20th March 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: EU Doubts UK Vaccine in Week 51
Just as I dare to look forward to a trip to Italy in July parts of Europe experience a third surge of the coronavirus.
According to our Prime Minister’s road map international travel may be possible after 17 May. But a third surge of the coronavirus has started sweeping across Europe. Italy is badly affected as well as France and Germany. The vaccine roll-out across the European Union (EU) has been slow due to supply problems. The latest issue is a suggested that cases involving deaths and serious illness from blood clots are somehow relating to the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and several countries decide to suspend the use of this vaccine. Fortunately, the UK remains confident that the vaccine is not responsible for these conditions and the roll-out here continues unabated. And I continue volunteering as a steward at a local vaccination hub.
Monday 08 March 2021
It is a frosty, clear, crisp sunny morning and it is International Women’s Day. This time last year I was in Italy and the hotel present all the women in the hotel with a sprig of mimosa. I exchange greetings with Lisa in France. The news this morning is all about Meghan Markel and her interview with Oprah Winfrey on American television last night. in which she drops a few ‘bombshells’ about the British Royal Family from the safety of California. To me, she is behaving like a spoilt child. She has got what she wanted so why don’t she and Harry just get on with their lives. Harry said they wanted to escape the British media and here they are courting the media when it suits them to do so. I spend the morning working on a second article about Swanage. When I look up and saw a flock of seagulls circling something on the beach I went to have a look and it was the man who regularly walks along the beach throwing food into the air for the birds.
I have an early lunch and then went for a walk. The sun is still shining but it is hazy over the harbour. As it is low tide I walk along the beach by the harbour and then on the mud flats to the steps and back on to the path around the harbour. I can see the yellow broom in the Luscombe Valley Nature Reserve so I go in there to explore. But, soon after entering the reserve I can hear some youngsters shouting and giggling and decide to retrace my steps. I prefer not to know what they are up to. On my way back to the flat I take some photos of the Harbour Heights Hotel on Haven Road. It is recorded as another example of an Art Deco building in Sandbanks. It is certainly unusual.
Schools go back in England after more than two months studying at home. Many secondary schools will have a phased return during the week, but most primary schools are expected to open for all pupils from Monday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the return as a first step towards a "sense of normality". In Northern Ireland, younger primary pupils return today, but secondary pupils will start going back later this month. In Scotland and Wales, younger primary pupils are already back, with older pupils returning to primary and secondary schools from 15 March.
Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine neutralizes Brazil variant in lab study according to a laboratory study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday. The scientists said the neutralizing ability was roughly equivalent the vaccine's effect on a previous less contagious version of the virus from last year.
Troubling signs that Pfizer's and Moderna's COVID-19 shots far less effective against South African variant suggested by a laboratory study. The sample size was small, and the antibody response is just one aspect of the immune response, so it remains unclear how well the vaccines work against the variant first found in South Africa in real life.
Canada first to approve 4 COVID-19 vaccines as it clears the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which works with one dose rather than two. Canadian health experts are eager for a one-and-done vaccine to speed up the vaccination programme. It has also approved vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Canada does not have domestic production and has struggled with an immediate shortage of vaccines.
Vaccine passports will be a feature of foreign travel according to Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, but acknowledged that documents providing proof that someone has received a coronavirus jab “raise all sorts of issues”. It is understood he is considering the possibility of the NHS coronavirus app featuring a digital health passport, which would carry details of vaccinations and negative test results.
Boris Johnson claims outcome of Brexit row with Brussels will be pleasant surprise and claimed he was “optimistic” regarding a satisfactory settlement of the UK’s latest row with the EU over trade with Northern Ireland. He insisted that “goodwill and imagination” were all that was needed to iron out what he claimed were “teething problems”.
Tuesday 09 March 2021
I wake at 6 am and have to get up because I left my iPhone in the sitting room last night –I was so tired when I went to bed I forgot to take it with me. It is another crisp, sunny morning and too nice to stay inside. So I go out on my bike. It is a few months since I last cycled up Evening Hill so I am delighted when I get to the top without stopping. After that it is an easy run to Hamworthy around Poole Harbour and then along Poole Quay and over Poole Bridge. I am heading for the Twin Sails Bridge and get there ten minutes before it opens. The two sections of this bridge lift up to allow boats to sail out of Holes Bay and into Poole Harbour. When the two diagonal sections are upright they resemble two sails. It is very impressive.
On my way back into Poole I call in at the Ferry Port Vaccination Hub to see if there is any chance of getting my second jab there. I need to find a centre that is offering the Pfizer vaccine and it is proving difficult. I am directed to Dave, the steward at the head of the queue. He says the vaccine today was the Oxford AstraZeneca and they do not know more than a week in advance which vaccine they will be getting. He suggests I go to the desk and ask there. I sanitise my hands and have my temperature taken before joining the queue. The only information I can glean is that the next clinic is on Saturday and the vaccine will be AstraZeneca. There is no telephone number to enquire about future clinics. I cycle back to Poole Bridge and get there in time to see that bridge open. I then cycle along Poole Quay and treat myself to a fish and chip lunch which I eat sitting on the quay in the sunshine – in front of a line of empty pubs.
COVID cases are increasing in 16 places in the UK according to the latest government figures. Cases dropped by 26.2% across the UK as a whole. The data compares favourably with the previous week, when there were rises in 55 areas.
Nightingale hospitals to close from April after being established last spring to cope with overflow of COVID-19 cases these seven huge temporary hospitals were not really needed. Most will close and sites in London and Sunderland will be used for vaccinations.
UK domestic cruises could resume from 17 May according to UK maritime minister Robert Courts. He said the government was working with the home nations to get UK-wide domestic cruising going again. This would be aligned with the wider resumption of domestic tourism and indoor hospitality.
Tensions flare with Brussels over Brexit and business groups and UK exporters have called on Lord David Frost to step back from his abrasive approach to dealing with Brussels and seek to build a mutually beneficial trading relationship with the EU.
In the News Today
Buckingham Palace releases statement over Harry and Meghan interview in which the Queen says the Royal family is "saddened" by "how challenging" life as senior royals was for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and that the issues raised, in particular those of race, are concerning and will be addressed privately.
Wednesday 10 March 2021
After two days of lovely sunny weather we are hit by strong winds and heavy rain which lasts all day. My plan to go for an early bike ride are washed away and I spend the whole day working at the flat. Despite the adverse conditions there are still people battling with the elements in Poole Harbour – but very few are successful.
‘Unimaginable’ £37bn cost of coronavirus test and trace system blasted by a Westminster spending watchdog as, despite its £23bn budget in its first year of operation, it failed in its task of preventing the second and third lockdowns.
Greece aims to reopen for UK holidaymakers in May depending on the status of the coronavirus pandemic. Visitors will be required to have been vaccinated, had a recent negative Covid-19 test or have coronavirus antibodies.
Five countries halt use of one batch of AstraZeneca jab after patient died of fatal blood clot and three were diagnosed with dangerous blood clotting conditions in Austria after a vaccination. Although there is currently no sign the vaccine led to the illnesses. All the doses were from the same batch. Use of this batch has now been suspended by Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Latvia
Thursday 11 March 2021
I am woken several times during the night by a howling wind and the persistent banging of my bedroom door which refuses to stay shut. Waving fronds of ornamental grass along the boundary with the property next door trick the security lights into thinking there is a prowler in the garden and they light up my bedroom at regular intervals. As I lie dozing in bed I remember that today it is exactly one year since the borders to Italy started closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. At that time, I was leading a skiing holiday in Folgaria a resort in Trentino. We had to drive through the night to get the last flight back to the UK from Bologna. So, today also marks a year in self-isolation for me.
When I do get up the wind is still very strong and white horses are charging across the waters of Poole Harbour – an unusual sight on its shallow waters. It is food shop day today but first I want to visit a new art installation I have read about on the local council’s website – the West Quay Wings, a flock of stainless steel birds in flight. They are sited beside the Barbers Piles Maritime Garden on West Quay Road close to Poole Bridge. I get the bus to Poole Bus Station and then walk through the town to the West Quay and through the maritime garden. This garden has been created in the Barbers Piles open space and also celebrates the local heritage of Poole. This new amenity features new paths, entrances and seating and bat boxes will support the local bat population. The mature, wooded area has been retained to provide a buffer for housing behind the garden. But the trees at the front of the garden have been pruned to open up the view of the Poole Lifting Bridge.
Designed by the artist Michael Condron, each of the stainless steel birds positioned alongside the garden features coloured inlaid glass and engravings. They celebrate both the local heritage and the local wildlife. Different aspects of Poole’s history are represented by each bird from boat building to maritime trade, chemistry, foundries, potteries and the lava lamp (the inventor of which was based in Poole). It is an unusual and interesting attraction.
Friday 12 March 2021
This morning I have arranged to walk with a Walking Companion but just before we are due to meet in Sandbanks the spit is awash with a heavy downpour. Fortunately, it passes quickly and we agree to go ahead. We set off along the sea front to Boscombe Chine – assisted by a strong wind but we both agree it is good to get out in the fresh air. We then take the path along the cliff top into the village of Canford Cliffs. We stop here for a cappuccino. As the easing of lockdown restrictions now allows us to sit outside to enjoy a coffee we do that – and find an empty bench in the main street through the village. Dark clouds are gathering again but only produce a few large spots of rain.
When we set off again we walk through the village and then take the path through the Pocket Park – ablaze with yellow daffodils and the occasional primrose and snowdrop it is a sure sign that spring is here. We take the path through Flaghead Chine and complete our circle by walking back along the sea front. We finish our walk just in time – as the bad weather closes in again.
Lockdown to be eased in Wales as meeting friends in your garden and playing a round of golf are set to become legal again from tomorrow. Four adults from two households will be able to socialise outdoors, with some outdoor sports facilities reopening and solo visitors allowed into care homes. Hairdressers will reopen from Monday, when all primary pupils will go back to school. Non-essential retailers must remain closed for another week.
Police investigate deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Devon care home as 33 positive coronavirus cases were recorded in 3 days resulting in 3 deaths. The home is committed to working closely with all the relevant authorities to halt the spread of infection and to investigate how the virus entered the home.
Germany announces the start of a third coronavirus wave as case numbers have been too high for a while. Although vaccination will help Germans have been told to brace themselves for a few hard weeks.
COVID-19 vaccine teams to go to 'maximum capacity' and double jab rate according to Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi. He said he was "expecting tens of millions of doses to come through", leading to a "rapid increase" in the number of people being injected against coronavirus starting from 15 March.
Austrian Chancellor says EU COVID-19 vaccines being distributed unequally as Italy’s government announces it will put most of the country into lockdown due to a surging third wave. Austria’s chancellor has accused the EU of not distributing vaccines according to population size and that some member states had secret contacts to get more than their fair share of doses. Some countries have refused the offer of Pfizer doses hoping to get more Oxford AstraZeneca doses. But the separate issue of blood clots has prompted Denmark and Bulgaria to suspend use of AstraZeneca jabs.
Saturday 13 March 2021
Early this morning, after another night of winds battering the building, I can hear heavy rain lashing the bedroom windows. Clearly, I will not be cycling to Parkstone today for my shift at the vaccination hub. Although it has stopped raining by the time I am ready to leave the wind is still really strong. As I make my way to the garage to get the car I stop to admire the white horses still riding across Poole Harbour, now bathed in mellow sunlight.
I arrive at the vaccination hub early enough to enjoy a hot coffee and a cookie before the first appointment. While having a clear out I found a designer flask I acquired on a trip to South Korea. As the thermal mug I have been using likes to spatter coffee over the interior of my car I designed to give it a try. Not a drop was spilt on the journey and when I poured out my first paper cup full it was too hot to drink immediately. My thoughtful boss had, as promised, provided some bananas. A good start to the day. But it does not last long. Several people who are not listed for an appointment today do not greet this news very well. Further enquiries (and a phone call to the NHS vaccination help line) confirm there is no appointment as the persons concerned did not ‘accept’ the appointments offered and so no confirmation or booking reference was ever issued. I hate having to turn people away but the number of doses provided for the hub are calculated according to the number of confirmed bookings. For this reason, we rarely have any spare vaccinations to offer at the end of the clinic.
Cases are surging in Hungary as it emerges as an EU vaccination leader thanks to a strategy of seeking shots from Russia and China as well as from inside the bloc. But it is up against a huge rise in new COVID-19 cases and deaths blamed on a more infectious virus variant first found in Britain. A new round of lockdown measures took effect Monday to curb this surge. Slovakia and the Czech Republic are also requesting emergency doses from Russia and China.
Portugal to be removed from UK government’s red list of countries from which travel is severely restricted – raising hopes that British holidaymakers may be able to visit from 17 May, when the ban on international journeys may be lifted. At present all holidays within and beyond the UK are banned, and a new Declaration to Travel must be completed by anyone seeking to leave the country for essential reasons.
Vaccine booster jabs expected this autumn in the UK and could help to prevent rising cases in winter if the UK is struck by COVID-19 variants or a drop in immunity.
Three people in Norway treated for "unusual symptoms" after AstraZeneca COVID-19 shots so Norway halted the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Thursday. Denmark and Iceland followed suit. The European medicine regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA,) is to investigate the three incidents.
In the News Today
Protest vigil for murdered Sarah Everard cancelled in London amid concerns demonstrators would be arrested for breaching coronavirus regulations. Instead a doorstep vigil will be held.
Sunday 14 March 2021
Another wet and windy start to the day. As I spent 9 hours outside in the fresh air yesterday I don’t feel the need for any more today. So, I spend the day in the flat working on an article about my experience on a conservation trip in Kenya. This is a very pleasant stroll down memory lane. I have worked as a tour manager on many safaris in Kenya and Tanzania but working on a wildlife conservation project is a unique experience. Although an outspoken American in the group keep insisting it was meant to be a holiday it was far from that. But it was definitely a memorable experience and a real privilege to be able to roam the Enonkishu Conservancy, part of the Masai Mara Nature Reserve in Kenya watching (and counting) the wildlife. Although, in theory, it was against protocol to spend time taking photographs while doing the tasks we were set, in practice, as one of the drivers, I had amassed a large collection and it took me the whole day to go through them.
Outside the strong winds roar across the waters of Whitley Lake, part of Poole Harbour. My attention is captured by a wingsurfer struggling to control his wings. The relatively new water sport of wingsurfing was launched in 2019 and is now the fastest growing water sport in the world. It involves a wingsurfing board and a pair of large wings. The latter come in a variety of shapes and sizes. This particular wingsurfer spends more time in the water than he does skimming across it. He is out there for a long time but never masters the art of standing on his board holding his wings aloft.
British Airways to introduce digital global vaccine passports in time for the planned reopening of international travel from 17 May and its CEO call for unrestricted travel for those who have been vaccinated. Sean Doyle called on the UK to work with other governments to allow vaccines and health apps to help open up an industry which has been grounded for almost a year.
Health authority in Ireland recommends suspension of AstraZeneca after some reports of blood clots in vaccinated people. But this is precautionary as it has not been concluded that there is any link between the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca and these cases.
UK regulator claims AstraZeneca jab 'not linked to clots' and says people should still go and get their COVID-19 vaccine. This, despite suspensions in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Bulgaria, Iceland and Thailand.
In the News Today
Hundreds march in Central London to protest against police behaviour at Sarah Everard vigil as the Mayor of London demanded an inquiry into the behaviour of police officers at the vigil on Clapham Common because he was 'not satisfied' with the explanation provided by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick of Saturday's events.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 08 March, a total of 4,223,232 (total that day 4,712) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 124,566 including a daily total of 65. By the end of the week on 14 March, the total of positive cases had risen to 4,258,438 (total that day 4,618) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 125,516 including a daily total of 52. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 143,259, an increase this week of 3,196 (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