7th February 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 45 and Vaccine Battles
This week I indulge in some bird watching around Poole Harbour and discover some species are very entertaining.
COVID-19 deaths pass the shocking milestone of 100,000 during week 45 of the coronavirus pandemic. The UK is the first European country to pass this landmark. A subdued Boris Johnson said the coronavirus infection rate remained "pretty forbiddingly high" despite lockdown restrictions which have been in place in England since 5 January. New variants have been discovered leading to border closures and plans to impose hotel quarantine on arrivals from some countries into the UK are announced but not put in place.
Monday 25 January 2021
By 8.30 this morning the sun is shining and the sky is blue so I decide not to waste this crisp, clear morning. I rush around getting ready and jog briskly to a bus stop along the road to catch the bus towards Swanage. The bus goes across to Studland on the chain ferry. I get off at the Greenlands Farm stop. I set off down the lane towards the farm. I am surrounded by a stunning landscape of trees and heathland. In 1999 the National Trust took over Greenlands Farm and is now undertaking one of the largest heathland restoration projects in the country here. My walk is enhanced by the sun glinting on the ice fringing the large puddles – a reminder of the recent stormy weather.
After a while I come across a turning into the heathland. I follow a path that but it does a circle and takes me back to the lane and Greenlands. This former farmer worker’s cottage is now a lovely holiday home. I stay on the lane and this takes me through Rempstone Estate. When I come across a signpost with two options either Ower or Norden I can’t work out which direction I should take for the chain ferry. I realise I am lost and opt for a third road that is not signposted. I can see the sea glinting through the trees at the end of this road. When the road turns away from the sea I follow a path through some trees which brings me to the water’s edge. From there I can see the chain ferry and realise I am heading in the wrong direction.
I re-trace my steps and find a lane signposted Goatherd Farm. Mistakenly I think this is the name of the place I got off the bus but I am wrong – it was Greenlands Farm but when I get to Goatherd Farmhouse I recognise the area around me. So I carry on down the road. It is no hardship to go back along the same path and landscapes always look different and just as appealing when going in the opposite direction. And, a real bonus, there are very few people around. Those I do see give me a wide berth and a friendly greeting. Just before I reach Ferry Road, the main road, I notice a turning into the nature reserve I had intended to walk through when I got off the bus earlier. I will return and take that path another time.
Face masks Germany makes it mandatory to wear medical-grade masks in public settings due to the new and more transmissible Covid-19 variants. France is thought to be considering adopting similar measures. According to research results the World Health Organisation has concluded that “cloth face masks have limited efficacy in combating viral infection transmission”. It recommends people with underlying health conditions and those over the age of 60 wear surgical or medical masks when they can’t socially distance.
Schools Tory MPs are calling for a "routemap" for the reopening of schools in England. Most pupils across the UK have not been in school since before the Christmas holidays. Pupils have been told they will be learning from home until at least the February half-term holidays. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson says schools will be given at least two weeks' notice to reopen - which he "hopes" will happen before Easter. No part of the UK has yet announced a firm date for schools' reopening but summer exams have already been cancelled.
EU v UK The EU attacks Boris Johnson after losing full diplomatic status in UK claiming that of the EU’s 143 delegations worldwide, the UK is the only government to have demoted its status. He went on to say “We do not ask for something new or any special treatment. The status of the EU is recognised by countries and international organisations around the world, and we expect the UK to treat EU delegations accordingly and without delay.” A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The EU, its delegation and staff will receive the privileges and immunities necessary to enable them to carry out their work in the UK effectively.” This resulted in the postponement of a meeting between Britain’s head of mission in Brussels. The UK does not recognise the EU as equivalent in status to a national government rather, EU ambassadors, are seen as representing an international organisation. The status of the EU's delegation in London was not part of Brexit negotiations and many see this as a ‘silly spat’ that will not help post-Brexit relations.
In the News Today
France France's top medical adviser says a third national lockdown will probably soon be needed to combat Covid-19. A strict curfew was implemented last weekend, but cases continue to climb.
Debenhams It is understood Boohoo is set to buy the Debenhams brand and website, but the fast fashion retailer will not be taking on any of the company's remaining 118 High Street stores or its workforce. A closing down sale at 124 Debenhams stores began in December, as administrators continued to seek offers for all, or parts of the business.
Tuesday 26 January 2021
It is raining heavily this morning but I stick to my plan to get the bus into Bournemouth as I need to get some muesli and the Tesco in the town centre is the only place I can get the brand I like. The rain has eased by the time I get to the bus stop. When the bus arrives I go up to the top deck where, as usual, I am on my own throughout the journey. Bournemouth town centre is deserted. The town centre is dominated by the impressive building that houses Debenhams. It was announced yesterday that the online fast fashion retailer is buying the name and stock of Debenhams but not the shops and work force. Posters in the windows announce the closing down sale that stared in December but is now on hold due the third national lockdown. When I get back to the flat I find a request for volunteers to act as stewards for a local pharmacy that will be joining the vaccination programme soon. I apply immediately. I really hope I can get involved and feel I am doing something useful.
COVID-19 Deaths Today the total number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive test passed the 100,000 milestone as the daily toll took the number to 100,162. The UK is the first European country to pass this landmark. A subdued Boris Johnson said the coronavirus infection rate remained "pretty forbiddingly high" despite lockdown restrictions which have been in place in England since 5 January.
Hotel Quarantine The UK is expected to announce hotel quarantine for some arrivals in the UK. Currently, people arriving in the UK must test negative before setting off, and then self-isolate for 10 days on arrival. This can be reduced to five days in England after a second negative test. But it's feared that not everyone follows the rules. So people could now be told to stay in hotels – at their own expense.
Vaccine exports The EU has been criticised for a slow vaccine rollout - which is partly down to delays from manufacturers Pfizer and AstraZeneca (although the latter has not yet been approved in the EU). Now the EU says vaccine makers must provide "early notification" when they want to export vaccines outside the bloc. This could mean more doses stay inside the EU. The EU has warned it will tighten exports of COVID-19 vaccines produced in the bloc, amid a row with AstraZeneca over a cut in planned supplies.AstraZeneca has told the EU it was falling behind on its supply target because of production problems. Pfizer-BioNTech has also said supplies of its vaccine will be lower. Vaccine supply has become a critical issue as nations seek to stem high infection rates. Supplies to the UK could be affected by this row.
Leftover COVID-19 vaccines There have been numerous reports of younger, less vulnerable people getting leftover doses. Brendan Clarke-Smith, a 40-year-old Conservative MP was given the vaccine after spending an afternoon volunteering at Retford Hospital’s vaccination centre. He posted this on Facebook incurring the government’s displeasure. Vaccine providers had been asked to have back-up lists of those in priority groups. But the vaccines have to be used, in particular the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in particular, which is difficult to store.
In the News Today
The Netherlands Riot police in the Netherlands have, for a third night, clashed with people defying a curfew. More than 150 were arrested. In Rotterdam, police fired warning shots and tear gas, after an emergency order failed to move demonstrators.
Trim police A group of 31 police officers are to be fined £200 each after being accused of breaching lockdown rules by having their hair cut professionally. All the police officers, from Bethnal Green police station in East London will be issued with fixed penalty notice and the two officers believed to have organised the visit to the hairdressers are under investigation for misconduct.
Wednesday 27 January 2021
During my walk today I spend some time watching the birds around Poole Harbour. It is high tide and the Turnstones are scavenging in a pack on the grassy area beside the path the surrounds the harbour. They huddle together as their beaks drill the soft ground. When someone walks past they all retreat - together. It looks like an orchestrated formation dance. Turnstones work in silence unlike the noisy Oyster Catchers who peep as they potter amongst the seaweed on the little islands in the harbour. I set off again but don’t get much further as I am captivated by gulls diving for fish. Nature put on a magnificent show for me today. And I had the time to enjoy it. But my happy mood is not to last long as the news today is that the current lockdown will last until 8 March at the earliest. This does sadden me as that means definitely no skiing in Europe this winter.
Lockdown Restrictions Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced today that schools won’t reopen and “other economic and social restrictions” won’t be eased until 8 March at the earliest. But only if the target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups with their first dose by 15 February is achieved as this means those groups will have developed immunity by that date. He announced his government would set out a roadmap for lifting lockdown in the week beginning 22 February, with schools opening no earlier than two weeks later. He repeated that the country remains in “a perilous situation” with huge pressure on hospitals.
Hotel quarantine Discussions continue regarding which arrivals in the UK will have to quarantine in hotels, probably only those from ‘high risk’ countries and how it will be enforced. It is thought all four nations will introduce hotel quarantine. Scotland' has announced it would go "at least as far" as England.
AstraZeneca Vaccine Row The boss of the AstraZeneca company has his company as the EU health commissioner accuses the company of insufficient explanations regarding the delay of supplies to the EU. He said the UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal and his team was working "24/7" to fix the supply issues. The UK Government had taken a huge gamble by helping to fund the research and development of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine that might have proved useless. But it became only the second in the Western world to be approved for use, and both the UK and AstraZeneca are now reaping the benefits of ta deal that was struck last April. So far, AstraZeneca has remained fiercely loyal to the Government, refusing to give in to EU demands that it should redirect supplies of its UK-made vaccine to the bloc.
In the News Today
COVID-19 Tragedy A Derby woman has been left devastated after four members of her family have died dead and another one is seriously ill after contracting COVID-19 at Christmas Day gathering.
Tracy Latham says that while she believes Prime Minister Boris Johnson has "blood on his hands" for allowing people to meet up on Christmas Day she acknowledged that they knew the risks. Some members of the family had been shielding since March 2020.
Thursday 28 January 2021
I spend the morning completing my National Trust V (virtual) Learning course. All volunteers now have to complete this online course before returning to the properties where they volunteer. In my case this is Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour. The course is easy to follow and very interesting. I finish all 5 elements and then get ready for my weekly outing to Poole to do a food shop. I get off the bus at Poole Park and walk through the park to the town centre. The park and gardens were created in 1890 Each of the principal entrances to the park are marked by groups of similar gate piers (the gate posts). Today, when I entered through Norton’s Gate, a pedestrian entrance, I paused to admire the carved panels embedded in the piers and the eagles perched on top of two of them. Both features were made using clay from the cliffs nearby.
Just inside Norton’s Gate is the Victorian-style Centenary Fountain. The land for the park was originally donated by Lord Wimborne and this fountain was donated by the incumbent Lord Wimborne to celebrate the centenary of the park in 1990.
COVID-19 Denier Dies A talented artist who did not believe in COVID-19 died alone in his flat after contracting the virus. Gary Matthews had been ill for a week and tested positive the day before he died. His family said they had begged him to wear a face mask, but he chose not to.
Vaccination Certificates Former prime minister Tony Blair has called on Mr Johnson to use the G7 to push a global coronavirus vaccine passport scheme. Such schemes are already in use in countries in the Middle East and Asia. He said the UK needed to take advantage of its presidency of the G7, to lead the drive for a global vaccination passport to allow borders to reopen safely and travel to resume. The leaders of Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta have all called for the introduction of certificates which designate if a traveller has been vaccinated or not.
Valneva vaccine The UK government has announced an agreement with the French firm, Valneva, to manufacture up to 60 million doses of a new vaccine at a plant in Livingston. The plant to be used has been upgraded with funds from UK taxpayers. If this vaccine proves to be successful it will put the UK way ahead in the race to vaccinate all its citizens. This new boost from a specialist French company will not please the European Commission. It is already under fire from member states for inadequately preparing for the world-wide scramble for vaccines.
EU threat to stop vaccines entering the UK The European Commission said a mechanism was being established to give national regulators the power to refuse vaccine exports, which could threaten supplies to the UK of the EU-manufactured Pfizer-BioNTech jab. This was its reaction to an announcement by AstraZeneca to member states that it was cutting deliveries of its vaccine to the EU by 60% in the first quarter of the year. The European Union responded by demanding doses be diverted from British plants to fulfil their order. This despite the UK having placed their order 3 months before the EU approved the vaccine and started placing orders.
In the News Today
Boris Visits Scotland Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said Boris Johnson’s recent visit to Scotland was “unessential". But Mr Johnson’s official spokesman defended the visit on the grounds it was a fundamental part of the Prime Minister’s job to go out and see businesses and communities and people.
Friday 29 January 2021
Today was a cat and mouse game with the weather. The rain stopped, I got ready to go out, the rain started. I do get out for a very short walk in the morning which is very exhilarating. A raging seas pounds the harbour wall. I stopped to watch two gulls perched there getting soaked as the breached the defences and splashed onto the pavement beyond. Maybe it was easier that trying to get airborne in the gale force wind that was whipping the sea into a frenzy.
When the sun comes in the early afternoon I meet a Walking Companion and we set off to walk around the harbour but the wind defeats us and we make our way to Sandbanks Beach. It is surprisingly calm on this side of the Sandbanks spit and, thanks to the weather, almost deserted. We enjoy a leisurely stroll until the black clouds come rolling in again and we beat a hasty retreat. We did contemplate a hot drink in a shelter on the promenade but the café on the beach had closed early so we parted company and I headed home.
Wales to reopen primary schools Plans were announced to allow some primary school pupils, and students on vocational courses to return to classrooms in Wales from 22 February, after half-term. But, this will be dependent on the COVID-19 infection rate continuing to fall. All other restrictions are to remain in place for many more weeks as lockdown continues. People in Wales will now be able to exercise with one person from another household – while remaining local. Any other activities that bring people together are still prohibited. Mark Drakeford, First Minister for Wales was not impressed regarding Boris Johnson’s visit to Scotland saying he would only leave Cardiff in a genuine emergency. He concluded “it is preferable for people who make rules that we expect other people to observe to observe them ourselves.”
Novavax Vaccine The UK is close to producing another vaccine as trials of Novovax (NVAX) have produced promising results. If approved by the national medicines regulator it will be produced in Stockton-on-Tees and deliveries are expected in the second half of the year. "These are enormously exciting findings," says Prof Paul Heath, who led the UK trials. It is the first vaccine to show it is effective against the new variant of the virus discovered in the UK. The Moderna (MRNA) vaccine, manufactured in the USA, has been given the green light for use. The UK has pre-ordered 17 million doses of this vaccine but supplies are not expected to arrive until spring.
AstraZeneca Row AstrZeneca has agreed to publish its COVID-19 contract with the European Union, following pressure from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. The key issue is the “best reasonable effort” clause in the contract. AstraZeneca claims the clause is not binding on the numbers of vaccines, but rather on best efforts. However, the EU says it’s binding and has asked the pharmaceutical firm to send some doses manufactured in Britain to the continent to make up the shortfall. This would breach its contract with the UK which has been dragged into the row. The UK government has refused to discuss contractual matters and remains confident its binding contract for orders will be fulfilled. The vaccine was only approved in the EU today. The bloc is a long way behind the UK regarding their vaccination programme.
Macron's slams AstraZeneca vaccine Emmanuel Macron, President of France, has been accused of making "nonsense" and "untrue" claims about the Oxford- jab that risked undermining public confidence in the vaccine programme rolling out in the UK. Macron claimed the vaccine "doesn't work as expected" and appears to be "quasi-ineffective" in the over-65s and the decision to give doses 12 weeks apart could "accelerate the mutations" of the virus. These comments were made hours before the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use, stating that it could be used “in older adults”.
EU Activates Article 16 In what was considered to be an "incredible act of hostility" that placed a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic over the EU activated Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to stop the unimpeded flow of the coronavirus vaccine from the bloc into the region. Brussels was attempting to prevent Northern Ireland being used as a back door to move COVID-19 vaccines from the EU into the rest of the UK. The European Commission wants to tighten the rules on exports of the vaccine produced in EU countries. Later the same day the EU backed down. Ursula von der Leyenthe, president of the European Commission, for its inappropriate action. Instead, the EU has announced a list of 90 countries that are exempt from its exports block but refused to include the UK leading to fears it could seek to hold back the Belgian-made Pfizer vaccine in retaliation for AstraZeneca refusing to divert supplies from its British manufacturing plants.
In the News Today
First UK COVID-19 case Twelve months ago to the day medics responded to a call from a Chinese national staying in a hotel in York. He had flown to the UK from Wuhan with his mother to study at the University of York. Both of them had a fever, a cough and sore throat. Prior to this, there had been a lot of suspected cases but this was the first case to be confirmed. Mother and son were taken to the regional infectious diseases unit at Castle Hill Hospital, near Hull where they were quarantined. Both made a full recovery.
Saturday 30 January 2021
I hear heavy rain during the night and it is still raining when I get up early this morning. Yesterday the council were here in force sorting out the drainage problems on the roads through Sandbanks. But the heavy rain has defeated them once again. The road below the flat is nearly totally submerged by lakes of rainwater. This does not deter the early morning parade of cyclists and joggers who splash their way down the middle of the road. I spend some time trying to get good images of vehicles tackling the floods. Some approach with caution and give them as wide a berth as possible. Others just speed straight through creating an impressive cascade. During the morning I get a call from a local pharmacy regarding my response to their call for volunteers when they open as a COVID-19 vaccination centre. I am delighted to accept and promise to undertake any necessary tasks. I agree to do a full-day shift next Thursday. This really brightens my day which ends with an ‘essential’ journey to the flat in Hertfordshire.
France to close borders In an effort to avoid another national lockdown France is to close its borders to all countries outside the European Union from Sunday. Arrivals from the EU must have a negative PCR test. Exceptions will be commuters and hauliers. All large shopping centres will close and travel to the nation's overseas territories will be restricted as well. There will be increased police checks for violations of France's 12 hour-a-day curfew, secret parties, or open restaurants.
WHO urges sharing of vaccines The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging the UK to pause its vaccination programme once vulnerable groups have received their jabs to help ensure the global rollout is fair. People in the UK are being told they can wait in order to ensure an equitable global distribution as it is “clearly morally the right thing to do”. It is also economically the right thing to do, warning that vaccine nationalism could cost high-income countries. Currently, the UK has one of the highest levels of vaccine coverage, along with Israel and the UAE, but many poorer countries are yet to start any immunisations. Medical experts have warned that leaving the virus unchecked in large parts of the world, will lead to more variants emerging. The UK has helped raise more than £730 million for the Covax Advance Market Commitment, including £548 million in UK aid to help distribute 1.3 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines to 92 developing countries this year.
In the News Today
COVID-19 anniversary Today it is exactly a year since the first COVID-19 death in the UK, an 84-year-old man, although it was not recognised as such at the time.
Rule breakers in Austria 96 foreigners - including British people – have been discovered in St Anton am Arlberg, a top Austrian ski resort ,in breach of travel and lockdown rules. The young tourists had circumvented the lockdown and quarantine rules to have a skiing break. Austria went into its third national lockdown on Boxing Day, with stricter border measures in place that demand arrivals go into quarantine. These restrictions were largely brought in to discourage people entering Austria for skiing breaks. The rule breakers have been fined and hotels are now only open to business travellers.
Sunday 31 January 2021
I am back at the flat in Hertfordshire flat for a very brief stay to comply with the terms of my house insurance. I drove here on my own and will be on my own throughout my 2 day stay. For my daily exercise I walk from the flat to the next town, Borehamwood hoping to follow some ancient footpaths. I start on the main road that leads to this town. For a long time, there is fenced in woodland on my left but there do not seem to be any footpaths in there. I do cross a footpath that goes to Shenley on one side of the road but on the other side the signpost has been broken off so I don’t know where that path goes. And, as usual I am not equipped with a map. I assume my sense of direction will take me where I want to go but right now I have no idea of where I am in relation in where I want to be. So I keep going along the road. There is narrow pavement on one side of the road and a surprisingly large number of people are using it. Most of them do not give way. So, I spend a lot of time crossing the road to the side with no pavement and then crossing back again. A woman jogging with her child just ran straight at me forcing me to step into s bramble bush. It took a while to extract myself from the thorny branches. A more patient jogger did stop and wait while I sorted myself out. Then, without thinking, I stepped back into the bush to let her pass! My objective, Allum Manor Hall, is being used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre. The original Manor House on this site was built during the seventeenth century. It was extended during the eighteenth century and remodelled around 1880. Once the home of Charles Gordon, the gin distiller, it is now a community centre.
As planned I use the train for the majority of my return journey. Waking back to the flat I see a patch of early snowdrops. This cheering sight means spring is just around the corner.
Mandatory Hotel Quarantine The UK government is expected to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine for all arrivals from 33 “high-risk” countries. This restriction is designed to reduce the introduction and transmission of new variants of the virus. The strategy of using quarantine hotels or other government-mandated facilities where travellers must self-isolate has already proven successful in other countries including Singapore, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand. Flights to the UK from these destinations are already suspended and the only arrivals permitted from there are British and Irish nationals or those with UK residence rights.
Lockdown defiance in Europe Polish police launched tear gas and stun grenades over the weekend as they shut down illegal discos and parties in the cities of Wroclaw and Rybnik and businesses opening in defiance of the rules. Protests over COVID-19 restrictions have broken out in the Netherlands, Spain, France and Denmark. In Hungary a group of 100 restaurants said they would reopen despite facing threats of heavy government fines.
Sanctions threatened on vaccine makers France and Germany have threatened legal action against AstraZeneca in a scramble to explain their shortages in vaccine supplies. Berlin and Rome have threatened sanctions against any producer of the AstraZeneca vaccine that gives Britain priority. The company has been facing problems relating to production of the vaccine and has had to reduce supplies to some countries but is planning to start deliveries to the EU a week earlier than originally scheduled.
In the News Today
Captain Tom Moore has COVID-19 Captain Tom Moore has been suffering from pneumonia, and, following a positive test for COVID-19, has now been admitted to hospital to help his breathing. Captain Tom won the hearts of the nation - and raised £33 million for NHS charities - after he set out on a challenge to walk 100 lengths of his Bedfordshire garden before his 100th birthday in 2020.
Thousands flee Hong Kong for UK Thousands of people from Hong Kong are fleeing to the UK after Beijing imposed a strict national security law on the territory last summer. Thousands of Hong Kongers have already moved to Britain and numbers are expected to swell to the hundreds of thousands. 5 million Hong Kong residents are now eligible to apply for visas to Britain, allowing them to live, work and study here and eventually apply to become British citizens. Applications for the British National Overseas visa officially opened on Sunday, It is estimated that over 300,000 people will take up the offer of extended residency rights in the next five years.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 25 January, a total of 3,669,658 (total that day 22,195) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 98,531 including a daily total of 592. A week later on 31 January, the total of positive cases had risen to 3,817,176 (total that day 21,088) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 106,158 including a daily total of 587. The total number of deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is a weekly statistic updated mid-week and during this week the number reached 103,602, an increase of 7,766 since last week.
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