15th May 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: April Showers in May during Week 59
This week I regularly battle through wind and rain on my bike due to unseasonable weather for May.
It is early May and already we have experienced more rainfall than throughout the whole month of April. Bad weather means hopes of getting away on holidays abroad this month are even higher and airlines and tour operators experience a surge in bookings to the few places expected to be on the green list. Only twelve destinations expected to be on the green list were announced during the week. Some of them won’t accept visitors from the UK, some are inaccessible leaving only three practical possibilities – Portugal, Gibraltar, the Faroe Islands and Israel. Some popular holiday destinations, in particular the Greek and Spanish islands, are not included. But everything could change before the list becomes effective on 17 May.
Monday 03 May 2021
I am on duty at the pharmacy vaccine hub in Parkstone today, Bank Holiday Monday. The forecast is not good for today but as the weather looks good at 6 am I decide I will risk going on the bike and hope the strong winds that are threatened will not start until after I get back this afternoon. There is a stiff breeze when I set off but it is still fine. It takes me twenty minutes as I manage to cycle up all three hills and keep up a good pace. I have one tricky moment when changing gears and everything jams, the bike judders to a halt and keels over. I have my coffee and a salted caramel cookie in the garden at the back of the pharmacy while waiting everyone else to arrive. The first appointment is 9.30 am – in theory a leisurely start but in practice people started arriving well before then. I am on the front but it is too cold to stand outside all the time so I retreat to the warm inside and watch for people arriving. As we only have 2/3 patients every 5 minutes instead of the usual 10 every 5 minutes I have time to take in my surroundings. I notice that a few shops on Ashley Road in Parkstone still have old names and adverts painted on the exterior brick walls. Much nicer than the flashing neon signs of today.
I had sent an email to Halfords expressing my disappointment at my bike’s misbehaviour this morning in view of the recent replacement of the gear cable. I am surprised to receive a call from them but very happy for them to collect the bike later and check it over. It is a small clinic today and we finish the list early. By the time I leave, the wind is so strong it almost keeps me at a standstill when freewheeling downhill. Soon after I get back to the flat Halfords arrive and collect my bike – it will be returned later. I give them full details of exactly what I was doing at the time of the jamming incident. I settle down to do some work but Google is not working today, probably due to the bad weather. By this time, it is raining heavily and the wind is so strong when I open the patio door to take a photo it blows the door of the track and it is a struggle to re-align it and shut it. When my bike is returned I am told it is now okay and just a few minor adjustments were needed. It is really cold in the flat but I manage without putting the heating on, although I do take a hot water bottle to bed. It is not looking good for Brownsea tomorrow but I have not received any notification that it will be closed.
UK travel firms say holidays abroad will be back this summer and have dismissed a report warning against international travel this summer, saying customers are booking holidays from July onwards. The UK ban on non-essential international travel is expected to be lifted on 17 May, with countries ranked under a traffic light system, despite the publication of a warning from a cross-party group of MPs against travelling abroad this summer. However, UK holiday firms that run group travel trips – where arrangements with suppliers involve longer-term planning – say the lack of clarity from the UK government over recent months means they may not be able to operate until late summer.
Tuesday 04 May 2021
The wind has been rattling doors and windows all night so I decide I will not battle through it on my bike to jetty to get the ferry to Brownsea Island. Instead I set off early and walk briskly along the beach to the Haven Hotel which is next to the ferry. Gusts of wind whip up the sand which prickles my face. I am expecting a rough crossing to the island but it is surprisingly calm out to sea.
I get an early ferry to Brownsea Island so I have plenty of time for a good walk and set off towards the Lily Pond. I see five red squirrels en route and hear a wood pecker in the trees drilling a tree trunk but I can’t see him. The water in the Lily Pond is very low and beautifully mirrors the trees that surround it.
Beyond the pond I see a path through the woods and decide to follow it, hoping my faulty sense of direction does not kick in and I am walking away from the pier rather than back towards it. I am on duty on the pier today. I emerge by the old daffodil fields. There was a time when daffodils were grown and exported from Brownsea Island but difficulties of transportation and competition from … saw the end of this enterprise. The daffodils come up every year only to be quickly beheaded by the resident Sika deer. I keep following the track and finally come to a junction I recognise and I am back in time to attend the morning briefing and start my shift on the pier. Although the sun is shining there is a keen wind and it is really cold. This keeps the number of visitors down so I am not very busy. The highlight of the day was a visit from a curious seal. His head kept popping up as he swam in a semi-circle around the pier.
Foreign Office revises Covid advice for non-essential travel boosting hopes that holidays to popular tourist destinations could soon restart to some areas including mainland Portugal and Spain’s Canary Islands. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the updates meant the level of Covid risk in some places was no longer “unacceptably high”. This has prompted speculation about which countries will be put on the “green list” which is expected to be signed off on Thursday and announced on Friday.
Covid passports promised by the government to help travellers prove their vaccine status but Downing Street has hinted the repurposed NHS app may not be ready to carry them by 17 May.
France threatens to cut off Jersey's electricity as the row over post-Brexit fishing rights between Paris and London deepened. The underwater cables supply Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, with about 95 percent of its electricity. The remaining five per cent of its electricity is provided by on-island diesel generators. The self-governing British Crown Dependency would face all-island power cuts if the French threat was carried out. Britain and France have clashed over fishing rights several times in recent weeks. On April 23, French fishermen blockaded lorries carrying British catch and accused the UK Government of dragging its feet over the issuing of licences to small French vessels in the 6-12 nautical mile zone. The Jersey government could call on the UK to enforce its rules if it wished, but no request has yet been made.
Wednesday 05 May 2021
Today is the first for eleven days that I have not signed up for a shift volunteering somewhere. I have a leisurely breakfast and then start writing the next instalment of my coronavirus diary. I get the weather wrong today as I intend to work all morning and go for a walk this afternoon. But I was defeated by the weather as, from midday, a grey pall of cloud hung over the harbour and every half-hour spilled its contents and huge shards of water rained down. However, there was a lot of activity below my balcony to keep me entertained. A man floated into the harbour on his canoe and when he returned later it was a long way from the water’s edge and he had to drag it across the mud floats to get away again. Last week a posh catamaran made the same mistake and had to wait for the tide to come in. Some anti-erosion work on the Canford Cliffs has come to an end and a convoy of lorries arrived to collect barriers and fencing. That brought the traffic to a standstill and nearly dismantled my neighbour’s fence.
New concerns as Indian Covid variant clusters found across England including in care homes, amid growing fears about the speed with which they are spreading in communities.
Has the Foreign Office revealed the ‘green list’? The Foreign Office has quietly amended travel advice to take into account COVID-19 rates across Europe and the world. The FCDO even reveals the Greek and Spanish islands that are regarded as low risk: Corfu, Crete, Kos, Rhodes and Zakynthos in Greece, as well as all the Canary Islands. Four months ago, holidays abroad were made illegal. The UK government plans to lift the travel ban, from England at least, from 17 May.
In the News Today
British Airways airlifts 27 tonnes of urgent medical aid for India - supported by its sister company IAG Cargo, 1,349 items of aid will depart on an aircraft to Delhi specially chartered by British Airways and supported by volunteers from the airline to ensure life-saving supplies reach the country urgently. British Airways Chairman and CEO Sean Doyle says the airline has offered the free support as it “stands with its friends in India as the country endures one of the worst crises it has ever known”
Thursday 06 May 2021
This morning I head for Poole Quay, on my bike. I am doing a shift for the National Trust answering questions from visitors to Brownsea Island as they wait for the ferry to take them there. I am on my own today so I arrive in good time – enough time to stroll along the quay and get a cappuccino from one of several outlets offering takeaways and outside eating. The aroma of a full cooked English breakfast is enticing and the food looks delicious but I don’t have time to be tempted. It is good to see Poole Quay coming alive again. When I finish my shift I cycle into the town centre, do my weekly shop and then head back to Sandbanks - gingerly. My bike had another funny turn when I set off this morning. I had contacted Halfords again – but no-one gets back to me today as promised.
Travellers ‘could face 10-hour airport queues’ due to COVID checks when flying back to the UK. And added there is no way around the delays at the border because Border Force officers have to check the COVID status of all arrivals and that takes around 15 minutes per person. “So, people from all over the world will be mixing inside for a long time.” The government said it is planning to automate the pre-departure COVID test forms required to travel so travellers can use e-gates – but this method has yet to be put in place.
UK regulator says some evidence AstraZeneca clots occur more in women than men but added that the difference in incidence was small. British officials have previously only said that the incidence of the clots was linked to age. Although this is not seen across all age groups and the difference remains small.
New study assesses rare blood clot link to Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine but the study, conducted, in Denmark and Norway, concluded the risk of blood clots is “small”. But both countries have stopped using the vaccine as part of their immunisation programmes. The UK medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, previously concluded that there is a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca jab and extremely rare blood clots but said that the benefits of vaccination continue to outweigh any risks. It has recommended that adults under 30 should be offered an alternative to the vaccine – such as the Pfizer or Moderna jabs.
UK blasts ‘unacceptable’ threats by France to cut Jersey’s electricity supply in fishing dispute as Jersey says French fisherman do not understand new Brexit fishing rules The British government has accused France of "disproportionate" and “unacceptable” threats against Jersey, as the Channel Island's government said French fisherman did not understand new Brexit rules. French ministers on Tuesday floated the possibility of cutting off the island's electricity supply if their fishing fleets were not given relief from new bureaucracy.
Two boats collide as tensions over fishing increase Two boats have collided in the English Channel as the UK and France face off over post-Brexit fishing rights. Normandy Trader Freight's Chris Le Masurier described tensions as a "real shame", adding French fishermen were only trying to "protect their historic rights".
Jersey officials hold talks with French fishermen over rights dispute as two Royal Navy ships and two French warships patrolling the sea near Jersey keep an eye as French fishermen’s boats stage a protest at the island's St Helier port. The fishermen are claiming their rights are unfairly restricted by licences issued by the island under a new system. The protest did not last long and the Royal Navy ships were recalled.
Friday 07 May 2021
I get up just before my alarm goes off at 6 am and go out for a ride on my bike followed by a walk on the beach. It is still very windy but it is not strong enough to tip over and emptying two of the many large bins that now line the seafront. Youngsters during a beach party last night no doubt. At the water’s edge a group of people are doing some pre-swim cavorting. Rather them than me as it is still very cold despite the sun.
I meet Wolfie the Pomski puppy who is definitely more husky than Pomeranian and is giving his owner a hard time this morning. Wolfie definitely has a mind of his own and has lain down and is refusing to move.
I don’t stay out long as I am expecting a call from Halfords regarding the erratic behaviour of my bike, Twilight. Soon after I get back to the flat I have a call from Halfords in Poole and a promise to collect the bike this afternoon and return it this evening. But, instead of taking the bike away I am given a lecture on bicycle etiquette, told that Halfords don’t usually make house visits (tip expected?) and left me in no doubt that I am stupid when it comes to using a bike. Halfords staff have had plenty of opportunities to educate me in the nuances of bicycle etiquette but failed to do so. I have no time or inclination to defend myself as I want to get to Compton Acres before it closes so I catch the bus rather than walking. But I am too late as I arrive 10 minutes after the last entry to the gardens which is 3 pm. However, an assistant in the shop lets me in through the exit on the understanding I will not stay later than 4 pm. I spend most of my time sitting in the Italian Garden – it is so peaceful. The flowers are stunning and the colour scheme very different from the last time I was here. Then it was very yellow – now it is purple and blue with splashes of white.
Delhi hospital warns of alarming rise in Covid-induced black fungus a deadly infection that may cause loss of sight and can lead to corrective measures such as the amputation of the affected area. According to Delhi doctors, patients who contract black fungus only have a 50 percent survival rate.
Government announces Green List where people can holiday without quarantine after 17 May. Portugal is among the limited number of places. There will be 12 “green” countries and territories people in England can visit from 17 May without needing to quarantine on their return. This is the full list: Portugal, Gibraltar, Israel, Brunei, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore. It does not necessarily mean people in England will automatically be able to go on holiday to these places as it depends on the travel rules imposed by each country for example, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore are currently closed to UK tourists.
Are you already too late for your green list holiday? Travel industry data suggests many UK travellers are already planning their summer holidays based on likely “green list” destinations and are booking ahead with the result air fares have already increased.
‘Vaccine Passports’ for International Travel will be available through the NHS app whereby people who have had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be able to demonstrate this. Those without access to the app can, from May 17, request a letter from the NHS that proves their vaccination status by calling 119. But there is no guarantee this proof will be acceptable to other countries.
In the News Today
Liverpool chooses UK’s first directly elected black female mayor and the first woman to lead the city. The election of Joanne Anderson was one of the few good news stories for Labour on Friday following disappointing results in local elections and the loss of Hartlepool to the Conservatives in a by-election.
Saturday 08 May 2021
I hear heavy rain during the night and it is still raining and very windy when I get up so I abandon any thoughts of cycling to the vaccine hub and take the car. It is one of those days when everyone turns up very early. By 7.45 the 8.30 appointment is pacing outside the pharmacy occasionally pausing to peer through the window. I huddle in the corner sorting out my lists and sipping a strong coffee while the pharmacist prepares the vaccines. There is no point in starting before the vaccines have been prepared. By the time we do start the queue is so long it takes over an hour to reduce it to a manageable size. The recurring excuse – “I saw there was a queue and thought I should join it” – thereby ensuring a permanent line. The strong wind keeps trying to whip my lists away and my hands are so cold it is difficult to manage them. I am very grateful to the lady from Pandora’s Box, two shops down, who brings me cups of tea. It helps me survive a very difficult day.
'Britain will be free of the coronavirus by August', says outgoing vaccine taskforce chief
The coronavirus will no longer be circulating in Britain by midsummer, according to the government's departing vaccine taskforce chief, Clive Dix. Mr Dix, who was appointed as interim leader of the taskforce in December and stepped down last week.
India records almost 4,200 Covid deaths in a day as deaths surged past 4,000 for the first time in one of the world’s worst outbreaks creating a national record. New Delhi has struggled to contain the outbreak, which has overwhelmed its healthcare system and sparked public anger over mismanagement. The surge has spilled into next-door Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Its eastern neighbour Pakistan began a nine-day shutdown targeting travel and tourist hotspots to try to stop its outbreak from snowballing during the upcoming Eid celebrations at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Sunday 09 May 2021
As the weather is calmer today I cycle to the vaccine hub. I conquer the three hills without too much of a problem. It only takes me twenty minutes so I am very early and sit in the garden enjoying my flask of coffee and an oat and raisin cookie. Most people arrive within five minutes’ of their appointments today which meant I had plenty of time to deal with the lady who announced she had an appointment sometime between 10 am and 2 pm. Julie Day (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) insisted I should check my list (around 300 names) before storming off to see if she could find the confirmation and exact time of her appointment. I had checked names up to 1.30 pm when Julie returned and sheepishly announced her appointment was actually 4.15 pm and in her married name of Julie Night. Towards the end of the afternoon a light drizzle set in and continued until it was time for me to leave. As I pedalled madly to try and avoid the deluge on the horizon the rain got heavier and I got soaked. Once I had changed my clothes and dried off the rain had stopped and it turned into a lovely evening.
Britons catching Covid after vaccination get milder form of the disease according to data from the King’s College symptoms tracker app. The team at King’s said as the number of people being vaccinated increased, those reporting an infection after the jab was rising, but the symptoms had changed. They will be less severe and won’t be classic and it is important people get a test if asked to do so in order to track the existence of variants.
EU will not renew AstraZeneca contract when it expires as it pivots towards Pfizer's vaccine but said this did not necessarily mean the end of the EU’s dealings with the British-Swedish firm. The EU originally wanted to use the AstraZeneca jab as the main driver of its vaccination campaign and could have triggered a clause for an additional 100 million doses. But the move away from the vaccine is not unexpected given the fraught relations between the EU and the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company in recent months.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 03 May, a total of 4,421,850 (total that day 1,649) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 127,539 including a daily total of 1. By the end of the week on 09 May, the total of positive cases had risen to 4,434,860 (total that day 1, 770) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 127,605 including a daily total of 2. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 151,533, an increase this week of 290 (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