Covid-19 Diaries Phase Two

13 May 20

Posted at 7:46

On Sunday evening the prime minister made a televised announcement. In summary he said we were now, having past the peak, in a position to take small steps forward in easing some lockdown restrictions. The message 'stay at home' has changed to 'stay alert'. Needless to say this has caused some confusion, not least because there are those among us who like nothing more than to create confusion and misunderstanding to facilitate their own political ends. Over the last 72 hours since the brief announcement a lot more meat has been put on the bones. There is a roadmap of three stages we might move to if the small steps we take do not cause a rise in transmission of the virus above what is called a R rate of more than one. The key milestones are this week, June 1st and July 4th, or in fact no earlier than those dates.

So for the phase we have entered today people are still being encouraged to stay at home whenever possible but there are some new freedoms. Those who cannot work from home are now allowed, even encouraged, to go to work. This is providing they can work in line with social distancing guidelines, travel within the same guidelines and they are not displaying any virus symptoms. Public transport should be avoided if possible. There are also new leisure freedoms. Outdoor exercise is unlimited and you may travel to take such exercise, you may even sunbathe or sit in a park or a beach. Again social distancing is paramount, you may meet one other person maintaining social distancing. You cannot stay somewhere else overnight though and holidays or weekends away are not allowed. Some sport, with restrictions, is allowed, golf, tennis, basketball and angling. Only two people may play golf or tennis and social distancing must be maintained. Golf is not really competitive, bunkers are out of play, the hole is actually not really a hole and the flag must not be touched. Not really golf but good for exercise, practice and mental well being. Garden centres have opened to the delight of many, as have recycling tips.

Today it was announced that the housing market is to open. Estate agents, under strict guidelines may arrange viewings and people are now allowed to move home which has been banned under lockdown.

If things go well over the next two weeks and the 'R' stays below one there may be a limited number of children allowed to return to school. Then a month later, again if all is going well, retail, restaurants, gyms even some pubs may be allowed to open. All of this is a long way off and will still be with restrictions and social distancing. The message is small steps at a time and any increase in infections will result in lockdown being reintroduced either nationally or locally. All of this currently applies to England only, the devolved governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales  have changed nothing at this point. They will no doubt follow suit shortly but for now, as all are politically opposed to the Westminster government, they are flexing their little muscles for a few days. I find it pretty pathetic but devolution is what their citizens voted for so I guess it is only right. It will be interesting if it strengthens them in their publics opinions or not.

Although the changes are relatively small they are already changing our behaviour and I think most people are holding their breath praying that these changes do not undo the containment of the virus that has been achieved over the last seven weeks. Time will tell. I was thinking today about what it was like in early March, the difference is amazing. I remember when we stopped shaking hands but touched elbows or did a namaste instead, being that close to someone you do not live with is unthinkable now. It is surprising what you get used to. Now we are entering another new world against a backdrop that it may not last. More frightening than a brave new world but if the next couple of weeks go well there will be some relief.


Covid-19 Diaries 9th May 2020

09 May 20

Posted at 2:36

75th Anniversary of VE Day

Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of VE day. The anniversary of the end of WW2 was commemorated in an eery way in the UK. Social distancing and the message " stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives" is still, at least for today, the message. So muted celebrations were conducted in some streets, on peoples drives toasting the neighbours at a safe distance. Families who do not live together cannot meet or visit each other. Comparisons have been made between this situation now and war time. I think the parallels are over egged somewhat. The 'pain and sacrifice' is of course significantly less but for generations who came ofter the war and the immediate post war problems this is undoubtedly the most challenging period of their lives.

For weeks the lockdown has been adhered to by the vast majority but now as we see relaxation in some other countries there are 'cracks appearing in the dam'. The resolve of the British people is wearing thin although many are understandably scared stiff of the risks with relaxation. Tomorrow at 7pm the prime minister will give the nation an update on 'phase two'. Newspapers and media have been speculating for days what will be announced. Recycling centres have announced re-opening next week, there is speculation garden centres will open on Wednesday and further speculation that schools will open in June and that anyone entering the UK by air land or sea will be subject to 14 days quarantine after June 1st. All this speculation has resulted in changes, road traffic although still low has increased, sole traders are opening for business slowly and families if not breaking are certainly bending the rules. So tomorrow's announcements will be interesting. I sense the PM will have to officially endorse much of the speculation and go a bit further. If he doesn't take a leadership position further speculation will grow immediately, speculation that perhaps ignores the scientific and medical advice. We are told a second wave or peak must be avoided at all costs as it would be devastating in terms of death and economic damage but there is no clarity as to the likelihood of or possible contributors to a second wave. There is so much written, so many opinions and so many diverse 'expert' opinions it is possible to reach just about any conclusion you wish to.

My personal take on it all is that the virus spreads uncontrollably in the densest populations and is most damaging in dense populations of the most vulnerable people. So major cities like London and New York, care homes and hospitals all have seen high deaths and rate of infections. A sparsely populated area like Sweden for example has certainly not been unscathed but to date has not seen devastating infections or death rates despite having no lockdown even bars and restaurants remaining open throughout. We are told that a real comparison of how countries have faired is not possible until the world is completely through this pandemic. We wait for Boris to update us tomorrow and then next week venture, hopefully with optimism as opposed to fear, into phase two.



Covid-19 Diaries 1

16 April 20

Posted at 2:13


Closure Effective Midnight 23rd March 2020

We have just entered our fourth week of lockdown in the UK. Lockdown in response to a global pandemic of a coronavirus called Covid-19. Originating from cross contamination in a wet wildlife market in Wuhan China in December 2019 Over the first couple of months of 2020 the virus, about which very little, if anything, was known, spread throughout the world.

We are now living in a world that would have been beyond our wildest dreams, well wildest nightmares, when we returned home from travelling in New Zealand on 21st February 2020. The situation in China had been in the news and travel from China had been restricted whilst we were still in New Zealand. Flying home there were more people than is usual wearing masks at Singapore airport but really beyond that Covid-19 was a distant threat.

On arriving home we busied ourselves trying to adapt to the British winter and focussed our minds on projects and activity to get involved in as we waited for Spring. We socialised with friends, visited restaurants and so on. Gradually the news contained more about the virus in China.

On 14th March Marilyn and I went to the theatre in east London and then to a restaurant in Islington. It was a strange evening. By then the virus had a grip in Northern Italy. We were being told to ‘ wash our hands’ regularly and to try and avoid crowds and being too close to people. London was strange that Saturday evening, there were a few empty seats in the theatre but it had been a sell out. Restaurants and bars were very quiet, Upper Street in Islington did not look or feel like a Saturday night. After that weekend the country began to change dramatically The theatre we had been to closed. The news media, which has been disgraceful throughout this pandemic, sparked panic buying, it was soon impossible to find pasta or toilet rolls in the supermarkets. The next week was a mixture of fear, confusion and disbelief. The news was dominated by the situation in Italy, financial markets panicked, the virus was now spreading in the UK particularly in London. It was inevitable that soon we would follow some other countries and be in lockdown. It was announced on Monday 23rd March and implemented at midnight.

The previous week we had ordered a new chicken house and run for our four hens. The area of our garden where the chickens have lived for the last 15 years or more had become dominated by a massive palm tree (yes in England) it had basically thrived for all that time on chicken shit and now stood around 12 metres tall with its massive fronds providing a large area of shade over a now dilapidated chicken coop and higgledy piggledy fencing and chicken wire. So week one of lockdown, with thankfully dry weather, was spent clearing the area, felling the tree (a bitter sweet moment) and then assembling, with difficulty, the rather modern chicken coop and run. Having completed that task I turned my attention to some sub standard electrical wiring that had been cobbled together to provide power to the garage, located at the bottom of the garden. It had been a temporary quick fix about 25 years ago. Now for the first time I guess I had enough time and patience to sort it all out and get it up to today’s regulations.

So initially and I guess this is true for many, being confined to the house, allowed out just once a day for exercise, starts off as quite therapeutic. I’m definitely not a one for DIY, I usually rush, go off half cocked make a mess and never get the job done. But for a couple of weeks I amazed myself at what I managed to achieve.

That though did not take up the majority of my time. On 16th March a friend in the village started a Facebook page to offer help to people who were isolated by restrictions or the virus itself. Over seventy year olds were subject to a 12 week period of self isolation, anyone who had been in contact with someone who was thought to have the virus had to quarantine. All of a sudden people who were slightly vulnerable due to age, ability or health now became really vulnerable and isolated and not self sufficient.

The ‘Good Neighbour’ page launched on the 16th March had ballooned into a Good Neighbour help group consisting of a sort of steering group of eight individuals working with over 120 volunteers able to offer assistance to every one of the 4000 houses in our village, The group had a website, telephone, email, every house in the village had received a flyer, posters were displayed throughout. Amazingly this was all completed by 20th March and was achieved with just one initial face to face meeting of four people on the 16th. Everything else was and continues to be done using Whatsapp, Facebook, email and the phone. Within another week the 120 plus members of the group had photo IDs which both helped with safeguarding for those receiving help and with explaining to police why we might be out and about, or to supermarkets why we are purchasing volumes of certain items. Needless to say I was and still are one of the steering group and even more bizarre than me doing DIY I now spend a fair amount of time helping the needy.

So now just a month after that theatre trip the pubs, clubs, restaurants and cinemas are all closed, as are schools and many shops. There are hardly any flights in or out of the country. Only essential workers travel, the message is and has been stay at home, protect the NHS and thereby save lives. By and large that direction has been respected. With 12,000 deaths in the UK to date and 132,00 worldwide the impact of Covid-19 is becoming apparent.