22nd May 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 60 and Blue Raspberry Vodka
A new treat for me this week – blue raspberry vodka – while enjoying a birthday barbecue with my work bubble.
Anticipation grows as England draws another week closer to the next stage of relaxing lockdown restrictions. But the number of new COVID-19 cases is rising again in some places, many due to the Indian variant that has arrived in the UK. It looks as though it will soon replace the Kent variant as the dominant mutation. There are fears the re-introduction of international travel will be delayed and the end of lockdown in England will be pushed back. I would love to start travelling again but there is so much confusion regarding restrictions both in the UK and the European countries I would like to visit I am content to continue exploring my local area.
Monday 10 May 2021
Rain drumming on the roof above my bedroom wakes me early this morning. It is not looking good for a day’s duty on the pier of Brownsea island. Showers are forecast today and by the time I am ready to cycle to the National Trust jetty the sun has come out and the sky is blue. I get to the National Trust shed in good time to park my bike in the vertical rack (with the help of a member of staff) and get the 8 am ferry. As we set off I a lovely rainbow arches across Poole Harbour from Studland to Brownsea Island.
When I get off the ferry it is starting to rain but I decide to risk it. I walk along the boardwalk and meet up with a Dorset Wildlife Trust volunteer – he is checking for marsh orchids beside the wooden path. We part at the entrance to the nature reserve but he calls me back as he has spotted some Sika deer in the reeds. They have moved on before I have the chance to take a photo but the image of them silhouetted against the glistening waters of the harbour is imprinted on my mind. I make my way to the woods behind the church as I have seen two red squirrels scampering amongst the trees. I have brought some nuts with me and I put them out. The same squirrel comes and takes them one at a time. Then some youngsters appear and start playing around me. Their fluffy tails are almost blonde in colour. One of them comes right up to me and puts his paws on my leg and looks up at me – not once but twice. Another unforgettable moment.
As the boats only run an hourly service now there is not a lot to do and there are less than 50 people booked to come to the island today. The continuing bad weather is having a detrimental effect on visitor numbers. But there is a lot happening out to sea to keep us interested. The dredger chugs by – so low in the water it looks as though it could sink any minute. It ties up at the castle’s jetty next to the pier. This strange looking vessel has long legs it can lower to act as a platform out to sea. The Border Patrol boat also passes by. By 4 pm, an hour before my official finishing time there are only two people left on the island and I am able to leave early. The wind has been blowing all day but by this time it is really strong and waves splash over the Enterprise as it battles the gale back to the mainland. I am delighted to discover the wind is with me all the way back to the flat so it is an easy bike ride.
11 lockdown-easing 17 May rules confirmed today and will go ahead as planned. PM Boris Johnson thanked the public saying their efforts following lockdown rules have so visibly paid off.
Spread of Indian COVID variant in UK 'not looking good at all', warns expert This variant, known as B1.617.2, was first detected in India causing a deadly surge, has spread to the UK and has seen a sharp increase in the last two weeks - particularly in London and the North West.
Tuesday 11 May 2021
This morning I am determined to finish a half-written article before I do anything else. I am writing about Blandford Forum, a pretty town in Dorset that suffered a disastrous fire in the first half of the eighteenth century. It was quickly rebuilt and features a market place surrounded by lovely Georgian buildings. I open the balcony door to enjoy the fresh morning air. The sun is already shining but will it last?
By the time I have finished my article black clouds have rolled in and shards of rain are bouncing off the pavements. I have signed up to receive local authority daily newsletter to keep in touch with the goings on in the surrounding area. This is something I have never had the time, or the inclination, to do in the past. I start browsing the latest edition and discover that all remaining Debenhams stores, including the one Bournemouth, will close at the end of this week. The store in Bournemouth occupies a splendid building in the centre of the town. The good news is an old favourite, Bobby’s, will be returning to the town and will refurbish the old building. The original Bobby & Co opened in Bournemouth Square in its purpose-built store in May 1915. It later became part of the Debenhams business and took the Debenhams name in 1972. Bobby’s is coming back to create a new shopping experience incorporating cafés and spas.
Ministers promise NHS vaccine passport ‘ready by Monday’, less than a week before it is planned to resume international leisure travel from England on Monday 17 May. More functionality is being added to the existing NHS app. Initially it will be available only to people in England.
Patient Access launches Covid-19 passport feature allowing users of the app to prove their Covid-19 vaccination status on their smartphone. It includes information on the date of vaccination, whether it was the first or second dose, and which vaccine was given.
In the News Today
Health officials in India warn over ‘health risks’ of using cow dung as Covid treatment
amid reports people had taken to smearing the manure on their faces and body and even consuming potions made from the matter, especially in rural parts of the country. This follows widespread claims of possible treatments from cow products.
Wednesday 12 May 2021
A very pink dawn wakes me early this morning and encourages me to get up and go for an early bike ride and a leisurely stroll along Sandbanks Beach. It is a glorious morning and I meet up with several regular walkers as wander by the water’s edge.
After breakfast I get the bus into Poole to do my weekly shop. I buy a selection of cereal bars to keep me going while I am on duty at the vaccine hub. Although a thirty-minute lunch break is built into the booking system it never happens as we have a steady stream of early arrivals throughout the day. The wide range of cereal bars makes it difficult to choose so I narrow it down to those featuring salted caramel and a variety pack – lemon drizzle, Bakewell tart, carrot cake and blueberry. The Naked brand claims to be one of my five a day as the product is plant based – a good excuse to munch several during my eight-hour shift.
This afternoon I join a Wendy Wu Zoom presentation featuring some new trips they have on offer based on the proposed traffic light system due to become effective next week when international travel will be allowed again. I am carried away by their enthusiasm for a trip to Israel which they are certain will run as Israel will be on the Green List. I book to go to Israel in October. The next day hostilities between Israel and Palestine escalate …
NHS app to display Covid vaccination status without GP involvement - from next Monday (17 May), people will be able to use the NHS app to access their vaccine records, or request physical copies to verify whether they have received their doses.
Experts say Indian Covid variant calls in question 17 May reopening in UK due to dramatic rise in UK cases of a variant first discovered in India. Public Health England designated it a “variant of concern” acknowledging it appears to be at least as transmissible as the dominant so-called Kent variant in the UK. It is unclear if and to what extent B.1.617.2 can reduce vaccine effectiveness.
UK could 'turn into another India' if Boris Johnson dithers over variant a leading coronavirus adviser has warned that the government needs to “act hard and act fast” if the Indian variant turns out to evade vaccines.
In the News Today
Tour operators to run holidays to amber list countries against Government advice as the Department for Transport warns travellers not to visit destinations on the amber list for leisure purposes. But travel companies including Tui, easyJet holidays and British Airways Holidays, plan to run trips to amber countries including Malta, Antigua and the Spanish Canary Islands, using the guidance of the Foreign Office (FCDO), which is separate from the DfT’s, as permission to do so. Travellers returning to the UK from amber countries must quarantine for up to 10 days at home.
Thursday 13 May 2021
My excitement regarding my trip to Israel in October is further dampened by more bad news from the area this morning. No doubt the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be advising against travel to the area soon even though it is on the government’s Green List. But I am looking forward to a new volunteering experience today as I have booked a shift at a vaccine hub in Westbourne. After an early lunch I head for the vaccine centre and what turns out to be a very pleasant afternoon as the centre is so well organised. I start by checking people in outside the centre and this remains my task all afternoon – my own choice. The centre is in a quiet, residential street and when a short queue does form occasionally it does not present a problem to local residents. My list of appointments is easy to check and those who arrive without an appointment I have to refer to one of the two managers of the hub. No less than seven patients turn up a week early. They have to go away again as the vaccine today is AstraZeneca and as their first jab was the Pfizer vaccine (next week’s clinic) they cannot be offered any spares we might have.
Covid test comparison website to end confusion for holidaymakers as the government prepares to launch A GoCompare-style website for travel testing to end the chaos for holidaymakers. It will provide clear information on the cheapest, quickest and most efficient Covid test companies.
New Zealand PM sets out plans explore more travel 'bubbles' and lead trade delegations later this year to re-connect with a post-pandemic world after more than a year of border closures. With majority of its essential workers now being vaccinated and inoculation for the wider population starting in July, the government is preparing a plan for how it would reopen.
British airways trials ‘world first’ 25 second covid-19 test the Pelican Covid-19 Ultra Rapid Covid-19 test. BA is the first airline in the world to conduct a trial of an ultra-rapid Covid-19 antigen test that display results within 25 seconds.
EU could ban thousands of British tourists from going to Portugal next week - Portugal has still not lifted its ban on non-essential travel from non-EU nations and thousands of Britons are due to visit the green-listed country from next week and could thus be turned away. A senior Portugal official said it was an "awkward position" because Lisbon holds the EU presidency, and the EU is not expected to change its advice before May 17.
In the News Today
Last-minute cancellation chaos feared as Britons double-book their holidays British holidaymakers have taken to double-booking in order to secure both a UK and an overseas trip, according to new data, prompting fears of mass cancellations when travel recommences.
UK watchdog warns holiday companies over refunds as travel restarts Britain's competition watchdog told package holiday companies on Thursday they must be ready to refund consumers if foreign trips this summer are cancelled by the pandemic.
Friday 14 May 2021
This afternoon I spend an hour walking around the gardens at Compton Acres. It has been a busy week so the peace and seclusion here is very welcome. The Japanese garden is glorious – huge splashes of brilliant colour and delicate blossoms surround the small lake where the water lilies are starting to bloom. Strolling through the Rock and Water Garden I stop to chat to Joseph, one of the gardeners. He helps me with the identification of some of the plants I have taken photographs of. We chat for quite a while on a wide range of subjects including my possibly ill-fated proposed trip to Israel. Joseph has some interesting theories about biblical prophesies about to come true. I quickly turn the conversation back to flowers and shrubs before moving on.
PM warns Indian variant could jeopardise 21 June unlocking as concerns continue to mount over the spread of the B.1.617.2 variant, which was first identified in India. In a bid to dampen any impact from the Indian variant Johnson announced an acceleration in second doses of the vaccine being offered to people over 50 and the clinically vulnerable.
Portugal to welcome Britons from Monday Portugal has confirmed British tourists will be allowed to enter Portugal from 17 May – a huge relief to thousands of prospective holidaymakers.
Germany plans to classify Britain COVID risk area due to the emergence there of a highly infectious variant first detected in India according to government sources.
Mixing Covid vaccine doses more likely to trigger short-term symptoms according to a study examining whether doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines can be safely mixed. Due to supply shortages that could limit the availability of certain vaccines, alongside changing recommendations for use of the AstraZeneca jabs, there is growing belief among health officials that heterologous prime-boosts will be needed to fully inoculate people in the months ahead.
Saturday 15 May 2021
It starts drizzling when I leave the flat to cycle to Parkstone where I am doing a shift as a COVID-19 vaccination marshal today. I decide to keep going and even though the rain does get heavier it is not too bad. I manage all three hills again and it takes me about twenty minutes. When I get to the pharmacy I sit in the garden under the gazebo and drink my coffee and eat a Naked lemon drizzle bar. The first appointment is 8.30 but people start arriving at 8.15 am. They keep coming steadily all day, a day of frequent heavy showers during which I manage to stop my paper lists disintegrating. When the shift ends we have an impromptu celebration of Magpie’s twenty-first birthday – he earned his nickname as many ‘lost’ items turn up in his pockets. It is a truly COVID celebration a gathering of our work bubble – different ages, different nationalities. We have a barbecue with the best hot dogs and beef burgers I have ever tasted. As the barbecue is cooking in the small back garden Magpie produces a bottle of blue raspberry vodka. I decide to try it with the only mixer available - Sprite. Jay pours a generous measure of the vodka into a tumbler and tops it up with Sprite. It is delicious.
We end the meal with large chunks of chocolate birthday. It is a great evening and the first time in the few months we have worked together that we have had time to chat. As we prepare to go our separate ways concern is expressed regarding my ability to cycle home safely after consuming the vodka but I feel great. It is a lovely evening albeit very cold and I am looking forward to sailing gently down the hills back to Sandbanks. As I am putting my bike away I see there is a stunning sunset over Poole Harbour so I walk along the road and take some photos.
Rise in patients at Bolton Hospital as Indian variant spreads and hospital bosses reveal a majority of the sick patients had not been vaccinated but would have been eligible for the jabs. Everyone in the area who is offered the vaccine is urged to have it.
Army to be deployed in North West to assist with surge testing the Prime Minister has said. There will also be “targeted new activity” in Bolton and Blackburn to accelerate the vaccine rollout and surge testing is under way in the region where cases involving the Indian variant of coronavirus are on the increase.
In the News Today
Debenhams closes final stores The final remaining Debenhams close for good today, more than 240 years after the department store began trading. The Debenhams brand was bought by fashion retailer Boohoo in January and will continue to trade online. Debenhams was launched in 1778, when William Clark opened a shop in London’s West End, selling fabrics, bonnets and parasols.
Sunday 16 May 2021
Torrential rain streams down the window panes when I wake this morning. But, by the time I was ready to leave it has stopped and the sun is struggle through the clouds. As showers were forecast today I decide to risk going on the bike. It is clouding over again when I set off and the gears on my bike feel a bit strange but I keep going. Then disaster strikes half-way up the first hill, Haven Road. When I change down the pedals just spin around, there is no traction at all, and my bike stops moving. I have to turn around and free wheel down the hill. Back on the flat I pedal and change up and down the gears until finally they engage and I continue my journey. The gears are not working properly but I reach my destination and avoid the worst of the next shower. There has been a lot of rain during the night and large pools of water have collected on the roof of the gazebo in the garden. I can’t sit on the ground to wait for my colleagues as I usually do as it soaking wet. I am in good time to deal with the early arrivals but there is no sign of Magpie who manages the volunteers. Everything is running smoothly by the time he does arrive having overslept. After entering the pharmacy, he locks the sliding door at the front of the shop trapping patients inside and volunteers outside. Once that problem is resolved the day passes without any problems – and we cope with the occasional heavy shower. One very kind patient leaves behind several boxes of sweets as a thank you – a kind gesture that is much appreciated.
20,000 arrivals allowed to enter Britain from India despite warnings about new variant
causing tensions in Whitehall about whether the prime minister hesitated to put India on the red list because of plans to visit Delhi on April 25 to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal.
Increasing confidence jabs work against Indian variant according to the health secretary. Scientists believe this variant is more transmissible and cases of it nearly tripled to 1,313 in the past week in England. But Matt Hancock said early lab data showed vaccines remained effective.
In the News Today
US customs destroy cow dung cakes found in baggage of Air Indian passenger left behind at an airport. It follows reports that some Hindu men have been going to cow shelters once a week to cover their bodies in cow dung and urine, hoping it would improve immunity and aid recovery from Covid-19.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 10 May, a total of 4,437,506 (total that day 2, 357) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 127,609 including a daily total of 4. By the end of the week on 16 May, the total of positive cases had risen to 4,449,180 (total that day 1,926) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 127,679 including a daily total of 4. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 151,765, an increase this week of 232 (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