Friday, 5 February 2021
Tuesday, 12 January 2021
Here in the UK we are lockdown once again, so I thought that I would look back on
some of the events of the last twelve months.
Well, what a year it was! I am not sure that hindsight is of much use now. Foresight would have been more useful a year ago, but if any of us had seen in a crystal ball what 2020 had to offer, how many of us would even have got out of bed last January?
About a year ago we set off for Cape Town. So as the pandemic kicked off in China we were reliant on the internet for news as we travelled around South Africa. I am sure that everywhere that we stayed had a television in the bedroom but we do not usually watch television when we are away from home. In fact we do not even watch much television when we are at home. We were aware of the situation in China but had no idea of what it would escalate into. No one did. Initially the weather was good and we enjoyed the blue skies and sunshine of the Western Cape. We didn't have a care in the world as we enjoyed a day's wine tour around Franschhoek with lunch at Richard Branson's Mont Rochelle vineyard, where the scenery is absolutely stunning.
The good weather was not to last. During our drive along the Garden Route the weather gods decided to end South Africa's drought with spectacular thunderstorms, torrential rain and power cuts. Maybe we should have seen this as a harbinger of what was to come. After Port Elizabeth we flew to the Victoria Falls for a couple of days. There the weather was dry. At Johannesburg airport we saw a group of Chinese people being taken to one side. I think by now the whole world saw all Chinese as carriers of this virus which had infected so many people in China. The last six nights of our holiday were spent in the Seychelles, where every day we had yet more thunderstorms and rain. After nearly four weeks away we were glad to return home on February 1, to a UK that had just left the EU although there were no obvious changes at Manchester airport. We had managed to avoid delayed flights and quarantine and no one seemed to be bothered about where we had been, but then Big Brother Emirates knew exactly when and where we were flying to and from. I just hoped that we did not get burgled.
Back in the UK it was cold, grey and wet. We seemed to have brought the South African rain back with us. From the edge of our seats, we watched the television news as coronavirus spread west from China. Here life was normal. We could socialise, shop for non essential items and go to the hairdresser. But for how long? Countries in Europe were locking down. Horrified we watched as hospitals in Italy, Spain and France were overwhelmed by cases of the virus. It was only a matter of time before coronavirus reached our shores. We are an island. Someone would kindly import it for us even though the government set up isolation centres for travellers returning to the UK from hot spots, in an attempt to contain the virus. By the third week in March the battle was lost and the UK was also locked down as the number of coronavirus infections started to climb.
At first lockdown was a bit of a novelty. There was not much traffic on the roads, people were polite and kept their distance and restricted numbers in the supermarket made shopping a less unpleasant experience and the weather played its' part by being dry and sunny. This meant that we could spend time in the garden in addition to our allowed essential exercise of a walk around the village. Away from our Cheshire bubble things were grim, as the number of infections and deaths continued to rise. And so life went on. Holidays which had been booked and looked forward to for some time were cancelled and re-arranged. We naively thought that it would all be over in a few months and that life would return to normal. Then when we thought that things were improving as the infection rate dropped, we were instructed to wear face masks in shops, public transport and enclosed spaces. I am not a fan of mask wearing, but maybe the powers that be were right to insist on us wearing them. Everyday different scientists would pop up advising on what we should and shouldn't be doing. All seemed to be experts in their fields. Who knew that we had so many professors?
Over the summer the lockdown was relaxed, as the number of coronavirus infections fell and life became a bit more normal. We were even allowed to have a foreign holiday and we were fortunate enough to manage a week away on the Greek island of Crete at the beginning of September. But there were still rules to be abided by and that was the problem. Many did not follow the rules. In particular the young, who in general get away with an asymptomatic or mild dose of the virus. We were lucky enough to return from Crete just hours before England brought in quarantine rules for travellers returning from Crete, which had been necessitated by young people returning from the island with the virus, having partied the night away while on holiday. By mid September the second wave of the pandemic was starting in the UK as infection rate began to go up again and some parts of the country were under local restrictions. In October a tiered system of restrictions was brought in covering all of England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had their own restrictions set out by their devolved governments. My husband and I had been shocked to see on the TV, places where people were partying in the street, hugging and kissing one another against all the rules. And the authorities were letting them get away with it. Infection rates continued to climb resulting in a one month lockdown during Novmber, in the hope of saving Christmas. It did bring the numbers down, only for them to go up again in December.
In the run up to Christmas the restrictions were tightened as the number of infections rose, but there were still plans to relax the rules for five days over the Christmas bank holiday. Then the weekend before Christmas the bombshell was dropped that a new more infectious variant had been identified and was spreading rapidly around London and the south east of England. These areas were effectively lockdown overnight leaving Christmas plans in ruins. As the news of this new variant spread countries in Europe and around the world banned travellers from the leper colony that was the UK. Within a day the Frog President Macron, while suffering from coronavirus himself, took the knee jerk decision to close the French border with the UK, leaving hundreds of EU nationals stranded in England. Most of those stranded were not coronavirus carrying Brits trying to cross the English Channel to France, but eastern European lorry drivers wanting to get home for Christmas.
This caused chaos around the channel ports in Kent as thousands of lorries, trying to cross the Channel, ended up blocking the roads. Some lorry drivers ended up spending Christmas in their cab. The French will not be forgiven for their stupid actions and will live to regret them. This household for one will no longer buy anything French including wine. Other countries produce equally drinkable wine.
Within days several other countries admitted that the new variant, termed the UK or Kent variant, was already present in their country and had been present before the UK announcement. When you take into account the fact the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic started in Europe weeks ahead of the second wave in the UK, then it is quite likely that the new variant actually originated in Europe. The UK simply identified it and alerted the world, as we lead the world in genome testing.
All year the Brexit talks had continued between the UK and the EU, finally coming to an agreement just before Christmas. In the US it had been a presidential election year with the Democrat candidate Joe Biden defeating the Republican incumbent president Donald Trump. But everything, in this strangest of years, was overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and I am wondering how many hours we have spent watching government briefings about how the pandemic has progressed and changes to the lockdown restrictions. I am also wondering how many times husband and I have walked around our village for exercise!
Friday, 25 December 2020
Tuesday, 24 November 2020
Do not adjust your computer. You have seen this photograph before and as with other things right now we are back to where we were a few months ago. We have seen this view a bit too much recently.
I know that I have been absent, because of nothing much to write about, but I suppose what is worth writing about is our week away. We have been back a couple of months now. However, I imagine that a week away in September will turn out to be the highlight of our Summer. Back in June we were hoping to go to Corfu in September. As the Summer progressed we had second thoughts about going to Corfu. This was to be our first visit to Corfu and we decided that we would be better going to somewhere that we were familiar with. Eventually we managed to get through to Jet2 who allowed us to change not only our destination but also our departure date. So on September 1 we set off to one of our favourite destinations - Agios Nikolaos in Crete, which meant that we did get to see this lovely view - without the cruise ship.
As the holiday approached there was always the risk that the UK government would decide that Crete/Greece's coronavirus infection rate was too high and we would not be allowed to go, which meant that most of our preparations were left until the last minute. To our relief the week before we went Crete was on the approved list of countries and we were able to go. Our flight to Heraklion was at 8.55 am. We were at a very quiet Manchester airport by 7.00 am, wearing face masks of course. During our journey we were allowed to remove the mask a couple of times to eat and drink. By the time we reached our hotel in Agios Nikolaos we had been wearing the wretched thing for about nine and a half hours - quite an endurance test. At last we could remove it. The hotel reception took our temperatures with a forehead gun then left us to our own devices. We had chosen this hotel because we had been before and felt that we would be safe there. The accommodation is mainly in bungalows spread around its extensive grounds. The dining room has a roof but no windows so is essentially outside, as is the bar. There are plenty of sunbeds and umbrelllas around the hotel grounds and it has a large swimming pool which we have never seen more than about six guests in at any time. Then there is a small beach and access to the sea from sunbathing jetties. In our bungalow was a pack containing a small hand sanitiser, wet wipes, two diposable face masks and a leaflet about the Greek coronavirus restrictions.
After a quick unpack and freshen up it was time to go out for our evening meal. It was good to see that the small supermarket across the road from the hotel was still in business. However, just down the road the nearest taverna to the hotel was closed and for sale. It was not a place that we used much. We had decided to walk down to the lake. To our relief most places were still there and open for business, but the resort was very quiet. We headed to one of our favourite tavernas by the lake run by twin brothers. They were pleased to see us - business was very slow. Their season had not started until July - normally it would start late April. That night, while we ate in their taverna, we were about the only customers they had.
Our lazy week in the sun went all too quickly. Most days we walked down to the lake for lunch or our evening meal. We did a bit of shopping, lay in the sun, read a book and swam. There was nothing else to do. There were no trips or excursions. The boats used for day trips were moored between our hotel and the next one. We enjoyed ourselves. And I have to say that we preferred a quiet resort to the usual busy one. We only wore face masks for our brief forays into shops. The hotel did not disappoint and we shall be going back next year.
To our relief while we were away Crete remained on the UK's approved list of countries that we could travel to without having to quarantine on our return to the UK. However, on our last day, September 7, the UK government announced that from 4 am on September 9 travellers entering the UK from Crete and some other Greek islands would have to quarantine for 14 days. How lucky were we? We were due to fly home on September 8. That evening as we went out for our last supper the waiters in the tavernas had heard about the UK quarantine rules, but I am sure that they did not realised that it would mean that holiday makers from the UK would not come.
Although we would have liked to have stayed for longer, we were pleased to be going home. Our taxi got us to the airport in good time and from the departure lounge we watched our plane land. Then saw the not very many new arrivals as they left the plane.
Would we have come if our holiday had been a week later? We don't know.
Our return flight was full unlike the flight out, which had been about two thirds full. We landed back in a wet Manchester at 6.20 pm on September 8 - nine hours to spare. By the following day Jet2 had suspended holidays to Crete.
It had been good to get away, even if only for one week. We had had seven days of blue skies and sun - something which we had not seen much of in Cheshire during the Summer and I had not had to cook for a week.
Friday, 17 July 2020
Initially the idea of being at home and maybe getting a few jobs done in the house and garden did not seem to be such a bad idea. It was something of a novelty not to need to be rushing around to go anywhere, as everything gradually got cancelled and I am quite good with my own company. Going out was a bit scary as the road were eerily quiet and we had been given the impression that coronavirus was everywhere - it just couldn’t be seen. The weather here was good. So we had a few walks around the village and spent some time in the garden. I even hoped that maybe this would be the year that we finally got on top of our garden - we have now been her sixteen years. Those hopes were dashed when the local council suspended our green bin garden waste collection. With the tip also closed, where were we to put the garden rubbish? Any excuse to cut services. Soon everyday seemed to be the same. We needed a newspaper to tell us which day of the week it was, as we tried to stick to what was left of our usual routines.
Looking back now, it is easy to see the mistakes that have been made. The UK locked down too late, on the advice of the government scientists who thought that if we locked down too early people would get bored with lockdown and not adhere to the rules. OK people have got bored, but the sooner we locked down, the sooner lockdown could be eased. So thousands went to football matches and horse racing meetings, which were considered not to be an issue as they were outside, but there was a resulting spike in coronavirus cases. At this point they did not seem to be protecting the NHS and saving lives. Then there is the matter of face masks. The original advice was that they gave very little protection. It was also thought that most people do not know how to wear them and would become cavalier about social distancing. So during the worst of the pandemic masks weren’t worn. Now with the infection and death rate falling dramatically, they are being deemed necessary. People still do not know how to wear them and the reusable ones that have become so popular need to be washed at a very high temperature to remove any bugs that may be on them. How many are doing that? Not many I am sure. I have seen them removed, then screwed up and shoved in a pocket like a dirty handkerchief. They have become a sort of status symbol or a fashion statement. Trump and his henchmen all wearing black face masks look like the Mafia. How soon will it be before a bank is robbed and the robbers can not be described because they are all wearing masks?
Here in the UK, from July 24 we are going to have to wear a mask to go into a shop. Well I am not keen on masks - they make me hot and when I am hot I don’t think straight. So I shall only be going to the supermarket and other essential shops, if I have to wear a face mask. We don’t need to worry about wearing a face mask on public transport, as where we live we are a mile from the nearest bus stop. So we have never used it. Even before lockdown I had got into the habit of buying stuff online and since lockdown I have being buying even more online, as shops were shut and items could not be found in the shops that were open. Returns are simple and buying from the comfort of your own home is much more relaxing than fighting with the crowds or having to queue to get into a shop. Also at the moment clothing can not be tried on in a shop. So if an item is not suitable a return trip is necessary to get a refund, which is more hassle and exposure to other people. Not to mention the time it takes.
Recently I have realised how much of what I buy is made in China, particularly clothes. After the events of this year, initially the gift to the world of the coronavirus pandemic and now its actions against Hong Kong, I have decided not to buy anything which states that it was made in China. If I was ruthless and decided to discard everything made in China right now, I would certainly be left with very few clothes, but the past can not be rewritten, so reluctantly I'll be keeping them, but there will be no new clothes from China.
That brings me to the other thorny subject, which has raised its head while the world has been in lockdown - Black Lives Matter. All that I have to say on that matter is that All Lives Matter. We should not be rewriting history, but should be learning from it.
Not to be forgotten is the hoo-ha of testing for the coronavirus infection and then the antibodies or immunity testing, which seems to have been forgotten about recently as the government try to concentrate on track and trace. A consistently reliable immunity test seems to have become a low priority as the scientists scrabble around to develop a vaccine which works. Little is known about how long immunity lasts or how effective it is in preventing reinfection. Research around immunity and antibodies/antigens seems to be low key. By the time that an effective vaccine is available coronavirus could have died out naturally. Testing the UK population to ascertain who may have coronavirus asymptomatically and where there maybe out breaks of the infection continues. Two or three weeks ago I was invited to participate in a study to measure the prevalence of COVID-19, which was being run by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Department of Health & Social Care. The letter that I received said that I had been chosen at random and paticipation was voluntary. I decided to participate as I thought that I had nothing to loose and I that I had had the coronavirus infection some time ago. I was unlikely to yield a positive test and I might even get an immunity test out of it. Well no immunity test so far and my coronavirus test came back as negative. Having to self administer the swab test was exceeding difficult. So I can see why many are not returned. The swab test had too be done by 8 am. I am not a morning person. So set the alarm to get it done. Trying to get a swab all the way back to your tonsils when your mouth is dry and you are half asleep is a conjuring trick. Poking the swab up my nose was not so difficult. If I had to do it again I would do the test the night before or take the risk that the courier would not be on the door step at 8 am to collect it. I waited four days for the result to come through, which if you are ill is a long time. There must be a quicker and easier test.
Now a days nothing happens without broadband and ours has become very slow as a result of so many people working from home. I just wish that they would go back to work where the broadband must be better and faster. So that those of us without a place of work will have better broadband at home.
When and how is all this going to end? Who knows? A crystal ball would be useful. We have one group of scientists predicting a second wave with even more deaths and another suggesting that the UK now has herd immunity - all of those that are going to have coronavirus have had it. I know what I would like to believe.