Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Snow and Ice in Week 47

Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Snow and Ice in Week 47

Bitterly cold weather keeps me cool during my shifts as a volunteer steward at a COVID-91 vaccination centre - but still loving it.

During week 47 of the coronavirus pandemic new vaccination hubs continue to open up around the UK this week. By the end of this week the total number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 has exceeded 15 million and the UK government's gamble buying as many vaccines as possible as soon as it appears they will become viable appears to be paying off. However, we still have some way to go before lockdown restrictions can be eased. We are continually reminded to stay at home, only travel if it is essential, to exercise from our door, maintain a social distance, wear face masks and wash hands regularly.

Monday 08 February 2021

I forgot to turn of the WhatsApp notifications last night so the announcement that someone had commented in one of my groups wakes me at 5 am this morning. On the news this morning there are conflicting reports about the efficacy of the different COVID-19 vaccines. I am beginning to feel happier about getting the Pfizer vaccine. It is really cold this morning and the verges of Poole Harbour are frozen solid.

Frosty Morning in Poole Harbour , Dorset

I am on duty as a COVID-19 steward all day and I leave at 08:30 to arrive at the Bryant Pharmacy in Parkstone ready to take up my position outside at 9 am. The pharmacy does not start giving the vaccinations until 9.30 but, inevitably, there will be some early arrivals. Some people have quite a way to travel to this pharmacy and are concerned about the time it will take them. The system is changed today – it is a learning process for everyone – and instead of taking people into the front of the shop and taking them out through the back (which most of them resist) we are now taking them in at the back and out at the front. This works much better and I have fun telling people I am sending them up the garden path. They have to go through a small garden at the back of the shop to get to the back door. It is very cold outside and I feel the benefit of my down-filled ski jacket as light flurries of snow swirl around me. During a short break I have a wander around my immediate surroundings and discover an old water tower. This attractive Grade 11 listed Italianate style tower was built in 1884 but, apart from a number antenna, it has been abandoned for many years.

The Water Tower in Parkstone, Poole, Dorset

COVID-19 Vaccinations

Concerns over Oxford vaccine’s effectiveness against South Africa variant Concerns have been raised that the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 jab may be less effective against the South African coronavirus variant. A study has suggested that the jab only offers minimal protection against mild and moderate disease from the variant. The study could not conclude whether or not the vaccine worked against severe disease due to the young age of participants. But scientists in the UK are confident the Oxford jab does protest against severe illness and death caused by the South Africa variant which has been detected here. South Africa has paused its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine following these findings.

Tuesday 09 February 2021

As it gets light I notice we have a light dusting of snow outside. The birds are also busy and a large flock is circling the harbour just above the water.

Snow on the Beach by Poole Harbour in Dorset

Icy blasts from Storm Darcy ruffle the waters of Poole Harbour all day. I spend a lot of time working on my Zoom presentation about the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It brings back some happy memories of these three very interesting countries. After having some lunch, I go out for a walk. It is very windy and really cold. It is low tide so I walk across the mud flats and then up some steps on to the path around the harbour. The wind is still very strong and ripples the pools of water on the harbour bed. When I get to the end of the path I cross the road and go onto Sandbanks Beach. The wind is even stronger here and grains of sand prickle my face. Ii is easier to walk on the damp, firm sand by the water’s edge. The sea is foaming and the wind is blowing bits of foam around like a snowstorm. There are very few people around but I see a man running out of the sea after a swim and a couple taking selfies before going in to the sea for a dip. Rather them than me

Swimmers Brave the Cold on Sandbanks Beach in Dorset

COVID-19 Update

Two tests after arrival for UK travellers People arriving in the UK must have a negative test before entering the country. After arriving, they must self-isolate for up to 10 days – and, from 15 February, people arriving from COVID-19 hotspots must pay to isolate in hotels. Now, another layer is being added and all arrivals will be tested twice during their isolation. It’s not know when the tests will take place – but it’s thought it could be on the second and eighth day of isolation. The government says the tests will “provide a further level of protection” and “give us even more opportunities to detect new variants”.

NHS app 'has prevented 600,000 cases' The NHS COVID-19 app has told 1.7 million people in England and Wales to self-isolate so far - and ministers believe it has prevented 600,000 cases. Internal data shows 16.5 million people are using the contact-tracing tool. That's 24% below the number of downloads, as some people delete the app, turn off the contact tracing - or never even activate it.

Threat of 10 years in jail for breaking COVID-19 travel rules Brits arriving in England from red list countries will be put in quarantine hotels and charged £1,750 for their stay. Passengers face fines of up to £10,000 for failing to quarantine and those who lie on their passenger locator forms face up to 10 years in jail. The rules, which come into force on Monday, mean British and Irish nationals who have been in or through any red list countries must complete a passenger locator form and have proof of a negative coronavirus test taken in the three days before departure. They must stay in a government-approved hotel and will need to reserve a room in advance. Foreign nationals who have been in or through any “red list” countries over the previous 10 days are banned from entering the UK.

Wales will adopt England’s border measures but the Welsh First Minister is calling for a stronger set of defences at the UK border to mitigate the risk of new variants entering the UK.

Scotland orders mandatory hotel quarantine for all air passengers and describes Westminster policy as ‘not sufficient’. All passengers flying into Scotland from overseas will be required to book and pay for “mandatory isolation in a quarantine hotel" even if they are not returning from a "red list" country.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

Different age rules for Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in EU Although the European Medicines Agency has approved the Oxford AstraZeneca and University for people over 18 years old some EU countries have restricted its use to people under 65. This is due to a lack of data for older people in clinical trials for this vaccine. British regulators have received extra trial data from AstraZeneca that supports their view that the vaccine is effective in the elderly, a vaccines official said on Friday. Several EU member states' health authorities have so far issued specific age-related recommendations for the British vaccine and in Italy teachers are lobbying the government to offer them the Pfizer vaccine rather than the AstraZeneca vaccine as planned.

Australia is forging ahead as South Africa tackles COVID-19 variant Australian health authorities have moved to calm concerns about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after a small scale study suggested its efficacy against mild to moderate infections from the South African variant of the virus could be as low as 10%. AstraZeneca is going through the Therapeutic Goods Administration approval process now and is slated to be rolled out from April. The advice of Australia’s chief medical officer is that people should still get the AstraZeneca vaccine. He urged people not to put too much stock in the results of the South African study, which he stressed was both limited in scope and had not yet been peer-reviewed.

Why don’t we just all take the Pfizer vaccine? This would be a great option but this is not enough and there is already significant pressure on the global supply. Other options include mixing vaccines, a concept that is being trialled in the UK.

Brexit Latest

Scarcity of Scotch in the EU Twenty M&S stores in France have empty shelves and Fortnum & Mason suspends all sales to Europe amid continued Brexit red tape chaos. Scotch whisky has sold out in Paris and custard creams are nowhere to be found for British expats in Belgium because of Brexit red tape chaos. Fortnum & Mason and John Lewis are among major retailers which have suspended exports to the Continent over the costly, time-consuming paperwork which is demanded by customs officials, including a new health certificate to prove food is safe for EU citizens to eat. Two lorry loads of goods worth tens of thousands of pounds are waiting in the UK but have not yet cleared customs. Each produce in each load needs a different set of paperwork to go along with it. British exports to the EU plummeted by 68 per cent in January due to a combination of customs paperwork and disruption caused by coronavirus. The has called for urgent action to reduce friction at the border including an increase in the number of customs agents from 10,000 to 50,000 to help firms deal with new red tape.

Wednesday 10 February 2021

I am awake before my alarm goes off at 6 am so I get up. It is even colder this morning so I race into the sitting room to turn the heating up. I do some more work on my Zoom presentation as I am practising with the host of the meeting later this morning. Presenting on Zoom will be another new skill I have acquired thanks to lockdown – along with using Apps. The practise does not go well as I need to configure my Apple Mac so I can share my screen. We arrange a second meeting later today. I use Apple chat to find out how to configure my laptop to share my screen and finally succeed. By this time the sun has come out and I am lured outside for my daily exercise. The wind has dropped to a stiff breeze and the sea has calmed down. It is low tide in the harbour and the scudding clouds are beautifully reflected in the shallow pools and the glass fronted buildings overlooking it.

Reflections of Poole Harbour

COVID-19 Update

Don't book holidays including staycations is the advice of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – even though he has already booked a holiday in Cornwall. The prime minister will say more about the route to unlocking this country in an address on February 22. It is not yet known if this will include advice on holidays. He warned that the more elaborate plans are for summer holidays, in terms of crossing borders, in terms of household mixing the more guesswork there will be involved. It is just too early to make plans.

Border loophole weakens stricter quarantine for Scotland Currently, there is nothing to stop travellers evading the rules by flying into English airports. From Monday all arrivals from outside the UK and Ireland, with very limited exceptions, will have to quarantine under state supervision in hotels from next week. However, he admitted that there was currently no system in place to stop people getting around the requirement to self-isolate by flying into an English airport from a country not on the red list and then travelling north by road or rail. Although such a journey would be illegal, there are only very limited checks in place. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, believes that a stricter isolation regime is needed to prevent the import of new cases of coronavirus, as well as potentially dangerous new variants. Evidence suggests Covid-19 was “reseeded” from abroad after cases fell to low levels in the summer, and she has said she is determined not to allow this to happen again. However, the UK Government has insisted a blanket system across the four nations would be impractical.

Thursday 11 February 2021

It is even colder when I get up this morning. The lowest temperatures since 1955 were recorded last night. I keep warm by doing some housework before settling down to catch up with this diary. I brave the cold very briefly later in the day and scuttle along the harbour path watching the wind ruffling the waters in the shallow pools left behind as the tide retreated. It does not take long for my feet and hands to get so cold that I have to return to the flat – I warm up with 20 minutes frantic peddling on my exercise bike.

Strong Winds Ruffle Normally Calm Waters of Poole Harbour in Dorset

COVID-19 Update

Too Early to Make Plans for the Summer Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, repeats the warning given yesterday by the Transport Secretary. But, travel company Tui has said it expects to run 80% of its normal capacity for this summer, with 2.8 million customers already booked for its holidays.

Holiday bookings cancelled Ministers’ mixed messages over holidays has prompted a rash of cancellations as hopes of a Great British Summer fade. Tour operators reported a slump in holiday bookings or surges in cancellations, as Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, rowed back on some of his previous optimism. With tough new border restrictions including enforced hotel quarantine due to come into force on Monday, Jet2, Jet2 holidays and British Airways announced they were extending the suspensions of their flights. Jet2 and Jet2 holidays cancelled flights until 14 April and BA extended the cancellation of all its flight and holiday packages up to and including March 15.

Kent variant of coronavirus predicted to become dominant strain According to scientists the new and more infectious variant of COVID-19 first discovered in Kent will become the world’s dominant strain. It has now been detected across Britain and in more than 50 countries and is likely to sweep the world. Prof Peacock added that the new variant is beginning to mutate again which could affect the way the virus is handled in terms of immunity and the effectiveness of vaccines. Despite data suggesting the mutant variant may be more deadly, there is no evidence to indicate existing treatments, such as dexamethasone, will not be effective against it. A study has suggested that people infected with the UK variant are less likely to report a loss of taste and smell.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

London doctors running out of priority patients to vaccinate Frustrated medics say they are beginning to run out of patients in the government’s top four priority cohorts to vaccinate. They fear lives will be lost unless they are allowed to immunise more people immediately. They say they are providing first doses at a rate of 100 a day when they have capacity for 1,000. Dr Sam Barrell, the chief operating officer at the institute, which opened as a mass vaccination centre on 18 January, said: “Every day lost, where you have vaccine supply and vaccinators, is lives lost and livelihoods lost.” A growing number of vaccination centres have given a first-dose jab to virtually all local people in the first four priority groups that want one, but they are not expected to be allowed to move on to groups five and six until next week. Prof Charles Swanton, an oncologist who is a group leader at the Francis Crick Institute, said: “Clinically, we are worried by the delay in opening up cohorts five and six. Every day we lose, every person we’re not vaccinating, is another person at risk who potentially could end up in hospital, who could potentially end up in ICU, in extremis.” Boris Johnson is expected to announce in the coming days that the UK has completed the initial part of the biggest vaccination programme in British history, and tell clinicians to move on to the next two cohorts. But some GPs around the country have already been quietly given the green light by NHS officials to offer inoculations to younger patients.

Teachers and police set to be given COVID-19 vaccine priority after over-50s Teachers and police are expected to be given priority for vaccines once the over-50s have been offered COVID-19 jabs. Although the UK is on course to hit targets to offer all the first dose of vaccine to those in the top four priority groups,including everyone over the age of 70 by Monday research suggests that hospital pressures will not ease significantly until the end of March, once all over 60s and younger people with health problems have had their first jab. From next week, the vaccination programme will begin working its way through five more cohorts, starting with those aged 65 to 69 and followed by under-65s with underlying health conditions before moving through age groups down to 50. It is likely that key workers, such as teachers and police, will be among those given early access to vaccinations to reduce transmission of the virus.

Brexit Latest

EU poised to lock Britain out of its banking market According to the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, the European Union is poised to lock Britain out of its banking market. A move that would push up financial costs for millions of consumers on both sides of the Channel. He says Brussels would be making a mistake if it refused to grant access for the City with serious repercussions for ordinary people. The decision could drive mortgage interest rates higher in Britain and Europe, result in more expensive currency deals for businesses that trade internationally, and hit households with steeper insurance premiums. Access could be maintained through the EU's equivalence regime, but Brussels is dragging its heels over giving permission for this in key areas.

In the News Today

WHO warns European leaders against false sense of security The World Health Organization’s European director has issued a dire warning to countries thinking about coming out of lockdown, saying the “overwhelming majority remain vulnerable”. Hans Kluge said too many governments have previously “reopened too fast and lost hard-earned gains”. It comes as Europe begins to recover from the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic with cases and deaths beginning to fall. However, Dr Kluge said the vaccine rollout is currently nowhere near extensive enough to control the pandemic, adding it should not provide governments with “a false sense of security” for leaving lockdown.

Yellow weather warnings for snow and ice The UK is braced for two more days of extreme weather after temperatures of minus 23C were recorded in some places during the coldest night for 25 years.

Friday 12 February 2021

The wind is still raging outside when I get up. It has been moaning throughout the night. I start working but my laptop has a funny turn and I have to shut it down to allow it to recover. As usual I am listening to Jenni Falconer on Smooth Radio and could not resist responding to her request for family names so I sent a message saying our family calls a duvet a wooffie bag. I got a mention! This cheers me up despite having lost all the work I have done this morning. I must remember to keep saving the work I have done. I repeat the work I have already done and then it is time to head for Poole to do my weekly food shop. I get off the bus at Poole Park to enjoy a walk around the park. Two swans are wandering around the car park so I take the opportunity to take some photographs. One of the swans blocks a car trying to enter the car park and refuses to move despite my attempts to persuade it to step aside. I don’t want to get too close as I know they can turn nasty. It was not interested in moving despite the driver hooting at it. Finally, the driver reverses and squeezes past the big bird.

Obstinate Swan in Poole Park , Dorset

When I get back to the bus station there is a queue for my bus. More people were on the bus than has been usual coming into Poole. And the town is also busier. The first woman in the queue has a walker and struggles to lift it on to the bus. The driver is busy doing his paperwork and does not notice what is going on. There are two men behind her and they both just stand and watch her. I know we have to keep a social distance but I could not ignore her plight. I skirted the barrier and lifted the walker onto the bus for her before taking my place back in the queue. Strange times we are living in – people will risk going to illegal parties but won’t help a vulnerable member of our society.

Dolphin Shopping Centre in Poole During Lockdown

COVID-19 Update

R number drops below 1 The reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus has fallen below one across the UK for the first time since July. It is now estimated to be between 0.7 and 0.9. A sign that lockdown restrictions are having an impact and the epidemic is shrinking.

UK could be in Tier 2 lockdown 'by May' A leading epidemiologists has said he is hopeful schools will be able to open in March, with further easing of restrictions the following month. Professor Neil Ferguson, a senior government adviser, said it was possible restrictions similar to those in England's Tier 2 could be in place by May.

Australia's Victoria enters third lockdown The outbreak of the UK strain of coronavirus has sent the Australian state of Victoria into lockdown for a third time. Thirteen cases, linked to a quarantine hotel in Melbourne prompted a further lockdown. Victoria had not had a coronavirus case for 28 days and the state had largely eradicated the virus. The move does not affect tennis' Australian Open, being played in Melbourne, but has meant that spectators have been banned from the event.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

Pfizer-BioNTech doses should be within 6 weeks The scientist behind the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine says that the time between the first and second dose should not be longer than six weeks. This advice was given in response to the UK's decision to delay the second dose by up to 12 weeks to allow more people to get a first dose quickly. Prof Sahin acknowledged governments have difficult decisions to make with limited supplies of the vaccine, but he added that there needs to be recognition of the limited protection provided by just one dose. He called on the UK provide evidence to back up its strategy, adding that clinical data is what counts. More than 13.5 million people in the UK have received the first dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines, but only 524,000 have received both doses.

Israel hails zero COVID deaths in major study after vaccine rollout An Israeli study of 523,000 people who received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine has found there have been zero subsequent deaths, according to a report. The study by Maccabi Healthcare Services also found only 544 vaccinated people went on to catch the virus, with just four severe cases. The paper marked the news with a headline reading: “It works.” Dr Miri Mizrahi Reuveni was quoted as saying: “This data unequivocally proves that the vaccine is very effective and we have no doubt that it has saved the lives of many Israelis.”

In the News Today

UK economy 'firing on all cylinders' by spring The chief economist of the Bank of England is predicting that the British Economy will surge back from the third coronavirus virus lockdown thanks to the vaccine programme and large amounts of "pent-up financial energy”. He claims people have strengthened their finances and may consider a new TV, car or house.

Police disperse gathering on snowy Newcastle hill Hundreds of revellers met up to party in the snow again last night, despite being moved on by police the night before. Crowds gathered at Newcastle's Town Moor to drink and socialise. Footage showing up to three hundred people on the snowy summit of Cow Hill were shared across social media on Wednesday evening and a spokesperson for Northumbria Police said the force was disappointed to see so many return the following night. It was not thought it was an organised gathering but, in a statement the police said this type of behaviour is completely unacceptable and undermines the efforts of the majority of people in our region who are making daily sacrifices to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Saturday 13 February 2021

I am up at 6 am and while having breakfast I watch the usual flock of birds flying around Poole Harbour. The numbers increase after each circuit. I wonder if they are preparing to migrate somewhere. I am volunteering at the vaccine hub in Parkstone all day today so no time to indulge in bird watching as I have to be there at 8 am. Vaccinations do not start until 8.30 but there will be some early arrivals and my first task is to check them off the list and explain they will have to wait. The vaccines are not prepared until a few minutes before the first appointment time. Generally, people are patient and prepared to wait. It is possible for some people to wait inside but due to social distancing we can only cater for a maximum of 5 at any one time. Some wait in their cars and I give them the forms to fill in while they wait. I am on duty outside all day which passes very quickly as we deal with over 400 appointments. It is very cold outside but I am prepared with 6 layers of clothing – I feel like a Michelin man. A local café owner treats us all to a very welcome hot chocolate which warms me inside.

Flock of Birds in Poole Harbour, Dorset

COVID-19 Update

Boris Johnson hints at easing of lockdown in England The Prime Minister said today that he is ‘optimistic’ about prospects of easing lockdown as surge testing reaches more areas. He went on to say he is “cautiously optimistic” as he prepares a roadmap for the easing of lockdown restrictions, which will likely start with education and end with pubs and restaurants. This comes as experts warn of a “new large wave” comparable to the current situation if lockdown is lifted too early. This is amid mounting pressure from some Conservative MPs for the government to begin easing controls after the initial success of the vaccine rollout.

Picnics and coffee in the park will be the first activities to be allowed from March 8 as lockdown restrictions start lifting. Golf and tennis will follow soon after. It is "very much hoped" to reopen schools at the same time, although ministers are discussing a proposal that will see primaries return first with secondaries a further week or two later. As part of a “carrot and stick” approach, ministers are also working on an Australian style approach that will see local areas locked down if there were a massive outbreak of the virus, or an outbreak of a new strain that could affect the efficacy of vaccines. The Prime Minister will this week meet with his Cabinet and scientific advisers to begin drawing up his roadmap out of lockdown and will address the nation on 22 February.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

Some Europeans get choosy about which vaccines they want The AstraZeneca vaccine has started rolling out to European Union nations this month, joining the Pfizer and Moderna doses already available, but some nationalities, for example Poles, Italians and Spanish, see it as second-best. It has attracted more criticism than others due to concerns about its human trials. Several European nations have recommended the drug only for people under 65, and other countries have recommended it for those under 55, because AstraZeneca’s trials included a relatively small number of older people. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot acknowledged the criticism but said regulators had reviewed the data and deemed the vaccine safe and effective. COVID-19 vaccines are in short supply, he said, and the AstraZeneca shot offers high levels of protection against severe disease, which is the most important benchmark in fighting a virus that has killed more than 2.3 million people worldwide. All three vaccines have proven to be extremely effective at preventing serious illness and death.

Sunday 14 February 2021

I start my shift at the vaccine hub at 8 am this morning. It is Valentine’s Day which is a good topic for banter with those queueing for the vaccination. So many people arrive early a long queue develops very quickly but everyone is in good spirits as they are happy to be getting some protection against COVID-19. The day starts fine and then deteriorates and it starts raining. I struggle to keep my check-in lists dry. An umbrella does not help as strong gusts of wind either wrest it from my grasp or turn it inside out. I abandon the umbrella and try covering the lists with a plastic sheet. This also proves to be ineffective. My colleague (sheltering just inside the pharmacy) comes to my rescue by peeling the pages apart for me. This is a delicate operation due to the likelihood of them tearing. As each sheet is completed it is put on top of a radiator to dry off. It is such a relief when the rain stops and normal service can be resumed. By this time numbers are dwindling and I have time to take in my surroundings. I am based on Ashley Road the main shopping street in Upper Parkstone and the first street to be developed in this area around the end of the nineteenth century. The area is typical of a Victorian development which was hastened when the London and SouthWestern Railway (LSWR) opened its line from Bournemouth to Poole in 1874. Parkstone station opened the same year, and the original station said Parkstone (for Sandbanks). Dates on some buildings reflect the early development of this popular suburb of Poole.

Georgian Villas in Parkstone, Poole in Dorset

COVID-19 Update

Vitamin D could cut COVID-19 deaths by 60 per cent Research suggest that giving high-dose Vitamin D to coronavirus patients when they are admitted to hospital could cut deaths by 60 per cent. This is double the benefit of the best current drug. Scientists from the University of Barcelona showed that patients prescribed calcifediol – an intensive dose of Vitamin D usually used for people with chronic kidney failure – had their risk of admission to intensive care dramatically cut and death rates significantly lowered.

Czech government approves new state of emergency The Czech government has approved a new state of emergency for the next 14 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And French hospitals prepare to move into 'crisis mode' from next Thursday.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

Boris Johnson hails 'extraordinary feat' and a "significant milestone" as the number of people in the UK receiving a coronavirus vaccine passed 15 million. It puts the Government firmly on course to meet its target of offering a first dose to everyone in the UK in its top four priority groups - including all over-70s - by Monday.

Vaccines are working as new figures suggest, with deaths in the over-80s dropping twice as quickly as in the under-65s. New research by the University of Oxford shows that since the peak in January, the case fatality rate (CFR) in the over-80s has fallen by 32 per cent. In contrast, it has dropped by just 14 per cent in the under-65s in the same period. The CFR measures the number of people dying after testing positive. The new figures suggest that even where people are contracting the disease, fewer people are now dying. The Oxford team said that while several explanations are possible for these patterns, the results point to a potential impact of vaccination on the case fatality rate for 80-plus age groups.

Israel and Cyprus agree travel deal to allow coronavirus-vaccinated citizens to travel between the two countries without limitations once flights resume. Israel reached a similar agreement with Greece last week. The nations are seeking to revive their tourism industries - which have been severely hampered by the pandemic - in time for summer.

'Universal vaccine' that can conquer all variants could be available within a year A universal vaccine that would work on all COVID-19 variants by targeting the core of the virus instead of just the spike protein could be available in as little as a year, researchers say. British scientists at the University of Nottingham are developing a "universal” Covid-19 vaccine which, if successful, would end the need to keep tweaking existing jabs as the virus mutates.

In the News Today

Dutch skaters take to ice despite pleas to resist The Dutch took advantage of a rare chance to hit the canals after they froze over for the first time in almost three years. Some took tumbles that landed them in hospital despite an official plea to spare overstretched emergency services. Prime Minister Mark Rutte had warned against mass skating to avoid the risk of spreading Covid-19 as well as injuries that could clog up hospital emergency rooms.

One in six children may never catch up The Children’s Commissioner has warned that one in six children may never catch up after school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. The amount of lost learning, particularly amongst those from deprived households, requires a catch-up programme that operates on a “war-effort kind of scale”. If that level of support is not available some children may never catch up.

Poles rush to ski, drink and party as COVID-19 restrictions are eased. Over the weekend tourists, many without masks, let off steam in the ski resort of Zakopane. Poland allowed ski slopes to reopen from Friday for a two-week trial period, with cinemas, theatres and hotels also allowed to open at a maximum of 50 per cent capacity. But the police reported fights, brawls, arguments, damage to shops and a burning car.

Wuhan outbreak far wider than previously thought Investigators from the World Health Organization (WHO) looking into the origins of coronavirus in China have discovered signs the outbreak was much wider in Wuhan in December 2019 than previously thought. The team are urgently seeking access to hundreds of thousands of blood samples from the city that China has not so far let them examine. At the same time a WHO scientist is claiming that the virus may not have emerged in China, but its leap from animals to humans may have occurred outside the country's borders.

Concern for riding-school horses' welfare during lockdown Horses have been fighting and breaking equipment because they are bored in lockdown, a riding school in Wales has said. Horse riding itself is not prohibited during Wales' level four lockdown, but non-essential businesses like riding schools have had to close. It means riding horses, who are typically used to three hours of lessons a day, are largely confined to their stables. The animals are losing muscle while not working - and this will need to be built back up again when classes resume.

Some Government Statistics

By 5 pm on 08 February, a total of 3,959,784 (total that day 14,104) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 112,798 including a daily total of 333. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate this week 112,660, an increase this week of 9,052 (this statistic lags behind the daily statistics as it is updated on a weekly basis). By the end of the week on 14 February, the total of positive cases had risen to 4,038,078 (total that day 10,972) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 117,166 including a daily total of 258. 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 121,674, an increase of 9,010 since last week.

More next week

Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
Valery Collins 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 and regularly contributes guided city walks to