25th December 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 91 Omicron Threatens Christmas
This week I decide it is time to get into the Christmas spirit as so many people and businesses are making a great effort with lovely lights and stunning decorations.
The Prime Minister’s announcement last weekend means more volunteers are needed as new vaccine hubs open and their hours are extended. I manage to fit in two shifts this week around the working party on Brownsea Island and some light relief in Bournemouth town centre enjoying the Christmas Tree Trail, a pizza in a Snow Dome and a ride on a roundabout.
Monday 13 December 2021
Early this morning I check the rota at Kings Park Hospital this morning and decide to do the early shift as only one other outdoor marshal signed up. I suspect it will be manic following the Prime Minister’s announcement at the weekend that all adults over eighteen are now eligible for a booster three months after their second jab. The vaccination clinic is due to start at 9.30 this morning but when I arrive at 8.30 some hopeful walk-ins are already queuing. It is an appointment only clinic but walk-ins are taken if they can be fitted in around appointments. By 9.30 we have two very long queues for both appointments and walk-ins. I have to announce to the walk-in queue that anyone under forty cannot be vaccinated today as the NHS protocols have not caught up with the Prime Minister’s rapid rule changing. It is a busy morning. I had hoped to spend some time in Boscombe when I finished as it has become a centre for street art – but, in reality I am just too cold and tired so drive straight back to my flat for a late lunch.
After eating I have a refreshing stroll around Poole Harbour and enjoy some of nature’s best art as the skies prepare to darken for the day.
First Omicron death in UK confirmed by Boris Johnson Speaking during a visit on Monday to a vaccination clinic near Paddington, west London, the prime minister said: “Sadly, yes, Omicron is producing hospitalisations and, sadly, at least one patient has been confirmed to have died.”
Covid Plan B restrictions like ‘Nazi Germany’ and Soviet ‘gulag’, say rebel Tory MPs ahead of a huge revolt against Boris Johnson’s curbs - Covid passes to enter crowded venues and mask-wearing in cinemas and theatres – will force the prime minister to rely on Labour votes to get them through.
Boris Johnson refuses to rule out tougher Covid restrictions before Christmas as Omicron cases continue to surge. He was asked three times on Monday morning about the likelihood of further measures but refused to answer.
Chaos as Boris Johnson and NHS make conflicting promises over booster rollout On Sunday evening, the prime minister said that "everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the new year." However, the NHS has promised a different target, pledging to offer all adults the chance to book a booster, rather than actually receive one.
Tuesday 14 December 2021
Just three of us on the island today for the Outdoor Centre working party. This is good news for me as it means I can do my Gator training. Once I have completed that I will be able to drive this little electric buggy around the island running errands and moving equipment around. But first I have several tasks to complete – sorting out a huge box of mixed cutlery and making an inventory of all the equipment in the large container that is our store room. The weather is mild for December and the sun breaks through for a short period so the walk across the island to our base is very pleasant.
Once I have completed my jobs and joined my colleagues for a picnic lunch I set off in the Gator with my instructor. It is very similar to the golf buggies I have driven in the past but it is so quiet no-one hears it coming. This is not a problem at this time of year as the island is closed to the public but I will have to be very careful when the island opens again. We do have an old-fashioned hooter attached to the windscreen in case of need as the push button to sound the horn on the dashboard does not work. I really enjoy my circuit of the island including some off-piste driving and an emergency stop. I pass all the tests so now I am a qualified Gator driver. I won’t have a chance to practice this new skill as the island is closing this week until the New Year.
All 11 countries removed from travel red list from 4am on Wednesday as the spread of Omicron in the UK and the world means the travel red list is “now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad”.
South African doctor on three most common signs of new Omicron variant - myalgia (sore muscles, body ache and pain), headache as well as a little bit of a fatigue for a day or two." The UK's official list of three symptoms has not changed since May 2020, when a loss of taste and smell was added to high temperature and a new, continuous cough.
Wednesday 15 December 2021
NHS vaccination centres are extending their hours and many will be open from 8 am to 8 pm in a bid to achieve the Prime Minister’s aim to give all eligible adults a booster jab by the end of the year. So, today I am doing my second shift as a volunteer marshal this week at a pharmacy at Castlepoint in Bournemouth. When I finish I will be driving up to London as my niece is getting married tomorrow and I am invited to the reception. But, soon after I start my shift I get a message from my sister to say the reception will not be taking place because so many people are cancelling due to testing positive for COVID or just being cautious. This is a bitter blow as it was to be a reunion with the family for me having not seen most of them for over a year. But I am not going to let it get me down. I message my friend and suggest we meet in Bournemouth town centre later to see the Christmas lights.
The vaccine hub is much quieter than I had expected today as there is a big sign outside saying by Appointment only. As they only have enough vaccines for the booked appointments and they must take priority. As soon as I am released by the volunteer taking over from me I go into Bournemouth. As I am early I have time to have a look around Bobby’s & Co. This long-established business has moved into the lovely old building that was occupied by Debenhams until it closed earlier this year. It offers a new shopping experience featuring a Beauty Hall, a Sushi & Champagne bar, an Ice Cream Parlour, a South Coast Makers Shop and an Art Gallery.
When my friend arrives we walk through the Lower Gardens admiring the lights which are stunning this year – especially the huge, reflective reindeer. When we reach the Pavilion at the far end of the gardens we climb up to the terrace where there is a bar, a pizza van and a cluster of snow domes - small, heated, plastic igloos with a table and chairs inside. The cost of the hiring one of them includes two free pizzas. We ask if any of them are available to hire. But they are all booked this evening so we sit outside on the terrace looking down on the lights and enjoying a glass of red wine.
As we are leaving the young man at the entrance tells us one of the snow domes was vacated early and we can use if for an hour. It is lovely and cosy inside and we order pizzas and beers. We thoroughly enjoy the freshly cooked pizzas, especially the one with pulled pork and caramelised onions. When our time in the dome is up we walk down to the beach and end our magical evening with a ride on horses on the galloper roundabout.
Thursday 16 December 2021
A cooked breakfast at Compton Acres this morning to start the day. Usually, the place is buzzing as soon as it opens but this morning it is nearly empty due to people panicking about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. We find a table and have a cappuccino while we peruse the menu. We both decide on the Compton breakfast so I go to the counter, place our order and pay. When I check the receipt I discover I have been charged £11.95 for the breakfasts although, according to the menu they cast £9.50 each. I go back to the counter to query the amount we have been charged. The girl is suspicious and asks me where I got the menu from. I am surprised at this question as, clearly, it was on the table where we are sitting. I tell her that it was on the table. I am somewhat taken aback at the suggestion I might have hunted around for an old menu in order to obtain a pecuniary advantage. I am not offered any recompense or give then chance to cancel and re-order which would have been my preference. It is a tasty but expensive breakfast. I think we just have to accept prices will price as businesses attempt to recoup losses occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.
Covid passes for England despite Tory revolt Covid passes are now needed to get into nightclubs, big sports matches and other large events in England. Put forward by the government to help control the spread of the Omicron variant, their approval by MPs in the Commons came at the expense of the biggest rebellion (96 Tory MPs) since Boris Johnson became prime minister.
PM holds firm at news conference but government medics beg public to reconsider plans - COVID infections are rocketing with "big numbers" expected to be hospitalised soon after Christmas.
Over-18s in England invited to book Covid boosters under widening of vaccination programme. The NHS national booking system has been extended to all adults. It opened to the over 30’s on Monday. People are eligible for a booster 3 months after a second jab, but can book after 2 months.
Friday 17 December 2021
Early this afternoon I drive up to Hertfordshire for the weekend. I am meeting a friend for a Christmas lunch and I have an appointment for a mammogram on the Sunday. I had heard a rumour that traffic is much lighter at the moment due to people staying at home because of the fast spreading Omicron variant. This did not apply to the M25 and I crawled along this motorway which is as busy as it usually it. When I leave the motorway I make a detour along a street where the houses are usually ablaze with Christmas lights. This year the lights are very subdued but, to my mind, much prettier.
Nightclubs to shut as Wales imposes restrictions Nightclubs in Wales are to shut after Boxing Day - staying closed over new year - as First Minister Mark Drakeford called on people to avoid meeting "wider circles of friends" to hinder the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Government ‘too slow’ on Covid pills Scientists and business leaders accuse the government of being “asleep at the wheel” over launch of new drugs to combat Covid-19. So far, the UK has ordered 250,000 courses of the new Pfizer pill but needs to be ordering millions of courses, not 250,000. That’s not nearly enough,” says president of the Confederation of British Industry,
In the News Today
Conservatives lose 'safe' North Shropshire seat to Lib Dems - held for nearly 200 years and with an increased majority at the last general election the people of North Shropshire have spoken on behalf of the British people telling Boris Johnson "the party is over".
Saturday 18 December 2021
At lunchtime today three of us head for one of our favourite haunts for lunch, the Roundbush pub near Radlett. Another venue that is generally throbbing with life at this time of year but half-empty today. We get an isolated table in a corner – we don’t want the coronavirus to become an excuse for not meeting up but we are happy to wear face masks and keep a social distance whenever possible. The Roundbush is a lovely seventeenth century pub with low ceilings and a large open fire. Not wishing to over-indulge with Christmas just a week away I had the smoked salmon starter as my mine course with a glass of white wine followed by a scoop of salted caramel ice cream. Perfect. I call in at the chemist on my way back to the flat hoping to collect a prescription I ordered at the beginning of the week. I am told nothing gets processed in less than 7 days due to the pandemic. It is easy to forget the pandemic has such a widespread effect and made worse as so many people are self-isolating due to the Omicron variant.
As Britain's Omicron cases surge, London moves to help hospitals and London's mayor declares a "major incident" to help the capital's hospitals after a sharp rise in COVID-19 admissions. It means there will be closer co-ordination between key public services in responding to the situation.
Indoor mixing could be banned under two-week 'circuit breaker' to curb Omicron spread -
Officials are drawing up plans for two weeks of "circuit breaker" measures after Christmas, which would include a ban on indoor mixing, according to reports.
In the News Today
Scuffles break out at anti-lockdown protest in Parliament Square as hundreds of protesters against Covid-19 restrictions gathered in Westminster and some clashed with police. Scotland Yard said some officers suffered minor injuries when they were attacked by people attempting to stop colleagues escorting a police motorcyclist through crowds that had occupied a road.
Sunday 19 December 2021
After a bleak morning with freezing fog floating around the block of flats, no internet connection and housework the only available activity I head for the mobile X-ray unit in the car park of the local Asda superstore. This car park is so large it is easy to get lost in it. I get there early and park near the entrance intending to walk to the mobile unit. But, I can’t see it. I walk towards the store and finally spot it outside the main entrance. By this time, I am in the raised section of the parking area and can’t find a way down to ground level. As I can’t find a way down at the far end of this parking area I have to re-trace my steps and start again. My second attempt brings me to another dead end. Time is running out and I start running. Finally, I get to the mobile unit 5 minutes before my appointment time. After answering some security questions, I am allowed in. I had forgotten how painful it is to have one’s breasts X-rayed – not once but four times. There I am, feet straddled apart, arm draped over the X-ray machine which has been pushed into my armpit. I am on tiptoes as the plates have been positioned slightly too high. But I have been forbidden to move an inch. I am told to look over my left should while the two plastic plates are clamped together over my right breast. I whimper and I am told to stay still and hold my breath. Mercifully, there is a click and my breast is unclamped. Just three more X-rays to go. It is a relief when I am expelled into the freezing air and can start my journey back to Dorset.
Christmas curbs could be brought in within days, says Sajid Javid making it clear fresh Covid restrictions could be imposed before Christmas to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. Insiders expect an announcement early next week about whether social mixing will be curtailed ahead of the festive period – potentially a cap on the number of families that can meet, or even hospitality closures.
In the News Today
Omicron dashes high streets’ hopes of bumper weekend before Christmas as the last weekend before the holiday fails to fulfil hope of windfall after pandemic struggles. Shoppers have pulled back from UK high streets in the crucial final weekend of shopping before Christmas, figures reveal.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on Monday 13 December, a total of 10,873,468 (total that day 54,661) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 146,477 including a daily total of 38. By the end of the week on Sunday 19 December, the total of positive cases had risen to 11,361,387 (total that day 82,886) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 147,218, including a daily total of 45. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 170,911 an increase this week of 909. (This statistic lags behind the daily statistics as it is updated on a weekly basis and Monday figures are usually unrealistically low due to difficulty collecting statistics over the weekend).
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.