27th February 2021
Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: Terrible Weather in Week 48
This week my wanderings are curtailed by long periods of wet and windy weather but I am still finding some local treasures.
The only people enjoying the wind and rain in Dorset this week are the kite surfers who brave the weather every day to skim he boisterous waves. It may be gloomy outside during week 48 of the coronavirus pandemic but the news is good. The vaccine roll-out is gathering pace and I am proud to be a part of it. As the number of new cases and deaths start to show a significant drop the government begins to consider how to ease lockdown. But it all depends on maintaining the downward trend and we are reminded to continue following the rules - to wear face masks on public transport and in shops, wash hands regularly and to observe social distancing.
Monday 15 February 2021
When I get up this morning the wind is howling around the building and rain is lashing the window panes. It is not looking good for a planned walk with a Walking Companion this morning. I am right. I have must started working when a message comes through postponing our walk. This means I am free to go into Poole to get my prescription from Boots. This can be quite a lengthy task as the queue to collect/leave prescriptions often stretches from the back of the shop. I get off the bus at Poole Park Gates and walk through the park to the Dolphin Shopping centre. I enter the path through the East Gate, and stop to admire the newly refurbished East Gate Lodge.
The East Gate Lodge was built in 1988/89 as a house for the head gardener and his family. This red brick cottage type residence was designed in High Victorian style with salt glaze and terracotta ornamentation. A plaque on the side of the building commemorates the gift of land by Lord Wimborne for a People’s Park. There is no queue at the prescriptions counter in Boots today so I have time to browse the Food Hall in Marks & Spencer. I treat myself to my favourite starter - a smoked salmon platter. I will combine this with some cracked black pepper Ryvita for my evening meal.
This evening I am doing a presentation on Zoom for a local community group. I had a brief rehearsal with the host this morning but my Apple Mac refused to co-operate so we are ‘meeting’ again this afternoon. In the meantime, I resolve the problem on the Apple Chat. As always Apple Macs have an extra layer of security and I had to give permission for my Mac to broadcast. The second rehearsal is a success so I am all set to show the twenty-five images I have prepared to illustrate my talk about three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It is the first time I have done a presentation on Zoom and I am feeling quite nervous. My host had suggested I share a full screen and minimise the images of my audience. It is very strange sitting in my own living room talking to a photograph on my laptop. I do occasionally sneak a peek at my audience just to make sure there is someone there. The presentation goes without a hitch and my host assures me it was well received. This is a great relief and I can add another skill to my list of those I have learnt during lockdown.
Doors open for hotel quarantine in the UK's latest attempt to stop new variants of coronavirus being imported from overseas. Anyone arriving in the UK from one of the 33 "red list" countries will be required to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel at their own expense. Failure to comply could result in a fine of up to £10,000. Anyone who has been in one of the high-risk destinations will have to enter England through a designated port and have pre-booked a quarantine package to stay at one of the Government's managed quarantine facilities. All arrivals in England now also face new test and trace rules, which requires them to get tested for COVID-19 on days two and eight of their 10-day self-isolation.
Scotland insists all arrivals must quarantine in a hotel but this can be avoided by people flying into England from countries not on the ‘red list’ and then making their way to Scotland.
People aged over 65 in England and younger people in at-risk groups – will be next in line for coronavirus vaccinations now the UK government have hit its initial target for offering a first dose of vaccine to the most vulnerable people, including the over-70s, care home residents and staff and front-line health workers. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm later on Monday that 15 million first doses have been received across the UK.
Vaccine 'passports' likely for travel – but not the pub Boris Johnson has said so-called vaccine passports are likely to be introduced for foreign travel – but not for activities like going to the pub. An increasing number of countries say they will welcome in travellers who have been immunised. Several nations in eastern Europe, including Estonia and Romania are leading the way with new policies offering quarantine exemption for travellers who have had COVID-19 in the past few months or been vaccinated against the virus.
In the News Today
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex Harry and Meghan have confirmed they are expecting their second child.
Donald Trump acquitted of all charges by the Senate at his second impeachment trial in America.
Tuesday 16 February 2021
Rain is pounding on the roof above me when I wake this morning but, at least it is milder. I spend the morning working on my coronavirus diary. But it is slow gong as my NHS Responder keeps leaping into life. I have changed the alarm sound from a siren (confused with sirens on television and outside) to a gruff voice urging me to answer immediately. This has an interesting effect on the shoppers around me when it goes off in the supermarket. Most of the calls are for a check and chat. They don’t take long but it is a safety measure for those alone in self-isolation as someone checks on them every day. I respond to three requests this morning. Between showers I go for a walk through the grounds of the Church of Transfiguration.
The first Church of the Transfiguration on this site was a temporary wooden structure built in 1911. It was in the parish of St Peter in Parkstone and known locally as “The Church in the Glen”. The parish is now part of the Deanery of Poole and North Bournemouth in the Archdeaconry of Dorset, within the Diocese of Salisbury. A church room for Sunday School and parish activities was added in 1960, built in Purbeck stone with a copper ply roof. In 1962 the foundations were laid for the current stone building. It was designed by local architect Lionel Gregory. It was decided to keep the supporting roof beams of the original church, and reconstruct a new church around them. This church is set in natural parkland that include a woodland walk. It is always peaceful here and a lovely place for a short walk.
New COVID-19 variant found in UK Another coronavirus variant with a potentially worrying set of mutations has been detected in the UK and should be targeted in surge testing, experts have said. This variant, known as B1525, has been detected in 10 countries including Denmark, the US and Australia, with 32 cases found in the UK so far. The earliest sequences were dated to December and cropped up in the UK and Nigeria.
A phased return to schools in Scotland is expected to begin from Monday 22 February. In Wales, primary schools will also begin reopening next Monday, but in Northern Ireland there will be no return before 8 March. In England, a roadmap for easing lockdown is due to be announced on Monday 22 February.
UK government’s goal is to live with coronavirus not fight it by making COVID-19 a manageable disease like flu. The complete eradication of a virus has only ever been achieved once and that was smallpox in 1980.
Slovakia tested entire population for COVID-19 but now has highest death rate Testing the entire population in October was part of a scheme that was widely praised and was understood to have brought down infections. Now, in the second wave of coronavirus cases here have been increasing rapidly since October. The Slovakian government has blamed the UK variant of the virus for the recent rise in cases and deaths. Earlier this month the fast-spreading strain had become dominant and was detected in 74%.
In the News Today
Scottish error regarding hotel quarantine as the first travellers to be put in “managed isolation” are sent home. On Monday morning, Chun Wong and his daughter Keirnan flew from the US via Dublin to Edinburgh airport. They were immediately taken to a quarantine hotel, where they were told to remain for 11 nights. But late on Monday, the advice to travellers was changed to read: “If you have arrived in Scotland from elsewhere in the Common Travel Area but have been in a country not on the acute risk list in the 10 days before that, you will be required to self-isolate at home.” The Wongs were subsequently sent home to self-isolate and refunded the money paid for the hotel.
First travellers fined £10,000 under new COVID-19 travel quarantine rules Four passengers have been fined £10,000 after failing to state they had come from a coronavirus "red list" country within the previous 10 days. Travellers arriving in England from one of 33 countries must now quarantine in a hotel for 10 days. These include places such as Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and South American countries. The passengers were stopped at Birmingham Airport after attempting "to hide their routes".
Wednesday 17 February 2021
I wake up to yet another wet and windy morning. I catch up with some writing this morning. As I am doing three full days as a volunteer steward at a COVID-19-19 vaccination centre this week this spurs me on to get more writing done on my free days. It stops raining this afternoon so I go out for a walk. I have been doing some research on the village of Canford Cliffs, above the Sandbanks spit and have found some information about a classic Art Deco house. I have seen it from the beach and today I set off to explore the network of roads on the cliffs to see if I can get a better view. I can’t, but I do find some very impressive residences up there interspersed with some smaller, characterful properties. Finally, I follow a footpath down to the sea front and take some photographs from the beach. Chaddesley Gate was designed by the architect L Magnus Austin for the Oswald Bailey family. This family founded the original British outdoor camping, walking and skiing retail outfitters in 1906. The business is still going. It opened its first Bournemouth store in 1930.
COVID-19 symptoms list should be amended According to the experts it should also include fatigue, sore throat, headache and diarrhoea. They claim this would enable more people to qualify for a “gold standard” PCR nasal and throat swab test and increase the number of positive diagnoses from 69 to 96 per cent.
In the News Today
Prince Philip admitted to hospital After feeling unwell. Philip, who is 99, was admitted to the King Edward VII Hospital in London on the advice of his doctor as a precautionary measure. He is expected to be there for a few days of observation and rest.
One of the world's most active volcanos erupts Mount Etna, on the Italian island of Sicily, has erupted throwing up plumes of ash and lava rising more than 90 metres.
Thursday 18 February 2021
It is noticeable warmer this morning but the wind is so strong it rocks the block of flats. Soon after I get up the rain starts pounding the window panes. The wind and rain has been relentless for four days now. I am on duty as a volunteer at the vaccination centre in Parkstone and set off early as the roadworks are moving further along the main road and I am not sure how it will affect my journey there. By the time I have parked the car and walked to the centre I am aware that today I am dressed for yesterday. I remove a layer of clothing before taking up my position outside the centre. My golf umbrella is standing by in case it starts raining again. My first task is to turn our through barrier into a cul de sac. On my last shift some people came along with friends/partners in the hope of trying to get themselves vaccinated without an appointment – when told this was impossible they tried to join the queue through the other end of the barrier. Of course, some people require assistance if they have language or mobility problems which is not only allowed, but encouraged. We have very few early arrivals today and the flow of people is steady but not overwhelming. One couple bring their dog. Apparently this rescue dog cannot be left at home and its owners have to go into the clinic together. I offer to look after the dog and she is sitting quietly with me at the front of the shop when her owner rushed out and reclaims her. It seems it is the owner who cannot exist without the dog, not vice versa.
SNP ministers book quarantine hotel rooms at airport with no international flights Taxpayers are paying for hundreds of quarantine hotel rooms at Glasgow Airport even though no international flights are currently due to arrive there. Flights on the few international routes still arriving into Scotland have been almost deserted. No international flights have arrived into Glasgow since Emirates axed the last remaining international route, from Dubai, last month. Should there be any international arrivals that have to quarantine in a hotel they could be taken to the quarantine hotels at Edinburgh Airport, less than an hour away.
Vaccine roll-out lottery as it is revealed over 80s have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine in a few areas whereas other areas are now working through lower age groups. The government has said uptake was higher than expected but there was still a minority of people who were choosing not to take it. Nearly 16 million people have had the vaccine so far.
GPs offering COVID-19 vaccines to the over-50s in some areas while other places are lagging behind. It has emerged that some local GP practices have started to contact those in younger age groups. At the same time, some regions are still working their way through the over-70s, raising concerns about geographical variations in the vaccine rollout.
Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is unpopular in Europe and running into public resistance in several European countries due to reports of side effects and concerns it may not be as effective against some of the newer variants. It has been reported that in Germany many people say they would prefer to wait for one of the rival vaccines, while medical staff in France and Italy have been trying to avoid the AstraZeneca jab. Health authorities claim that reported side effects including fever and headaches from the vaccine are not dangerous. Hospitals in both France and Germany have announced plans to stagger vaccinations to avoid too many staff calling in sick at once.
Italy approves use of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for 55 to 65-year-olds having previously limited its use to the under-55s.
In the News Today
Round-the-world yachtswoman returns to her home port of Poole Pip Hare became the first British skipper to complete the 2020-21 Vendée Globe round-the-world yacht race on 18 February after 95 days at sea on her 60ft yacht Medallia. She is only the eighth woman to finish the single-handed non-stop round the world yacht race, which was first contested in 1989. As an elite sportswoman she was not required to quarantine on returning to the UK.
Friday 19 February 2021
Yet another windy, wet morning today – this must be developing into some sort of a record. Today is food shop day and mid-morning I get the bus into Poole. Only one other person got on the bus and she walks all the way down the bus and sits across the aisle from me. I asked her why, when she had an empty bus to choose from she came and sat close to me. I do comment on the fact she had the whole empty bus to choose from before I move back a few rows. I had already opened the window by my first seat but get more benefit from it by changing seats. I get off the bus by Poole Park, walk through the park and exit via Seldown Gate passing the newly refurbished Seldown Lodge.
Seldown Lodge was built in 1988/89 for the first park keeper and had a stable block and a cart house at the rear. When Poole Park was created it was mainly used by local residents who would arrive on foot, bicycle or horse and carriage. The park was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1890. A plaque by the front door of the lodge celebrates this event.
Stay-at-home restrictions in Wales to remain for three more weeks according to First Minister Mark Drakeford as the youngest children start returning to school from next Monday. In Northern Ireland the Stormont Executive has decided to keep the majority of restrictions in place until April 1, but some primary school pupils will return to class on March 8. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she wants “if at all possible” for the current coronavirus lockdown to be the last, as she stressed that the lifting of restrictions must be sustainable.
Calls for coronavirus vaccine passports start discussions about the introduction of a passport that proves someone has been vaccinated against the infection. This may be required before an individual can travel, get a job or even enter a pub. Certain countries have a similar system for yellow fever, with travellers only allowed in if they carry a card proving they are immunised against the viral disease.
Vaccine adviser says age should decide order of COVID-19 jab Professor Wei Shen Lim said that age “dominates by a long way” while underlying health conditions contribute “some increased risk.” It has been reported that the Government is set to recommend the next phase of the UK’s vaccine programme continues on the basis of age, rather than prioritising key workers. Plans on who should be vaccinated beyond the top nine groups have not yet been published but there have been calls for police officers and teachers to be prioritised in the next stage.
PM Boris Johnson set to pledge donation of surplus coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations as he tries to rally world leaders to work together on efforts to combat the pandemic. He will chair a virtual gathering of G7 leaders on Friday, including US president Joe Biden in his first major multilateral meeting, to discuss the response to the crisis.
In the News Today
Harry and Meghan are never returning to Royal Family The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have confirmed they will not be returning as working members of the Royal Family, Buckingham Palace has announced. They quit as senior working royals in March 2020. The couple have been stripped of their prestigious patronages after confirming their departure was permanent. Harry will lose his roles as Captain General of the Royal Marines, Honorary Air Force Commandant of the Royal Air Force Base Honington and Honorary Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Naval Commands’ Small Ships and Diving. The honorary military appointments and royal patronages held by the duke and duchess will therefore be returned to Her Majesty, before being redistributed among working members of the royal family.
Saturday 20 February 2021
It is another grey day and windy but not wet. I am on duty at the vaccine hub all day today. There are occasional showers throughout my shift and I am glad of my golf umbrella to keep the check list dry. As we are using re-cycled paper it only takes a few drops of rain before it starts to disintegrate. Holding an umbrella and writing on a check list is not easy with a wind swirling around but it is better than getting wet. Some people try to hold my umbrella for me - forgetting COVID-19 safeguards. This is easy to do when the natural reaction is to help so I don’t wrestle with them to regain control of my umbrella but I do regularly sanitize my hands – well, the surgical gloves on my hands. And, of course, I have a surgical mask covering my nose and mouth in place all day. We have a few people turning up who are not on my list and who don’t’ have proof that a booking has been confirmed. Two of them insisted that when making their booking by telephone they were told they did not need to bring anything with them. This is not the case as everyone needs to bring their NHS number. Fortunately, most people are sensible enough to realise they need to bring their booking confirmation with them and the we keep the queue moving throughout the day. The only time it stops is when I am distracted by the sight of a beautiful rainbow after the sun makes a brief appearance in the afternoon.
Chief medical officer raises concerns regarding the opening of all schools on 8 March It has been reported that Prof Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England is “very unhappy” with the idea of all 10 million children and staff returning to schools in England on 8 March. School leaders are increasingly worried, having expected a phased return, especially in secondary schools, to enable repeat COVID-19 tests to be administered. Currently, schools are only open to vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. The prime minister has repeatedly stressed that schools will be the first things to reopen, with non-essential retail expected to follow, and hospitality after that. Ministers are also eager to build in a pause after children return to the classroom to allow the impact on the spread of the virus to be assessed.
Plan to allow visits to English care homes welcomed but raises concerns as Health Secretary says care home residents in England will be allowed to receive indoor visits from one person from 8 March. Each care home resident would be able to designate one person, who will be able to visit them regularly. The visits will take place under strict conditions, with the designated person required to take a coronavirus test beforehand and wear personal protective equipment. They will not be required to prove that they have received the COVID-19 vaccination, however. The visitor will be able to hold the resident’s hand – though any other close contact will be discouraged
Wales can start making ‘modest’ changes to lockdown according to First Minister, Mark Drakeford. All primary schoolchildren will return to face-to-face teaching from 15 March if the coronavirus situation in the country continues to improve. But the overarching “stay at home” message will be extended for at least another three weeks to allow for a safe return to school for the youngest pupils from Monday. Coronavirus cases in Wales are at their lowest level since the end of September and the vaccination programme is on track.
Research from Israel lends support to UK’s dosing gap of 12 weeks claiming that one Pfizer/BioNTech shot gives 85% COVID-19 protection. But Pfizer has consistently said that two doses of the vaccine are needed for high efficacy. In clinical trials, it reported efficacy of 52.4% after one dose, but 95% after two doses. Nevertheless, in December the UK government decided on a policy of giving as many people as possible a first vaccine shot by increasing the gap between doses of the Pfizer and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine up to 12 weeks. A study at Oxford University concluded “Where there is a limited supply, policies of initially vaccinating more people with a single dose may provide greater immediate population protection than vaccinating half the number of people with two doses. In the long term, a second dose should ensure long-lived immunity, and so we encourage everyone who has had their first vaccine to ensure they receive both doses.”
In the News Today
UK scientists highlight 12 criteria for COVID-19 vaccine passports as the Royal Society says issues such as certifying immunity and data protection need to be considered. The society agrees vaccine passports are feasible, but many pressing questions need to be answered around their use, from knowing whether vaccines protect people against transmitting coronavirus, to ensuring they do not lead to widespread discrimination and inequalities. The issues are urgent as some countries are already introducing passports. Estonia has joined with the World Health Organization and others to test a vaccination certificate on its borders, while Israel is developing a green passport and a purple badge, visible on a smartphone and linked to ID, allowing people access to gyms, places of worships, hotels and cultural events.
Sunday 21 February 2021
I am woken before my alarm goes off at 6 am by gulls bombarding the flat roof above my bedroom with shell fish. It sounds more like a planned attack then a feeding spree. I often watch them rising up from the sea and heading for the block of flats where they drop the shell fish and then swoop down after it. I am on duty at the COVID-19-19 vaccination hub all day today and set off at 8 am, in the wind and rain. I see a woman waiting outside as I approach. She has booked an appointment half-an-hour before we are due to start vaccinating. Within a few minutes two more 8.30 am appointments had arrived and a 9 am appointment, 30 minutes early. I send a text to the pharmacist who arrives a few minutes later. By this time, we have ten people waiting. And that is how it continues for the rest of the morning – nearly everyone is 20-30 minutes early. So a long queue builds up outside the pharmacy. Everyone is very patient and he queue is dealt with very quickly by handing out forms to fill in while they wait. Within ten minutes we are back on track and the queue is confined to the side passage of the building. The rest of the day passes very quietly with afternoon appointments arriving on time.
Prime Minister pledges all adults in the UK will be offered first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of July as he announces a desire to see the programme "go further and faster". NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said there were "early signs" the vaccine rollout was contributing to a fall in hospital admissions. A speedy rollout of the vaccine to all vulnerable people is seen as critical to reducing the pandemic's death toll and relieving pressure on the NHS. Although a speedier rollout is likely to raise expectations and increase pressure for a swifter unlocking in England the government is still talking the language of caution.
In the News Today
Prime Minister’s dog chews priceless books and furniture at Chequers and Boris is heard telling someone to shoot it. Dilyn, the Jack Russell has landed his owner with a four-figure bill after chewing chair legs, mounting valuable artefacts and urinating on carpets at the Prime Minister’s country residence.
Matt Hancock's ex-neighbour under investigation by UK's medical regulator after securing lucrative work producing millions of vials for NHS COVID-19 tests is under investigation by the UK’s medical regulator. Alex Bourne, who used to run the Cock Inn near the health secretary’s old constituency home in Thurlow, won about £30m of work producing the test tubes despite having no prior experience in the medical devices industry. Prior to the pandemic, his company, Hinpack, made plastic cups and takeaway boxes for the catering industry. Now it supplies tens of millions of vials from its production site on an industrial potato farm complex in Cambridgeshire. The investigation raises questions about whether Bourne is upholding appropriate regulatory standards. And there are questions regarding the relationship between the two men.
Did Cummings hand COVID-19 contract to firm run by 'friends'? Dominic Cummings was instrumental in the process of awarding a government contract without tender to a company run by his “friends”, according to court documents that raise questions about whether the Cabinet Office may have misled the public. Documents reveal the central role the prime minister’s former chief adviser played in the awarding of the contract to Public First, a research company owned and run by two of his longstanding associates.
Expert warns of severe flu epidemic next winter after flu levels this year have been drastically reduced due to social distancing rules to limit the spread of coronavirus. The lack of circulation of influenza means people's immunity levels have fallen.
Fans boo vaccine at Australian Open Australia's government has criticised fans at the Australian Open for booing the mention of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. It happened during the awards ceremony at the men's final. Australia is just beginning its national inoculation programme. Although the vaccine has broad support in Australia, it has also sparked protests and small crowds of anti-vaccination demonstrators have been marching in cities including Melbourne and Sydney.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 15 February, a total of 4,047,843 (total that day 9,765) positive COVID-19-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 117,396 including a daily total of 230. By the end of the week on 21 February, the total of positive cases had risen to 4,115,509 (total that day 9,834) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 120,580 including a daily total of 215. Total deaths with COVID-19-19 on the death certificate is now 121,674, an increase this week of 9,010 (this statistic lags behind the daily statistics as it is updated on a weekly basis).
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