17th July 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 68 Amber to Green?
I attend my cousin’s funeral this week - a dignified celebration of a life cut short by cancer despite COVID-19 restrictions.
England is in the grip of football mania throughout week 60 of the coronavirus pandemic. As the team progresses through the knockout stages of Euro 2020 the celebrations get progressively wilder and social distancing is completely ignored. Those without tickets for the final at Wembley are asked not to travel to London - but they do, in their thousands. Leicester Square is laid to waste and Kings Cross is closed temporarily when fans let of flares inside the station. Meanwhile, Dorset is enjoying a respite from the summer crowds during a long spell of bad weather. And confusion reigns as government ministers plan to turn amber countries to green for the double-vaccinated.
Monday 05 July 2021
The weather looks promising when I wake up this morning so I decide to cycle to Parkstone where I am on duty as a volunteer COVID-19 vaccination marshal this morning. The gears on my bike are still playing up so it is hard work up the hills but I manage all three without having to get off and walk. But is it time to retire Twilight? I arrive at the pharmacy very early and set out chairs in the garden at the back. It is a Pfizer clinic today and patients have to sit for fifteen minutes after being vaccinated. After that I start checking in the early arrivals. As it is a small clinic I am using the iPad to check everyone in. Then I hand out clipboards to the waiting patients. And they all wait patiently as it is still ten minutes before nine when the clinic is due to start. When the clinic does start it is manic – so many people arrive early it is a struggle to keep the queue down – but we manage with just three volunteers. Although my shift officially ends at 1 pm I stay until 2.30 pm when I have to leave to get to Halfords in time for my appointment – to choose a new bike.
Boris Johnson does not rule out return of COVID restrictions in the future on Monday as he announced plans for Freedom Day on 19 July. The final decision on whether or not that happens on the planned date will be taken a week earlier, on 12 July. Johnson has repeatedly said he hopes the roadmap will be “irreversible” as the vaccine programme continues to keep deaths and serious illness numbers down.
New school rules to replace England's bubbles as this system, designed to stop coronavirus spreading through schools, has meant missed lessons for hundreds of thousands of pupils and frustration for parents juggling work and childcare. According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson the way forward will be with testing.
Wales will not rule out further lockdowns and will 'follow the data' before easing restrictions as the country is in a "very difficult situation" with rising COVID-19 cases. The Welsh health minister, Eluned Morgan, says Wales will not be rushed into making a decision about scrapping its coronavirus restrictions despite England's plan to do so on 19 July.
Germany lifts ban on people travelling from the UK so, with confirmed plans to end restrictions in England, there are signs Britons could soon enjoy a little more freedom abroad. The ban was imposed because of the Delta variant's spread. Fully vaccinated visitors will not be required to quarantine. Others will still be required to quarantine for 10 days.
Tuesday 06 July 2021
I wake to another grim morning – grey skies and rain spattered windows. I am off to Bristol today for a celebration of my cousin’s life – she died from cancer two weeks ago. By 6.30 am the rain has stopped but a brisk wind has enticed kite boarders and wind surfers on to the choppy waters of Poole Harbour.
I check my email while having some breakfast and find one from sister saying she has decided to get the train to Bristol and can I pick her up from the station. This is not a problem but it does mean I have to leave an hour earlier. As I am driving across country and encounter several bottlenecks going through small villages it takes longer than my sat nav has predicted. However, the sun is shining and it is a very pleasant journey through the Dorset countryside, across Somerset and into the county of Bristol.
My sat nav takes me into the back entrance of Bristol Parkway station. There are large notices prohibiting entrance and warning of cameras in place. I turn back and stop and ask how to get to the station. It seems it is a long way around to the front entrance and my sat nave stubbornly refuses to accept any new directions and keeps sending me back the way I came. I give up and, braving the warning signs, I take the back entrance. Fearing I am heading into a cul de sac I pop out right in front of the station just as my sister walks out. As my sat nav refuses to accept the post code of the crematorium we use Waze on my sister’s iPhone. Then she has to take a phone call. Meanwhile, my sat nav suddenly decides it will give directions – but is out of synch with Waze. Somehow we end up in the right place at the right time. As we are still in lockdown the service is subject to restrictions. A maximum of 25 wearing face masks, just two per pew and no singing. It is a beautiful service with lovely reminiscences of my cousin’s life and recorded music. No restrictions were going to stop my cousin’s ex-husband (in the early stages of dementia) from singing along and the crematorium resonated to his lusty rendering of Lord of the Dance and All Around my Hat. RIP.
Fourth lockdown would last much longer if Freedom Day unlocking backfires government advisers warned Boris Johnson in April. A paper by top scientific advisers stated there was a need to “maintain low prevalence” of the virus in the long-term.
Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is less effective at preventing Delta infections than other variants, but still protects against severe illness according to a preliminary Israeli study.
Wednesday 07 July 2021
I wake just before my alarm goes off. There is a lot of squawking outside so I get up to have a look – the Battle of the Roof has resumed – crows versus gulls. This morning I am meeting some friends for coffee at Compton Acres. It is overcast but dry so I cycle there. I am early and, as it is now threatening rain I find a table inside the café. Then it starts brightening up so I move outside. More tables have been set up outside so they are closer together yet restrictions have not yet come to an end. Two mothers and two children take the table next to me – the children are running wild. I am very glad when two of my friends arrive along with a few spots of rain giving us an excuse to scurry inside. We spend a very pleasant two hours putting the world to rights.
Data shows 7 of worst 10 COVID hotspots in Europe are in UK as Boris Johnson confirms the planned lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England on 19 July, he said we should be prepared to live with COVID despite a rise in infections. Social distancing guidelines such as the face mask mandate and the one-metre-plus rule are set to come to an end in less than two weeks. Johnson is gambling on trusting the public’s judgement and the “wall of immunity” offered by vaccines.
People could be charged for lateral flow tests from next month under plans being considered by the government. These tests are only guaranteed to be free until the end of July, the Department of Health and Social Care has revealed but it may be extended.
UK risks making ‘vaccine resistant variant’, amid warnings of long Covid crisis from a medical Nobel laureate, Sir Paul Nurse, the chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, which has been heavily involved in Covid-19 research since the start of the pandemic. He queried the wisdom of opening up “so much so fast” when infections were increasing rapidly.
Thursday 08 July 2021
I have signed up for a shift as a volunteer COVID 19 marshal today at a walk clinic being held at Bournemouth University. As term has now empty this large, out of town campus is an ideal site. As I don’t know the locality I set off very early intending to find the venue and hoping there will be somewhere nearby where I can get a good cappuccino. My hopes are dashed when I discover the campus is a long way from anywhere I might indulge in coffee and cake. However, one of the stewards on the morning shift directs me to the refreshment area for those working at the vaccination centre. I get a coffee and then sit and work in the rest room until it is time for my shift to start.
My shift starts with a briefing followed by allocation of roles. Most of the marshals are outside as there are several access points, both vehicular and pedestrian, to the campus. As no hands go up when a volunteer is requested for the refreshment area I take on the task. Although I am based in a large cupboard featuring a sink with a tap dispensing boiling water and a few cupboards it is quite straightforward - tea, coffee (regular and decaffeinated), still and sparkling mineral water and orange juice. And a few biscuits I find some biscuits in a plastic carrier bag. It is not very busy as it is a walk-in centre set up at short notice. There is a trickle of patients throughout the afternoon. Most of them are young people trying to get a second jab to facilitate holidays abroad. Current NHS guidelines have reduced the period between jabs from 12 weeks to 8 weeks – but the manufacturer, Pfizer, recommends a minimum of 3 weeks between jabs. All the volunteers are advised to inform everyone that the giving of second jabs which will be a matter of ‘clinical judgment’. When I finish my shift I have a walk around the university campus.
Delta variant is re-infecting people who have already had Covid-19 according to a study that suggests people who have previously caught Covid are now more likely to be re-infected because of the delta variant.
Boris Johnson's new COVID gamble worries some scientists as Britain faces a new wave of COVID-19. Rather than shutting the country down the Prime Minister plans to reopen England’s economy as he aims to live with the virus in the world’s first test case of the ability of vaccines to protect from the Delta variant.
Two more hospitals declare 'code black' as COVID cases continue to rise – the hospitals, in Scotland, have declared a code black status due to COVID pressures, forcing the postponement of non-urgent elective operations. Code black is given to a hospital if it is at complete capacity with no beds available for any new A&E admissions.
Minister confirms vaccinated Britons can swerve amber list quarantine from 19 July a move that will allow fully vaccinated travellers to holiday across key European destinations, in a boost to the travel industry. It only applies to England. A pre-departure lateral flow test will still be required, as well as the gold standard PCR test within two days of arriving, which aligns amber list requirements with those of green list arrivals.
Friday 09 July 2021
I leave the flat early this morning and cycle to the National Trust jetty to get the boat across to Brownsea Island where I doing a shift as a volunteer today. Another, mature volunteer arrives at the jetty on an electric scooter. He is greeted with some ribald comments and admits he knows it is illegal and fends off all comments with a tirade listing every other form of transport that is dangerous if used irresponsibly. Methinks he doth protest too much. But it is interesting to see that the older generation are also taking to this exercise free method of getting around. When I get to the island I set off for a walk. I am convinced the water lilies on the Lily Pond will be in full flower. I am disappointed to find they are not. But, then it occurs to me, maybe they close up at night. They do.
I walk on to Rose Cottage, the old Warden’s cottage, which is not permanently occupied but used by wardens doing night duty when the camp-site is in use. Close to the cottage I find a path down to the beach and follow that. I walk along the beach for a while and see some young Oyster Catchers. I also walk past the ruin of a pottery kiln. There are a lot of bricks scattered around this area of the beach. Colonel William Petrie Waugh and his wife Mary bought the island in the mid-19th century thinking it would yield high quality china clay and they would make their fortune. They built a large pottery on the South Shore. The ruins of this pottery can still be seen today. Unfortunately for them the clay was only suitable for bricks and chimney pots.
After walking some distance along the beach in the direction of Brownsea Island pier (I hope) I am becoming concerned that I will not find a path back up to the top. Just as I am thinking I may have to turn back or scramble up the cliff face I come across an arrow indicating a path. This takes me up a steep flight of steps to the top. I get back to the Sail Loft just in time to make a coffee before the briefing in the Villano garden. The briefing today is short due to power cuts and no internet. So we have no idea how many visitors have booked for today. I am on my own on the pier today but it is not a problem as the ferry service is still hourly and numbers are limited on each boat due to social distancing. I enjoy welcoming people to the island when they arrive and then chatting about their visit as they leave.
British holidaymakers told to expect six-hour airport queues as travel restrictions are eased. This is due to the sheer number of passengers arriving at peak times and a shortage of Border Force officers which would slow down checks.
Cyprus moves UK to red list following an increase in coronavirus cases. Effective from 8 July this means that while British travellers are still permitted to enter the country quarantine-free, they must submit to another PCR test on arrival, in addition to one 72 hours prior to departure. The second test must be paid for by the traveller.
Just two double-vaccinated under-50s have died from Delta variant and that’s out of a total 5,600 double-jabbed under-50s who had caught the disease in England up to 21 June. Among double-jabbed people over 50 with the Delta variant, there were 116 deaths out of 5,234 cases.
In the News Today
EasyJet accused of cancelling flights then making seats available at ‘double the price’ Flights affected are those to amber list countries following the changes to travel restrictions. EasyJet has denied ‘artificially increasing fares’ stating that, as with all airlines, their pricing is demand-led, which means that our fares start low and increase the closer it is to the date of departure and as more seats on the aircraft are booked.
Saturday 10 July 2021
When I wake at 6 am it is raining steadily. But, by the time I am ready to leave for my shift at the vaccination hub in Parkstone the rain is easing off and looks as though it is about to stop. I set off on my bike expecting the rain to stop but it does not. However, the rain is not too heavy and I don’t get too wet. I stand under some handy trees at the back of the pharmacy while waiting for the pharmacist to arrive. We have two clinics today, AstraZeneca this morning and Pfizer this afternoon. But this time there is a definite break between the two and no overlapping appointments. It rains all day and I have to hover inside the pharmacy as I am using the iPad to check people in and it views raindrops as an instruction to add data. Meanwhile, my colleague has to stand outside handing out forms on clipboards (sheltered under an umbrella) and directing patients to the back of the pharmacy. As the clinic has been advertised on the internet as a walk-in clinic I have to slot those in amongst the confirmed appointments. This does not go down well with the few who take the invite literally and expect to walk straight into the clinic. The rain finally stops this afternoon and the sun comes out this evening and bathes Poole Harbour and the little public garden near my flat in a beautiful golden light.
IMAGE lovely light on gardens beside Tesco/sunset
PM 'may tone down freedom rhetoric in reopening jitters' and will urge the public to behave responsibly as he confirms plans for the 19 July re-opening in England amid government jitters about the risks of the big-bang approach. The final decision about 19 July will be taken on Monday morning, based on modelling from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) about Covid cases and pressures on the NHS.
Public alarm grows at Boris Johnson’s plan for Covid Freedom Day with half the population now saying they want Freedom Day to be delayed and mask wearing to continue in hospitals and on public transport. London mayor Sadiq Khan is also involved in urgent talks with the government, Transport for London (TfL), private train operators, and trade unions as support grows for the wearing of face masks to remain mandatory on the capital’s transport network.
Sunday 11 July 2021
I wake up to another cold, grey morning but at least it is dry. Today, I am writing an article about my recent visit to Blenheim Palace. I start by looking for photos of the palace from previous visits in the hope of finding some with blue skies rather than the overcast skies throughout my last visit. This search takes a long time as, despite constantly promising myself I will arrange my thousands of images in some sort of catalogue, I never get around to actually doing it. Progress is slow as I am lacking energy – a full day on duty as COVID-19 marshal yesterday is taking its toll. There is nothing interesting on television today to distract me. It is the final of the European cup today at Wembley and every programme seems to be about football – past and present. Occasionally a car passes by the flat with an England flag fluttering from the roof but apart from that patriotism is very muted down here in Dorset. The match went to penalties and England lost.
British holidaymakers face paying an extra £500 for Covid tests even if they are fully vaccinated. Some Britons could be "priced out" of foreign breaks because they will be unable to afford the extra charges, travel bosses have warned.
Twelve countries including Italy and Germany on course to join quarantine-free green list and open up travel to unvaccinated holidaymakers, according to an analysis of official data. The 12 countries meet the green list criteria used by government scientists to determine if countries’ infection rates, the testing capability, vaccination levels and risk from variants are low enough to justify inclusion.
Government denies vaccine dose interval will be cut to four weeks in response to a report in the Sunday Times that vaccine doses are set to be halved to four weeks to accelerate the administration of second jabs.
Fully vaccinated adults could take Covid tests for five days instead of isolating under proposals being considered by ministers amid warnings that life this summer will be “massively disrupted” by the current rules.
In the News Today
King’s Cross station evacuated after England fans let off flares on Sunday afternoon ahead of the Euro 2020 final. Smoke from the flares is believed to have triggered fire alarms. The excitement started even earlier for some, with thousands queuing outside pubs this morning, some as early as 6 am, to secure a table for the match at 8pm tonight.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on Monday 05 July, a total of 4,930,534 (total that day 27,334) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 128,231 including a daily total of 9. By the end of the week on Sunday 11 July, the total of positive cases had risen to 5,121,245 (total that day 31,772) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 128,425 including a daily total of 26. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 152,725, an increase this week of 118 (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 four 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