1st May 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 57 Sees Huge Surge of Cases in India
Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour re-opens to the public this week and I enjoy the long awaited return to my duties as volunteer on this very special island.
By week 57 of the coronavirus pandemic cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the UK are steadily decreasing due to both the very successful vaccine roll-out as well as restrictions including the use of face masks and social distancing. But we become very aware that the coronavirus is a global problem when a sudden, huge surge of cases and sweeps across in India. As the Indian variant of the virus starts to appear in other countries there are fears the vaccines currently in use will not be effective against this strain. I am very busy this week as I am now volunteering at three places, two vaccination hubs and Brownsea Islands where the red squirrels seem pleased to see me back again.
Monday 19 April 2021
A serious sea fret banishes all hope of an early morning bike ride today. From the back window I can’t see as far as the garages at the end of the drive. Looking out at the front the harbour is completely obscured by a white blanket of cloud. It does not look as though it will lift any time soon. I know I won’t feel safe on my bike cycling through mist so I decide to get on with writing my article about Blandford Forum in Dorset. Throughout the morning the fret ebbed and flowed and sometimes I would hear the horns of shipping leaving or entering Poole Harbour. The fret did not clear until 10:30 this morning – until then the harbour was hung with an air of mystery as birds flew in and out of the enveloping mist.
This afternoon I am on duty at the vaccination hub in Bournemouth. As usual I get there early to have a walk before spending 3 hours in the cavernous conference centres guiding people through snaking barriers and handing out leaflets. It is lovely in the sun on the Westcliff and I discover a walk through some woods carpeted with bluebells. After signing in, it is the usual procedure, hand sanitise, put on a new face mask and then go into the briefing room. I check in, collect my name badge and put on a tabard. I ask not to be in a positon where I have to wear and face shield as well as a face mask as I had over-heated on Friday when I used one for the first time. We rotate every 30 minutes so after the first 30 minutes I stay where I am in the waiting area and someone else joins me. Before the third rotation - the dreaded face shield position - our supervisor appears and hands me a pair of goggles so I can do the next two positions where we have to wear a face shield as well. That is the handing out of information sheets as patients leave the pod. It slowed to nothing so I spent the next half hour folding up the information sheets and attaching a sticker to the corner. I did as many as would fit on the table. They closed the white pod while I was on duty there. My next rotation was the blue pod and as very few people were coming through there was nothing much to do and I filled that table with folded information sheets. By then it was nearly 5 pm and time to finish.
40 nations on red list countries as India added and all arrivals from these “high-risk” countries face mandatory hotel quarantine at their own cost. 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.
In the News Today
Landlord tells Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer to leave his pub during Bath walkabout for failing to ask the questions that needed asking, like, why did we throw away our previous pandemic preparedness? “Why have we just accepted lockdown? Why have we just accepted the loss of all our freedoms?”
Tuesday 20 April 2021
The sun is already up when I wake at 6 am so I get dressed and go out for a bike ride followed by a walk along Sandbanks Beach. When I get to the beach it is empty apart from a couple and their three dogs. There is still a chill in the air but it is very pleasant strolling by the water’s edge. This tide is out but occasionally I get caught out by a rogue wave that creeps into the channels that flow across the beach behind the island of hard sand I am walking on.
I am on duty again at the vaccination hub in Bournemouth this afternoon. As I am enjoying a quick stroll along the cliff path my iPhone bursts into life. It is a call from the tour operator Wendy Wu. A follow up regarding the Zoom presentation following up on the Zoom presentation I watched last week to remind me their special offers apply to 2021 and 2022 trips and they end tomorrow. As the deposit is only £99 and a free flight is on offer I decide to book their Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan trip for May. I am just in time for the briefing and when we set off with our supervisor to be allocated our positions I volunteer for the back staff entrance. I spend over an hour there – eating a fruit and veg ice lolly on the terrace overlooking Bournemouth pier, videoing sea gulls emptying the waste bin on the terrace and writing the name badges for the next shift. I spend the rest of my shift manning the cafe and adding hot water to pre-prepared hot drinks. Towards the end of my shift a volunteer on the next shift brings in some home-made raspberry muffins. I have one and it is delicious. Word soon gets around that some homemade cakes are available in the cafe. Suddenly I am very busy, my last half - hour goes very quickly and I am soon on my way home.
Prime Minister reveals plan to find COVID pills you can take at home as he launches a drive a drive to identify new and simple treatments for coronavirus that people can take at home. The antiviral taskforce will seek out new medicines an officials hope to find and bring two treatments online this year. The plan is to identify drugs so that people with COVID-19, or those they have been in close contact with, could be offered antiviral medication – offered in tablet form – to stop the infection spreading and speed up recovery time.
Hundreds with fake COVID certificates trying to enter UK every week and, as these test certificates are very easy to create electronically it is not known how many people with fake certificates are evading the authorities. Europol had warned earlier this year about the illicit sale of forged negative COVID-19 test certificates. This included a forgery ring selling negative test results to passengers at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and in the UK fraudsters were caught selling bogus COVID documents showing negative test results for £100 each.
Greek, Spanish and Portuguese islands could open early to British tourists for summer holidays - Greek, Spanish and Portuguese islands could be opened up early for summer holidays as part of the Government’s “traffic light” plans for resuming international travel. Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said islands with lower Covid rates than the mainland could be granted “green list” status for holidaymakers to travel to them without facing quarantine on their return. Greece has mounted a major campaign to fully vaccinate people living on 85 islands with more than 10,000 inhabitants by May so that they are Covid-free when the UK Government is due to lift its ban on non-essential foreign travel.
EU regulator finds possible link with Johnson & Johnson vaccine and rare blood clots which are very similar to those that had occurred with the AstraZeneca shot. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended a warning should be added to the vaccine’s product information, but stressed that the benefits of the shot – which was put on hold last week in Europe and the US – outweighed its risks.
Wednesday 21 April 2021
I am volunteering on Brownsea Island today the first day island has been open since the beginning of the third lockdown in January. I will be outside all the time so it is difficult to know what to wear. It looks bright outside but it is still cold. I put on several layers under my red shirt and black fleece and then cycle to the Sandbanks jetty to get the National Trust ferry to Brownsea Island. I do not recognise many people on the boat as a lot has changed during lockdown. Several permanent members of staff have left or been made redundant and so there are a lot of new people. During the crossing on the Enterprise, the National Trust ferry for Brownsea Island, I notice a helicopter parked in the back garden of a large house that backs on to Poole Harbour. The owners must be on a flying visit.
When I get to the island I go for a walk as I have plenty of time before the briefing at 09:50 am. Everything has changed courtesy of COVID-19 and my pier warden role is now a visitor welcome role as people arrive and queue managing as they leave. Visitors have to pre-book a 4-hour slot on the island before they can get the ferry from Poole Quay. As we only opened today there are not many bookings so it gives me a chance to get used to the new system – and time to enjoy being back in this beautiful place.
Expert warns UK will suffer a new Covid wave this summer as lockdown restrictions are eased. Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) warns that the dates set out by Boris Johnson in the lockdown roadmap may have be adjusted if there is a “significant rises in cases.” He warned Britons not to “delude” themselves that the threat of the virus had gone and said the “majority of science opinion” thought a third wave of Covid was likely “at some stage this year.”
Ministers consider free tests for UK holidaymakers by giving them free NHS lateral flow devices before they travel abroad – to be used for testing before they return to the UK. Currently all overseas holidays are illegal. But the UK government hopes to allow non-essential travel to begin on 17 May. And when it is allowed every returning traveller will need to take a Covid test before departure back to the UK, and at least one PCR test on arrival. Post-arrival PCR tests will continue to be at the traveller’s expense – costing at least £60 each.
In the News Today
Hopes fade for reconciliation as Prince Harry flies home missing the 95th birthday of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II today. Birthday celebrations for the Queen, who is staying at Windsor Castle with around 20 staff, will be toned down to reflect a period of mourning which began on April 9 when Prince Philip died aged 99. The bells of Westminster Abbey — where the Queen was married and crowned — stayed silent on her birthday for the first time in more than a decade and there was no birthday gun salute because the monarch thought it would not be “appropriate” at the time.
Thursday 22 April 2021
Today is my weekly food shop day. Even though I can now go shopping whenever I prefer to get it done in one go. I am not a devotee of retail therapy. I make my way to the town centre via Poole Park. More trees are blossoming and the gardens are a riot of colour. The park is busy as the crazy golf course is open again and bowls and jacks are once again rolling across the perfect greens in front of the Bowls Pavilion. There is a steady flow of pedestrians along the High Street and through the Dolphin Shopping Centre. But Sainsbury’s is quiet and it does not take me long to work my way through my shopping list. I get the bus back to the flat. The number of passengers is gradually increasing day by day but there is still plenty of room on the top deck.
Cases soar in India as new ‘triple mutant’ COVID-19 variant emerges and the country battles to contain one of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus. The triple mutation means a combination of three different COVID-19 strains to form a new variant.
Covid vaccine passports for British holidaymakers travelling abroad now seem inevitable as the government tells the travel industry it is working towards a system that would give people the ability to prove their vaccine status to satisfy entry requirements of other countries. It is not yet clear how such a scheme will work. Meanwhile IATA (International Air Travel Association) is trialling a global Travel Pass with 20 airlines and the European Union is developing the Green Digital Certificate (GDC) agreed by member states to facilitate a return of international travel within the bloc.
Risk of suffering serious blood clot after AstraZeneca jab doubles in fortnight according to new figures but the British regulator said the benefits still outweighed the risks for the vast majority of people. New data from the Medical Healthcare products and Regulatory Agency (MHRA) show the risk of getting a blood clot has gone up from one in 250,000 to around one in 126,600 – or a rise of four in a million to 7.9 in a million. However, some experts warned that the extra cases may be a result of “observer bias” where more people were reporting cases since the issue was brought to light.
Third dose may be needed 18 months after second COVID-19 jab of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to guard against new variants of coronavirus according to health authorities in Singapore. They have said that although vaccination is not 100 per cent protective it clearly protects those exposed to the virus for up to 18 months but beyond that period the situation is uncertain.
Friday 23 April 2021
Today there is a small vaccination clinic at the pharmacy in Parkstone and I am the only volunteer on duty. I have the luxury of checking people in on an iPad so no arguments regarding bookings not on the list. After all, technology does not lie. We are now dealing with second doses so all our patients know the system and are happy to be having their last dose, for now. I actually have time for a lunch break today and sit in the sun in the back garden to enjoy it. As I am cycling back to the flat at the end of my shift I notice a footpath into the woods and decide to investigate. The path appears to be a gentle slope so I don’t anticipate any difficulty taking my bike along too. A signpost indicates that this path links two roads.
After a while I come to a flight of wide steps and decide to keep going and push my bike up them. But then discover two more flights of steep narrow steps ahead of me. I decide to carry on and drag my bike up both flights. When I finally get to the top I discover a view point with a crescent of seats there. A memorial plaque states that this woodland was dedicated to the love and enjoyment of the inhabitants of the borough through the generosity of the late Ada Frances Jennings as a tribute to her late husband Thomas Jennings. When I emerge from the woods onto Clifton Road I have no idea where I am. I cycle along that road and I am relieved to find it joins Canford Cliffs Road, a road I do know. I turn left thinking this will take me to Canford Cliffs but when I get to the top of downhill stretch and see the road below goes under a bridge over the railway I realise I am on my way back to Parkstone, my starting point. I turn back and head for home.
Wales’s first minister says Prime minister should reconsider allowing foreign travel due to India COVID-19 variant and mounting concern about the number of cases there. Mark Drakeford expressed the hope that the UK government would re-think plans to re-open international travel on 17 May.
In the News Today
Rats could fuel next coronavirus outbreak by picking it up from sewage and passing it back to humans, sparking new outbreaks. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs experts concluded that wastewater workers and pest controllers were at particular risk of picking up an infection but not the general public. However, as studies have shown that rats can contract coronavirus, it is concerned that the virus could mutate in the animals, creating a more virulent variant. Coronavirus is known to be present in sewage, which is now monitored in some British cities to track the local rate of the virus.
Saturday 24 April 2021
I am back at the pharmacy in Parkstone this morning as we have another vaccination clinic. As there are a lot more patients today I am one of four volunteers. My day starts badly as the first person to arrive does not have a confirmed appointment according to both the iPad and my printed list. I ask her if she minds stepping aside while I check in the people queueing behind her. Reluctantly, she makes way for them. I check in the next two but the one after that is also unable to prove a confirmed appointment. I ask that person to wait while I deal with a rapidly growing queue. Towards the back of the queue I encounter a third problem – a wife without an appointment and an aggressive husband. I am aware that the booking system is complex and people do miss the instruction to go to the next screen to confirm the appointments they have been offered (about 10 per clinic). Sometimes we can deal with the problem by offering spare vaccines at the end of a clinic but it is too early to do more than take phone numbers and promise to call if we have any spares. As I am explaining this to them we are rudely interrupted by the first lady shouting that she was here before them and she wants to see the person ‘in charge’. This provokes a reaction from the husband and she storms back to her car and drives away. The husband accepts what I say and they leave a telephone number in case we have a spare. Now I can tackle the remaining couple. For some reason the husband’s appointment is confirmed but the wife’s is not although he insists he has a confirmation email at home on his iPad. The next person in the queue offers to show him how to find the email on the iPhone he is holding in his hand. He declines on the grounds the email is only on the iPad. But he does calm down and agree to have his vaccination and leave his number in case we have a spare for his wife at the end of the clinic. Peace restored the rest of the day passes without incident and I even have time to take a break in the garden under the exquisite blossom of the gnarled old apple tree my bike is chained to.
India’s healthcare system reels as COVID-19 ravages the country and hospitals face closure due to lack of oxygen supplies. It was reported that four hospitals were forced to close in the capital, Delhi. India has now become the new epi-centre of the virus with record-breaking numbers of cases and deaths for several consecutive days.
Alternatives to AstraZeneca vaccine for under 40s ‘could be considered’ after new figures show an increase in the number of people who have developed blood clots. Vaccine chiefs are said to be examining whether under-40s should be given another jab after new data from the Medical Healthcare products and Regulatory Agency (MHRA) suggested the risk of forming a serious blood clot has jumped from one in 250,000 to around one in 126,600 in a fortnight. Earlier this month, new UK guidance was issued recommending that people aged 18 to 29 should be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, as the benefits of the AstraZeneca jab for younger people did not surpass the risks.
In the News Today
Oxford Street shoppers heckled over face masks as thousands protest coronavirus rules in London during a protest that was initially said to be part of the Kill the Bill movement but devolved into a protest against the rules around COVID-19. Some police officers were injured and several arrests were made.
Sunday 25 April 2021
This morning I am volunteering for Brownsea Island again but not on the island itself. I am on Poole Quay where visitors to the island board the ferry ready to answer any queries they may have. I cycle to the Poole Quay around the harbour. Walkers, joggers and cyclists make this something of an obstacle course and I sometimes have to veer on to the grass verging the tarmac. There are very few people around when I arrive but the sun is shining and the quay is soon busy with people strolling along by the harbour or enjoying a coffee outside one of several outlets. I am tempted by the smell of chips frying but by the time my shift finishes the queue is so long I decided not to bother and head back to the flat taking a different, quieter route.
India's richest people are fleeing on private jets as the country hits almost 350,000 COVID-19 infections and reported 2,767 deaths in another daily global record. The country’s ultra-rich are paying tens and thousands of dollars to escape the new epicentre of the virus. Some nations have announced the implementation of travel restrictions on visitors from India. One popular destination seems to be the United Arab Emirates but, according to the Sunday Times, at least eight private jets were flown to Britain from India in the last 24 hours as the UK implemented its own travel ban on the country.
Over 30s to be offered the vaccine ‘within days’ after 40m Pfizer jabs deal secures more doses for Britain. These doses will also be used for a third booster dose to be given to the elderly this autumn.
Israel examining heart inflammation cases in people who received Pfizer COVID shot but has not yet drawn any conclusions. Pfizer said it has not observed a higher rate of the condition than would normally be expected in the general population. Israel's pandemic response coordinator, Nachman Ash, said that a preliminary study showed "tens of incidents" of myocarditis occurring among more than 5 million vaccinated people, primarily after the second dose and mostly among people up to age 30.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 19 April, a total of 4,390,783 (total that day 2,963) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 127,274 including a daily total of 4. By the end of the week on 25 April, the total of positive cases had risen to 4,404,882 (total that day 1,712) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 127,428 including a daily total of 11. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 150,841, an increase this week of 422 (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