1 in 85 people had COVID-19 between 12th and 18th December in England, according to the ONS. Unsurprisingly London and the Southeast have the sharpest rises in infections at this time. In Wales 1 in 60 had the virus. More than 2% of Londoners had the virus.
Globally there have been almost 79 million confirmed cases and 1,7 million deaths.
From 26th December only the outpost of the Isles of Scilly will be in Tier 1.
The percentage of tests which show the new UK/Kent strain in each of the regions is as follows;
South East 66%
East of England 66%
Northern Ireland 50%
South West 40%
York and Humber 20%
North East 20%
West Midlands 16%
East Midlands 14%
North West 7%
More than 600,000 people have so far received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Between 8th and 20th December, a total of 616,933 were immunised.
The news dominating today is the apparent breakthrough with a Brexit deal between the UK and the European Union. It has yet to be confirmed but it looks like a trade deal will be agreed.
Beyond this potentially good news is the dull thud of the Downing Street briefing from yesterday that the UK/Kent mutation is running amok and spreading like wildfire. Followed by the shock that a second South African mutation spreads even more fervently than this and is on our shores.
Professor Andrew Haywood of NERVTAG told Sky News that we should concentrate on the UK variant as a priority as,
‘the strain we’re really worried about right now is the one in the south of England.’
He went on to say,
‘The way I see it is we’ve got a big fire going on in the south of England and a few sparks have landed in the north. We need to put out those sparks early on; otherwise, it’s going to get much bigger and much harder to put out. There’s a case for tightening restrictions all over the country. We’re entering a dangerous new phase in this pandemic. Unfortunately, it’s the last thing we wanted over Christmas, but we really do have to take this seriously.’
Professor Ferguson of SAGE said that the first variant was ‘everywhere’ and the Tier 4 restrictions are likely to affect more areas in January. Children are the unknown factor with this new UK/Kent strain as there has been a rise in the proportion of cases in those under 15 and if this becomes a trend it may impact arrangements for children returning to school.
As for the second, South African strain, we know of two people with it who are quarantining. The big concern, of course, is that it has spread to others. There are immediate restrictions on travelling from South Africa.
From Thursday at 9 am anyone who has been in or travelled through South Africa in the previous 10 days, will not be permitted entry. Direct flights from the country are banned with cargo and freight exempt.
The Department for Transport said,
‘The UK does not currently have a travel corridor with South Africa, and so anyone who has returned from the country recently should already be self-isolating for ten days and should continue to do so. Any exemptions usually in place – including those related to employment will not apply and passengers arriving in England from South Africa after 9 pm on 23 December cannot be released from self-isolation through Test to Release.’
Chaos remains in Dover with the testing going a little too slowly it seems. As it stands:
Two mobile testing stations are at Manston airfield which is being used to park lorries and two at Jubilee Way park in Dover. Five more are due to arrive soon.
170 military personnel are at the scene assisting with testing.
Advice for hauliers not to travel to Kent remains.
Ferries are beginning to leave the port.
Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary say it will take two or three days and severe delays will continue for some time. According to the Department of Transport there are now 5,000 lorries waiting to cross.
The Road Haulage Association estimates between 8,000 and 10,000 wagons are stuck around Dover.
Those who test positive on both of two tests will be offered a ‘Covid secure’ hotel accommodation where they must isolate for ten days.
Author’s note. By lunchtime today 2,300 hauliers had been tested with only three positives.
The crew of a Royal Navy warship HMS Northumberland has been forced to return to shore and isolate over Christmas after a number of COVID-19 cases became evident. It had been patrolling UK waters and had to return to Devonport Naval Base, near Plymouth.
The warship has specialist sensors to hunt for foreign submarines and escorted the Russian destroyer Vice-Admiral Kulakov as she sailed off the west coast of Scotland last month.
In the early evening it was confirmed that a Brexit trade deal had been done between the UK and the EU. Naturally this has been distracting from the COVID crisis.
For the record, the Prime Minister has said, it means:
No role for the European Court of justice and no need to follow EU law.
A zero tariff and zero quota arrangement.
Recognition of the UK’s sovereignty over our fishing waters with diminishing access for the EU over 5 and a half years.
Britain outside the Single Market and Customs Union.
Co-operation on law enforcement.
Protections for the UK internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.
This will surely help our recovery as we try to emerge from the financial cost of COVID in the years ahead. It seems a terrific deal for the UK.
So, this is Christmas 2020. We are all aching to see our loved ones. We have finalised arrangements for a video call for Christmas morning for Jackie and her children and our granddaughter Elsie.
I will be meeting Chris, Harry and Lily in a park at Hucknall to exchange gifts, but no hugs. It’s a shame but hopefully it won’t be too long until we can all gather together as a family again. I cannot wait. It will be something that we will never forget, that is for sure.
Quote of the day.
‘Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard, or too sad when you’ve got a Christmas tree in the living room.’ – Nora Roberts.
FRIDAY 25TH DECEMBER 2020. CHRISTMAS DAY.
Facts and figures.
34.693 new cases.
Merry Christmas to all. We are having a distant Christmas. Trying to stay safe enough to be able to enjoy many more Christmases together as a family, once the coronavirus has been conquered, hopefully by the time we get to Easter.
Author’s retrospective note. Forever the optimist. Spoiler alert - Easter came and went.
The USA has demanded that all air passengers arriving in the country must prove they have had a negative COVID-19 test within the previous 72 hours.
More troops have been sent to Kent to test stranded lorry drivers trying to cross to France. Hundreds more are being sent to clear the backlog. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has given specific instructions that the Army take control of testing and HGV management.
There has been disquiet and some pushing and shoving at the border between drivers and police. There are those who blast their horns in the long queues while many sit silently in their cabs in queues miles long. Most expect to spend Christmas stuck on the tarmac. But there is a sign of movement finally.
Late this evening Reuters reported that more than 4,500 lorries crossed the Channel ending the blockade by France lasting several days. The Transport Minister, Grant Schapps, said more than 10,000 coronavirus tests had been carried out on lorry drivers, and only 24 had tested positive. The extra 800 troops to support the initial 300 had clearly done a great job.
Author’s note. A great job by our military and now in the wake of the new mutant viruses why don’t we get the troops sorting the vaccines out quicker?
THE QUEEN’S SPEECH.
The Queen will reflect on the hardships of COVID in her Christmas speech. Her Majesty has been forced to spend 7 months, between March and October without carrying out public engagements, which is a first.
Both son, Charles, and grandson, William, have contracted COVID-19 this year. Our monarch is celebrating Christmas in a low-key fashion with her husband Prince Phillip, at Windsor Castle rather than Sandringham which is their preferred option each year.
Charles: the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall Camilla, are staying at Gloucestershire while Prince William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in Norfolk.
As the speech began, we noticed that her majesty only had the one photograph of Prince Phillip visible. Usually, the Queen has several of all her family members, but this display signified the more solitary nature of her coronavirus Christmas.
Her Majesty praised individuals and communities across the UK and Commonwealth, saying they had ‘risen magnificently to the challenges of the year.’
The Queen shared that she had been ‘moved by this quiet, indomitable spirit.’
Her majesty said,
‘For many, this time of year will be tinged with sadness. Some mourning the loss of those dear to them and others missing friends and family members distanced for safety, when all they really want for Christmas is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand. If you are among them, you are not alone and let me assure you of my thoughts and prayers.’
‘Today our frontline services still shine that light for us, supported by the amazing achievements of modern science and we owe them a debt of gratitude.’
She talked about the light of Christmas and reminded us that,
‘even on the darkest nights there is still hope in the new dawn.’
Hearts and hearth.
Today is a time for family and a time where we currently miss our usual get-togethers and the warmth of hearts and hearth. But for many, there will be a missing chair at the Christmas dinner table this year, and we must be thankful that so far at least, our family has avoided the virus. Our thoughts and blessings go to those who have suffered so much this year. It has been truly horrendous for so many.
With estimates of between 80,000 and 100,000 lives lost thus far this year because of COVID-19, each with their own story and loved ones, I thought I would mark this special day with a reflection on just a few of those precious lives lost.
Sky News and others remembered those who lost their lives on this special day.
Peter Burnett from Swansea aged 58 was described as a big community figure and his exploits are still talked about today. He was mad about making his special type of gravy for family occasions. He had a big heart.
Phil Lowe worked as an NET tram driver for 15 years. Mike Mabey head of NET operations said,
‘It’s a really sad loss…when it hits you and it’s close to home then it does hit home a lot harder. He was one of our drivers, a good driver, well respected.’
Harry worked for Manchester University and was aged 62. His sister would send Hawaiian shirts and the week before he fell ill, he posed on Facebook in a different one every day. He was a passionate canoeist, and his sons wore a Hawaiian shirt each at his funeral.
Stephen was only 39 and died in March, but his family were unable to bury him until May. His mother, Dorothy described him as a wonderful son, who would buy her lunch and take her shopping. It was terrible as he was all alone when it happened, and they could not see his body. Dorothy said that,
‘one night I had a dream. I was holding him, and he told me, “Mum don’t worry, I’m all right.” I felt like I’d said goodbye.’
Areema was a newly qualified nurse and only 36 years old. She died where she worked at Walsall Manor Hospital. She had started as a housekeeper at the hospital and through hard work and dedication, fulfilled her dream of becoming a nurse, only to be struck by this awful, nasty disease.
Policarpio, aged 67 years old, originally from the Philippines, was described as hard-working. He had been a nurse for forty years before his recent retirement. On the way to his burial, the hearse passed through Pontefract Hospital where he had worked, and many NHS staff came out and stood to pay their respects to this dedicated man.
Tina had worked for most of her life in two supermarkets in the small town of Kimberley in Nottinghamshire. Everyone seemed to know her. Her sons: Rhys and Anthony were allowed to sit by her bedside in PPE until the very end. This would have been a great comfort to her, no doubt. The boy’s father and Tina’s partner, Mick, was recovering at home after his own battle with COVID-19.
I won’t go on, but to see just glimpses of the lives of those who have been lost to this deadly disease is heart-breaking. Writing this book is to commemorate the catastrophic event we are all living through. For us to be able to remember the devastating effect this has had and honour those who lost their lives or had them irreparably damaged by this unforgiving pandemic.
I send much love and best wishes to all those who have had to go through this hell.
I met Chris, Harry, and Lily at Titchfield Park, just to see them, and exchange gifts. Not the usual Christmas morning, granted, but we should count our blessings. It was still nice to see them on the best day of the year.
Tentative playing of games.
Jackie had a video call with her children and saw baby Elsie open her presents. It really is not what we want, but we hope it is just for one year and then back to normal. She was still on the call when Lily and I got back, so we got to see Elsie. I had returned with Lily for Christmas dinner and more opening of presents and tentative playing of games.
I cooked Christmas dinner in between playing with Lily, and while modesty forbids, readers, it was a triumph. I cooked an extra one for Jackie’s son Callum, who is on his own. I drove over to his place later in the day, and he came out and collected it from the back of the car. He will have to warm it up, but it is better than nothing, I suppose. It is the Christmas spirit, after all, and I was happy to take it over to him.
Quote of the day.
‘For Christmas is tradition time - Traditions that recall - The precious memories down the years- the sameness of them all.’ – Helen Lowrie Marshall.
SATURDAY 26TH DECEMBER 2020. BOXING DAY.
Facts and figures.
30,501 new cases.
Boxing Day sales are expected to fall by more than a quarter compared to last year. Footfall is down 60% in the UK up to 12 midday. Many non-essential shops are forced to close in Tier 4 areas. When you drill down to Tier 4 areas alone, footfall was 77.3% lower.
Where non-essential shops are allowed open in Tier 2, and 3 areas, footfall was still down by 38.2% and 42.5% respectively.
Barclaycard estimates that £2.7 billion will be spent by UK Shoppers on Boxing day, with people each spending an average of £162 online. This is down from £3.7 billion and £186 last year.
It looks like the coronavirus pandemic will benefit China in the mid-term. The Centre for Economics and Business Research says China will become the world’s major economic force in 2028, some five years earlier than previously thought. Its annual report comments.
‘For some time, an overarching theme of global politics has been the economic and soft power struggle between the United States and China. The COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding economic fallout have certainly tipped this rivalry in China’s favour.’
The UK, currently the fifth biggest economy, is expected to fall to sixth place by 2024.
The USA has 330,000 reported COVID deaths compared to the 4,770 reported in China.
It is expected that the Oxford/AstraZeneca virus will finally get MHRA approval this week and then the vaccine roll-out can begin in earnest. The UK has 100 million doses ordered.
Despite the claim to the contrary, Dover's problems are exacerbated by all the hauliers that held back previously, now arriving and so progress is better, but slow. Manston airfield is now clear, but Dover has huge tailbacks.
Stay at home.
Today is the day another 6 million Brits enter Tier 4. This makes 24 million people who have to ‘stay at home’ in the strictest of measures. Scotland and Northern Ireland have gone into another lockdown from today.
‘Snogging under the mistletoe.’
Prime Minister Johnson said he had never known a Christmas like this one, but sacrifices made this year will keep people alive for next year’s festive period. He spoke in a video message from Downing Street.
‘In most years it is a moment for togetherness and celebration in which the generations are jumbled together in the same household for days on end, pulling crackers and snogging under the mistletoe – you name it. And yet this year that is the one type of Christmas we simply cannot afford to have. We know there will be people alive next Christmas, people we love, alive next Christmas precisely because we made the sacrifice and didn’t celebrate as normal this Christmas.’
Wales relaxed their lockdown for one day yesterday only, and they are back into the measures too.
After the fact.
Encouraging news from scientists battling the virus; a new antibody treatment is being trialled amid hopes that it could prevent people from developing COVID-19 after being exposed to the disease.
The antibody, known as AZD7442, was developed by AstraZeneca and reviewed by University College London Hospitals NHS Trust as part of a new trial called Storm Chaser.
UCLH virologist Dr Catherine Houlihan who is leading the trial said,
‘we hope to find that giving this treatment via injection can lead to immediate protection against the development of COVID-19 in people who have been exposed – when it would be too late to offer a vaccine.’
She went on to explain, ‘In this population, if the trial is successful, we may have eight days from date of exposure which we could potentially offer them this treatment.’
France has discovered its first case of the new variant from the UK/Kent. A French citizen who left London for Tours, France, on 19th December 2020 has been diagnosed with it.
Almost inevitably several European countries are reporting the same, countries such as Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, and Gibraltar. This coincides with European countries' delivery of the Pfizer vaccine in Germany, Greece, Spain and Italy. Ten thousand doses will arrive in Ireland shortly ahead of their immunisation process commencing on Wednesday.
Germany has had issues with a batch of a thousand vaccines, in Bavaria, suspected to have exceeded the temperature parameters and are likely to be trashed.
Yesterday we remembered some of the ‘ordinary people’ who have tragically lost their lives to COVID-19. Some much-loved public figures have also been taken suddenly by the virus:
Bobby Ball 76 years – comedian and actor. Best known as half of the double-act Cannon and Ball popular throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Bobby had been rehearsing with his partner Tommy and felt a bit chesty. It worsened, so he went to the hospital, and within a few days, he had sadly died. Tommy Cannon said,
‘I’m absolutely devastated, I’ve lost my partner, my best friend and the funniest man I know. Thank you for your messages, prayers and love.’
Eddie Large 78 years – comedian. The other half of comedy due Little and Large, popular in the 1970s and ’80s. After winning the TV talent show, ‘Opportunity Knocks’ in 1971, they went on to have their own programme, ‘The Little and Large Show’ on prime-time for many years. Eddie caught the virus in the hospital where he was being treated for a heart complaint.
Tim Brooke Taylor 79 years – actor and comedian. Best known as one of the comedy trio called ‘The Goodies’ in the 1970s, he became involved in many television and radio shows. Graeme Garden, a member of ‘The Goodies,’ said he was,
‘terribly saddened by the loss of a dear colleague and close friend of over 50 years.’
He said that Tim was a
‘funny, sociable, generous man who was a delight to work with.’
Dave Greenfield 71 years – a member of ‘The Stranglers’punk group. Hugh Cornwell, the singer in the band, said,
‘He was the difference between The Stranglers and every other punk band.’
He caught coronavirus in the hospital where he was being treated for heart problems.
Bruce Williamson 49 years – a member of the Motown group ‘The Temptations,’ having joined in 2005. He was recovering from gall bladder surgery when he caught the virus in hospital—dying a few weeks before his fiftieth birthday.
Broadway actor and ‘Rock of Ages’ star, Nick Cordero died at the age of 41 after COVID-19 complications which meant he had his right leg amputated, and sadly he has now succumbed to this horrible virus.
Roy Horn from the world-famous Las Vegas magic and animal act ‘Siegfried and Roy.’
Charley Pride, one of the first black singers to break into the Country and Western scene, died from COVID-19 just a few weeks after his farewell performance. He was 86.
Seconds out, round one.
Jackie has to go to work for the dreaded Boxing day sale. She is praying that the crowds will have thinned before she gets there at 2 pm.
Ash and April called around, so we got to see Elsie in their car's back seat. She was in her Christmas elf outfit and looked great. I called her ‘Elfie.’
I met my son Harry for a walk at 2.30 pm. Since he came home, he has not been himself, and I wanted to try to understand what was wrong and if I could help. It turns out that he is basically missing his friends at university and I also sense he feels trapped because everywhere is closed down. He can’t see his local friends, he is essentially in his room a lot, online, but it isn’t the same, of course.
At University, he was within his bubble of nine friends all sharing accommodation, similar-minded, talented, and having a wonderful experience. He will be fine. He should go back there in just over a week. He is a great young man, and I can’t wait until he can go anywhere and everywhere he wants and be totally free.
Quote of the day.
‘I just like to smile, smiling’s my favourite.’ – Buddy the Elf – Will Ferrel.
SUNDAY 27TH DECEMBER 2020
Facts and figures.
41,385 new cases.
Author’s note. This is the largest number of new cases in one day ever, and should be higher, in truth, as Scotland is not providing deaths and Northern Ireland are not providing data on cases or deaths between 25th and 28th December 2020. You will recall that the UK government figures often do not tally with home nations due to the difference in timeframes and recording methods.
The Welsh are struggling to keep a lid on the virus with their NHS reportedly at breaking point in recent days. Cardiff and Vale University Hospitals sent out an urgent request:
‘Our Critical Care department is urgently looking for assistance from medical students or other staff groups who have previously supported with proning patients. If you are fit, tested and available at 9am/5pm over the next few days call 02921…’
Author’s note. ‘Proning’ is a technique learned early on in treating severely ill patients and is seen as something of a last resort. It involves turning them face down, and it can ease their breathing and loosen them up. The problem with it is that while successful in some, in others, it is such a shock to a fragile body, they can have a heart attack and die almost immediately. It is extremely stressful for those carrying it out, of course.
A senior A&E nurse, David Smith, has admitted to Sky that he,
‘can’t put into words how scared I am. I have worked in the NHS for the best part of 15 years, and I am genuinely worried for my colleagues and what’s going to happen. We’re at full capacity. We’re at stretching point.’
The concern is not restricted to Wales as in many areas of the NHS in the UK there are concerns that if there is a spike after the relaxation and holiday period in general, they will be unable to cope.
Today’s Sunday newspaper headlines:
Vaccine boost for millions as hospitals near breaking point.
– The Sunday Times.
Doctors warn: we face vaccine chaos.
– Sunday Mirror.
Big changes are coming for Britain vows PM.
– The Sunday Telegraph.
15m jabs to freedom – and we’ve done nearly one million already.
– The Mail on Sunday.
The future’s in our hands.
– Sunday Express.
Trials of the vaccine by Oxford/AstraZeneca has resulted in Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive of AstraZeneca telling the Sunday Times,
‘we think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after doses, is up there with everyone else. I can’t tell you more because we will publish at some point.’
The strong implication is that this virus will now be close to the 95% efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines.
The Sunday Telegraph claims that the AstraZeneca distribution of the vaccine will have needles in arms by 4th January 2020.
Bethany Minelle of Sky News reports a new symptom for Long Covid which is most unpleasant. People suffering from Long Covid are presenting with a strong smell of fish, sulphur and a sweet sickly odour. This symptom is known as parosmia, a distortion of smell.
Ear Nose and Throat specialist Professor Nirwal Kumar said the virus is a ‘neurotropic virus,’ adding,
‘The virus is affecting the nerves in the roof of the nose – it’s like a shock to your nervous system, and the nerves aren’t functioning.’
The only potential therapy for this parosmia is to undergo ‘smell training,’ involving sniffing rose, lemon, clove and eucalyptus oils every day for twenty seconds in an attempt to regain their sense of smell.
Chimps T party.
Reuters report that China’s Walvax Biotechnology Company has started work on a plant to manufacture a coronavirus candidate similar to Oxford/AstraZeneca’s product. The treatment is based on a chimpanzee adenovirus to deliver materials that can trigger an immune response, using T cells, against the virus that causes COVID-19. This is identical to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
There is no suggestion that this has anything to do with the reported data loss at AstraZeneca or the recent huge hacking of almost all government systems reportedly by China and Russia. Heaven forbid.
Jackie is back at work again today. She has purchased a nasal spray called Dual Defence, which may help reduce catching the virus as it captures it in the nasal passages and does not let it travel beyond. At least that is the suggestion, and it seems to make sense to our limited knowledge.
She had tried to offer today’s shift to others, but there were no takers. I know she loves the job, but in the current COVID-19 environment, she looks like she has the world on her shoulders, bless her.
Quote of the day.
‘O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ – Percy Bysshe Shelley.