutations.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, says people need to continue to follow coronavirus restrictions after they have had the vaccine. The full effect of the vaccine's immunity potential should be felt about two weeks after receiving the second dose of the vaccine. Like all medicines, no vaccine is completely effective, so you should continue to take recommended precautions to avoid infection. Some people may still get COVID-19 despite having a vaccination, but this should be less severe
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 18 January, a total of 3,433,494 (total that day 37,535) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 89,860 including a daily total of 599. A week later on 24 January, the total of positive cases had risen to 3,617,459 (total that day 33,552) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 97,939 including a daily total of 610.
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