Saturday, February 13

Repeat after me: I am definitely going to die but probably not for some considerable time nor from COVID19

For many months now I have been doing my weekly shop at Tesco in Towcester early on a Saturday morning. This avoided the necessity of queueing and, more recently, with queueing not being required, also meant that I encountered few people when travelling round the aisles.

This morning I woke up a little later than usual and so my visit was at about 9am instead of 7:30am. There wasn't a huge difference but I did notice how many more people were around as I moved from the bacon to the bananas. I hesitated often, waiting for someone to move their trolley or leave room for me to reach for some butter. It was only later that it dawned on me that I had been vaccinated three weeks earlier. I was now most unlikely to get COVID19. Even if I did, or a variant of it, I was more likely to be involved in a motor accident on the way home than be seriously ill as a result. The COVID19 family of viruses now should be, to me, of no more concern than 'flu as I have had to look out for in all the years before.

That's quite a thought! It's over. For me, and for all the 15 million others who have now had their injection. We're really not going to get ill from this thing. But it seems very clear that this thought has not really had much, if any, impact on the vast majority of us. It was most odd. I was still slightly scared of other people today. I remember getting particularly worried a month or so ago when a supermarket in Zhytomyr became very busy. I was struggling both mentally and physically to make some space for myself, holding my breath until I could take a gasp which may not contain droplets of the virus I was sure must be being exhaled by at least one of the many people who had come into the warm shop from a freezing outside. I had to get out and it was such a relief to breathe the cold but cleaner air in the street outside. That was then. That was when I was vulnerable and might die from getting the virus, for all I knew, or, like many others we would see on TV, become extremely ill and have to be treated in hospital. Hospital, sadly the one place where it seems people almost definitely do get the virus if they haven't already got it. But that was then. When Ukraine's data for new cases, and certainly the lack of apparent effort by anyone other than the trolleybus ladies to minimise infection meant that I knew I was taking a risk being there. This is now. I am not going to get ill. Well, certainly not any more likely to get ill than in any other year. I have to tell myself this repeatedly and still don't quite believe it.

I am pretty certain that I am actually one of the few who is even thinking this far in the direction of positivity or optimism. I reckon there are massive numbers of old folk still huddled indoors and keeping as far away from anyone else as they possibly can, protecting themselves and 'doing the right thing', letting the State tell them what to do and until it tells them to circulate, act naturally again, this is their life. Locked away and at a distance. They feel safe that way. Why change? Someone says that there may be a variant that their particular brand of vaccine may not control. Someone else reminds them that 90% efficacy means that 10% of people may still catch the virus. These people will usually reckon that they could be one of those 10% and logic is on their side as, yes, they could be. But probability is not on their side and this is what the whole country is soon going to have to wake up to. Yes, some people will still die, even after having the vaccine, even after having the second dose. Indeed, we all have a 100% chance of dying at some point in the future. But the chances of dying from COVID19 are very small, even without the vaccine, With the vaccine they are already at a level which makes several other activities in which we are engaging  without a second thought far more risky. We need to think now that COVID19 is like 'flu in many ways. We may still get it but it is highly unlikely to cause us serious problems and extremely, genuinely extremely unlikely to give those of us who have been vaccinated, and an awful lot of others too, any problems now.

Try and let this thought settle in your mind. 

Yes, there are still dangers. We can carry the virus and transmit it to someone else. As that person may be vulnerable or at a particular risk of a problem from getting COVID19 then we do need still to maintain social distancing. Indeed, we are, at the time of writing, still under Lockdown anyway so none of us can circulate or greet people in the old-fashioned ways, get close to anyone we don't live with or have something called a bubble with. So it can only be a thought. But let it be a good thought. Let it grow and develop into some kind of confidence that this thing is beaten. Just as soon as the majority of the population have had their vaccine injection and there is no new nasty mutation of the virus then we will be free again to live pretty much as normal. Actually, it should be as normal

Once other countries have also defeated the virus or have adequate provision to treat it, it does appear then we should be able to travel freely again too, with people not being subjected to crazy restrictions on arrival or for us to have the same inflicted on landing elsewhere. Already I know of some countries where I could, if the law permitted, fly and not face all sorts of requirements before entering. There may continue to be a few places where the virus has not been properly controlled and risks remain by virtue of a new strain having developed. We should avoid those places and ensure people don't come here from them also. But these places are unlikely to be on our normal schedules for where we want to go. I will be more than happy to have my travels restricted to a few places in Europe, Ukraine and Malta for as long as necessary!

I do understand why I am having to stay at home and being careful with who I meet and how close I get while the rest of the world gets vaccinated. I will be frustrated however at a delay in lifting the Lockdown once all the vulnerable people and, say, over 65s have been vaccinated and no further nasty strains discovered which might still kill me. I will also be frustrated at a continuing plethora of restrictions to travel to places I wish to visit where I see no great risk either to my health or those of the people I may meet there. A test before I travel should be sufficient, plus proof that I'll be OK by virtue of my injection. If they're being really careful then, OK, put me in quarantine too when I get there, just in case I am carrying something, but not in some hotel at £2000 a throw and I certainly should not need this on my return to the UK.

If I don't visit a place with nasty new stuff and we're all pretty much vaccinated to the hilt in the UK then I am not going to cause anyone any harm by returning to my own country.

So, I shall remain patient. But not for long. From here on the delay is purely for the benefit of other people. Let that thought develop. It really is just like 'flu now for me and that didn't bother me. I was familiar with the probabilities then. We all need to be familiar with the probabilities now.

Wednesday, February 10


 A PCR type of test costs about £150. If I go to visit Olga in Ukraine as things stand at the moment I will have to purchase a test before I can fly back and then two more during my period of quarantine on my return. The pre-flight test is, presumably, to ensure that I don't have the virus and so will not be bringing it back to the UK. So I am not entirely sure I know why I need another test two days later. It is highly unlikely that I will have picked anything up on the way back but I suppose there are several places where that could be possible - the bus from Zhytomyr to the airport, people I've been near at the shops or in the street or travelling to get the result during the day or two since getting the pre-flight test. So the next test I have to have on arrival would reveal that but after then I am in quarantine and not in circulation so the third test does seem a bit over the top. The extra costs in Ukraine already more than double the bill for the visit when my tickets are normally only around £50 but the further £300 hits hard.

The press and all the talk at the moment is about people who just want to have a holiday or escape to the sun. There was a distinctly envious tone in many conversations I overheard on this subject when, just before lockdown, some people were in a Tier that permitted travel abroad. I was not flying for a 'holiday'. I was visiting my wife in a grey and damn cold town in Ukraine. Yes, I enjoyed my stay but I would have much preferred to have brought Olga here if it had been possible. Until she gets a visa then I need to be the one who does the travelling. I think it is a pretty normal and acceptable thing to do; visit a loved one. 

OK, so there are people in the UK at the moment who cannot be close to their close family members. The difference is they can see them, get within two metres and, in many senses of the word if not quite all, meet them and see how they are getting on, talk, laugh and communicate easily. I have been vaccinated so I won't catch anything from my wife and she is content to take the chance that she won't catch anything from me. People here can also have 'bubbles' and many I know use this to get closer than two metres so I don't think I am doing anything particularly bad or irresponsible. It's just the 'flying' thing that seems to bother people.

Things were not helped when we saw pictures of some people called 'influencers' enjoying the sun and expensive surroundings of hotels in Dubai, one of the countries that had accepted quite willingly people from UK (until very recently) and these people were able to use the excuse of 'business' to travel even if they came from a Tier 4 area or even after lockdown were able to travel legally. These 'influencers' are mostly attractive young girls who promote make-up or clothing products through video blogs and, although I am sure they really do not need to make the videos from holiday resorts, they probably do produce a better look than a semi detached suburban garden in Surrey in February. As is often the case, though, a very small number of people can make a big splash and papers like The Sun and jealous journalists were able to wind up Mr & Mrs Disgusted in Tonbridge Wells. Business travel is permitted and if people can get away with that as an excuse, good luck to them. They are not hurting me and, as they tend to stay where they are and not return in a hurry, they are not likely to either. The trip will be expensive for them and, should they come back soon, they'll need to do the same quarantine and have the same tests as me so I cannot complain about them, other than wishing that they'd not hit the headlines as that inevitably had an influence that the 'influencers' had not intended!

Now I'm locked down. I can't fly anyway. I did think about making it a business trip but I would need to make that genuine and, being in quarantine for 14 days, that's not easy! So, whilst there is a contact there in the die-cast model business that I could be going to see, I'm not inclined to do that. If this lockdown carries on for too long, though, I may reconsider that. As it stands I am going nowhere. 

I wonder why we need to have all these restrictions together. Lockdown, travel bans, quarantine, testing. It's overkill. The talk now is that travel restrictions could remain until not only all of the UK has been vaccinated but the rest of the world too. All we need then is that, just as the last jab goes in someone's arm in Greenland, a new strain appears and worries the hell out of ministers again and we're back where we started while we wait for the recipe to be adapted on the vaccines.

All this is going to carry on for some time, I feel. So my request is that some exceptions are made for people like me so that I can take a flight to visit my wife. And I do think they can cut back on the quarantine - or the tests - one of the two. If we're still in lockdown I don't need to be isolated as well and certainly don't need two further tests. By the time lockdown gets lifted if I did have anything it will have gone or made itself obvious. If we're not in lockdown but still otherwise banned from travelling abroad then put me back in isolation if you must but I really don't need those two tests as well.

There comes a time when we will have to accept that, vaccinated, we are extremely unlikely to be seriously affected by the virus and so should be permitted to get on with life as normal. And 'normal' means visiting those we love. 

Tuesday, February 2

Just a scratch

 “Fatty . . . Fami . . . Fatma . . .?” calls out a croaky voice, its tone honed over many years by
No.6 cigarettes or a similar brand.

A lady gets up from her chair and offers her form to the woman with the voice. “Fatima”, she
says quietly.

“Oh, right. Sorry. I’m useless at these Indian names. No, I don’t want the form. That’s yours.
You hang on to it, me dear, and give it to the lady at the desk. You’re number 7. There you
go, down there on the right. See? Lovely. Now, who have we got next? Ndrew? Oh, that’ll be
Andrew. Any Andrew?”

The voice woman was cheery and never seemed to stop talking even when people were
talking to her, which made any conversation quite tricky but there wasn’t much conversation
to be had in the queue for a COVID-19 vaccine at Milton Keynes Hospital Academic Centre.
Everyone looked a little scared or wary at the very least. We all seemed determined to be
totally subservient to whoever was giving us instructions, from the chap in yellow Hi-Viz
jacket outside who, like a bouncer at a nightclub, stopped anyone going through the door
with an outstretched arm, an arm that seemed to be about two metres long and indicating
that everyone needs to keep at a distance, to the young lad taking details at a desk when we
were, eventually, let in out of the rain and sleet outside.

Like some sort of computer game, In order to get to the next stage we had to complete a
form and deposit it on a table near the lady with the voice. The form seemed to ask pretty
much the same questions as the young man had asked on arrival but I got on with the job of
providing hard copy evidence of the same anyway. Then my glasses steamed up. I was
wearing a particularly good type of mask as my daughter had reminded me that the place I
was going was one of the places where I would be most likely to pick up the virus and my
usual ineffective but legal Lone Ranger mask wouldn’t offer enough protection. I tried
peering through my glasses at various angles but that didn’t work. Then I discovered that
when I breathed in they cleared! So for each question I took a sharp intake of breath and just
managed to complete the entries before needing to exhale. It did take a while longer than it
needed to have done, however, and I noticed that I slipped back several spaces in the
queue for the next stage.

But, eventually, I got the call and, after seeing a lady at another desk who asked me almost
exactly the same questions and inspected my ID badge, I was told that I was approved and
could join a third queue. “Behind the pillar, stand along the wall!” she instructed, as if I had
been naughty and was being sent out of class.

This queue was being managed by the lady with the voice and when she wasn’t announcing
names, or approximation to names, she was chatting away at whoever happened to be at
the front at the time. One young man made the mistake of joining in the chatter and was
giving her his life story as she was giving him hers or, possibly, someone else’s, it was
difficult to distinguish whose was whose at times.

She fell comparatively silent for a few minutes as the Asian lady in front of me did not
respond to her greeting. She went off instead to call out another name in the background.
When it came to my turn to stand at the front of the queue she was back and launched into
conversation at me. Indeed, her comparatively flimsy-looking face mask was perilously close
to my face as she lurched forward in her enthusiasm to start talking again. I staggered back
slightly but tried to disguise my movement as rearranging my ID badge. As I did she
focussed on the lanyard.

“You a professor?” she rasped. I had used a Middlesex University lanyard for the badge to
save me having to fish it out of a pocket. I didn’t get a chance to reply though as she
continued. “This isn’t my normal job,” she assured me. I could sense some amusement in
the people behind me.

“I shouldn’t think this is a normal job for any of us.” I commented. “But you’re doing well and
keeping us in order.” I was going to add ‘and entertained’ but thought better of it.

“I’m a cleaner in the other block.” she announced. “That’s my job. Over there.” She gestured
vaguely out of the room and seemed to think that we would know where she meant. “Do the
floors nice, I do,” she said and I was desperately trying to think of something I could say as
she lurched at me once more and social distancing was more like two centimetres than two
metres for a few seconds before someone emerged from a corridor opposite and rescued
me, beckoning me to walk across the the next stage in this weird process.

“You’ll be all right now, Professor!” she called after me as I walked towards the next yellow
circle on the floor, then, as I followed the circles into the next area the sound of “Wee, witti . .
. er . . willi . . faded in the distance.

I next find myself in a very disorganised sort of room with about ten desks at which sat about
ten girls in front of twin monitors. This was impressive IT on display as each monitor was as
big as the one I have at home. Next to the girls was someone wrapped not quite entirely in
clear plastic and a couple of very shiny plastic chairs. I looked at the shiny plastic chair and
wasn’t that keen to sit on it as it looked wet but I felt odd standing up so decided a damp
bottom was probably the worst that would happen.

While the man with the plastic wrapping was busy with some papers the girl at the desk
clicked on some boxes on her screens and smiled at me. “He’ll ask you some odd
questions,” she said. “Like what’s your job title.”

“I don’t really have a job title.” I replied. “It’s quite a small organisation. I might be helping
with IT one minute but I also make a good cup of tea . . .” I continued, determined to be as
truthful as possible. I described what the organisation I assisted did and she nodded

The wrapped-up man came back and didn’t seem to be totally sure of what he was doing,
muttering to himself and looking for something but never seeming to find it. At the next desk
the lady was getting her injection but wasn’t staying still and it didn’t sound as if that stage
was going particularly well for her. I had had a ‘flu jab a few months before and reckoned
that it would be pretty similar so, whilst I was not wanting to look at needles too closely (and I
really have had quite enough of seeing people getting injected on television now!), I was not
particularly nervous, just keen to get on with it now.

The man eventually seemed to come to his senses again and, whilst he did look a bit old
and tired, he was friendly and was pleased that my jumper was loose enough to roll up high
enough for the jab. We joked that no-one would want to see me take any clothes off. The girl
blushed and ticked a few more boxes on her screen. The man now asked me the same
questions that I had been asked at each of the previous stages and didn’t ask any strange
questions about my job title or anything else at all. He just got on with sticking the needle in
and I made them both laugh by being genuinely surprised when it was done so quickly after
all the procedures to get this far.

He gave me a card with the vaccination details and I was then asked to go and sit in another
room and this was more or less the final stage of the game. Ten minutes later, as I listened
to a young lady telling her mother on the phone that she had been sick and wasn’t feeling
very well and hoping that I would stay fine, I did, indeed stay feeling fine and made my
escape into the pouring cold rain outside, clutching my papers and, most importantly, the
ticket that would allow me out of the multi-storey car park.

All's quiet on the village front (again)

The post below was written in October 2020, just after returning from Ukraine. I have just returned from the next trip I made, as a lockdown prevented me travelling again until December. Even then, I only just managed to get away in time. The village was in Tier 2 when I planned the trip for 29 December until late January. Then it lurched into Tier 3 a few days prior to my departure and then it was announced that it would be in Tier 4 the day after my departure! 

Tier 3 permitted travel abroad but Tier 4 would not have done. that was a close shave! There was a similar close call on my return. I was due to fly on Saturday 16 January. On Monday there was an announcement that people returning to Britain would have to show a negative COVID test that had been taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Britain. That would entail getting a test on Thursday morning to be sure of getting the result sometime on Friday, ready for my early start on Saturday. Whilst Wednesday afternoon could work, my flight arriving around 2 or 3pm on the Saturday, it was a risk, should the flight be delayed significantly. With temperatures of -20 and snow everywhere, including Luton, I decided o go for the Thursday.

The next problem, however, was finding out (a) what sort of test would be acceptable and (b) which laboratories or similar place would be accepted and whether a hard copy and an English translation would be necessary too. There was no guidance on any of these queries anywhere. I wrote to various UK journalists as well as WizzAir and tweeted Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary who was announcing all this. On Tuesday there was still no news so Olga looked at the possible places in Zhytomyr where I could be tested and we chose the one that seemed most reliable and organised. We made an appointment for Thursday lunchtime. It was a long way out of town an so we would need a taxi as well a a bundle of notes for the test itself. We'd need to return again to collect the result and, yes, they would include an English translation. I just hoped that they would provide something that the UK Border Police would accept.

On the Thursday morning my friend Steve the taxi driver sent me a message while I was still in bed. He said that he'd heard on the radio that the requirement for a negative test had been deferred to start on Sunday, the day after my arrival! That was great news. I needed to confirm it but, sure enough, it was true. We cancelled the appointment and the taxis and spent the money on some art materials and wine!

Over there I had had to use the NDoma quarantine monitor app that I had installed on my phone many months previously. It was all in Ukrainian, though, so didn't make a great deal of sense and, fortunately, for my last trip it had not been required after all as Britain had very low rates of infection and had dropped out of the Red Zone. This time, however, Britain was most firmly in the Red Zone, with variants to add to the mixture and, generally, no-one was particularly welcoming Brits anywhere abroad. I fired up the app on arrival at the Border Control in Kiev but Olga had warned me not to activate it with any data because it was inclined to register my place of self-isolation as wherever I was at the time which, clearly could be a problem if I were not permitted to travel further than 1km away! I showed my phone to the girl behind the screen and she asked me to open the app. By mistake I opened Spotify! She took pity on me and could see that I had the right thing and generally seemed competent, being one of the few in a ragged crowd waiting around who actually had got the right other documents to enter. She said that she would allow me to enter on condition that I got my wife to set it up as soon as I got home. I told her that she was waiting for me and we'd do that no problem. I did feel as if she had helped me out there and could have been awkward but wasn't.

When we got to Zhytomyr I failed to get any data on to the app but all was much better when I downloaded a fresh version. This also had an English translation! Yippee! It was a curious thing and I was required to pose as instructed about three times each day at random times (although these were at least during the day). The problem was that there was no audible notification of these requests. So I had to check the screen every few minutes and I was quite late for quite a few of them. In darker conditions too some of the things I was told to do (tilt you head left, turn your head right etc.) were not as easy as they sound whilst remaining within a frame on the screen. I managed, however.

One amusing event was early in the morning on January 1st. The screen declared that I had 377 days quarantine left!!! It cleared later when I presume that some technical people realised they'd made a mistake in the code for coping with the new year.

I did very little over there other than celebrate Christmas and New Year twice and catch up with a lot of admin. The new laptop did well, although the trackpad has stopped working. Fortunately, Olga's son had a nice wireless mouse which did the job fine and, indeed, I have since bought the same one to use here in the village with it.

It is still quiet in the village as we're in lockdown once more. Goodness knows when it will end. I have just cancelled my flights for the 9-27 February and arranged them for 6-27 May instead, by which time I really do hope it will be possible!! I would hope to be able to get away in March, really, but I'll just buy a ticket when I know the dates I can travel. The May one will be the next, I expect. It also has WizzFlex attached so I can change it if necessary again. That flight I have chosen to take a window seat for a change. I like the aisle but I do have to get up for people to go to the loo and if there is a person in the middle seat it is not that great. In the window seat I can simply get in and settle down and not bother about anyone. Also, at the other end, everyone stands up way too soon and I feel obliged to let the other people in the row get their stuff from lockers and it is pretty mad for a while while we wait for the door to open. In the window seat I can just wait for everyone to clear the way and take a pleasant stroll off the plane.

So far the time away has flown by. With so many Corgi sales I have been very busy and now I am still catching up at the start of February! Olga and I enjoy time together every Wednesday and Sunday evening online and that works well for us. The last period, from February to August was a long haul. I went back in September/ October and then this last time was a bit delayed but we just about managed the 80 days in between.

80 days from 16 January would be 1 April. I am hoping it won't be that long this time. We'll see.

So here's the previous post. No much changes. But I have had the first vaccine and definitely feel quite confident that I can travel again without worrying about catching something, once I've done my three weeks.


Tuesday, October 6

Two months later and little has changed


It's two months later and not much has changed! Just the colours of the trees here in Zhytomyr where I happen to be once more.

This time the Ukraine government had closed its borders to 'foreigners' in an attempt to bring some increase in new COVID cases under control but it didn't make any noticeable difference. Maybe they merely increased at a slower rate. Like in almost every other country across the planet, however, the average number of new cases per day over the previous seven days per 100,000 population has been steadily increasing.

I had considered that a number of 5 per 100,000 was quite big, and that 4 was what some countries were using to denominate a Green / Red Zone. Now vast parts of the planet are showing numbers like 10 or more. 

The chart shows how many European nations compare. Leaving Montenegro to its own devices, the rest, while covering a range of rates, do show one thing very clearly - they're pretty much all doing the same thing! No one country's data is changing in a way that is much different from any other. Despite what are very great differences not only in government intervention but also in the extent to which people obey the rules, everywhere is proceeding pretty much in the same direction.

This leads me to just one conclusion: it doesn't really seem to matter what we do. The virus will spread one way or another and do its own thing. There is not a great deal we can do about it as a nation or even as a county or town. Individually, we can keep out of trouble and simply not go anywhere near anyone who might have it and those of us who manage that will probably get through unscathed but it will be a minority unless there is a vaccine or the virus just fades away.

So I have suggested that the government just let us make our own minds up on all this. I do believe that there is a great risk for the vulnerable and that they should be encouraged to lock themselves away or, at least, steer well clear of any risks. I also think it is important to respect what others may want. So if colleagues prefer to maintain a distance and do not want us close or to worry them then we should respect that. It may mean that we keep a good distance away but, where that is impracticable, then I think they should stay away and let us do what we wish, respecting our views as well. Those who worry about catching the virus in shops or pubs or events shouldn't go to shops or pubs or events. Then they won't catch it that way. And we can carry on without worrying that we're upsetting people by not wearing a mask or whatever.

Some of us will catch the virus, I'm sure. Most of us will get through it, though, and those who don't will, largely be the people who should perhaps have locked themselves away so their fate is their own decision. 

It may sound irresponsible and careless but I do believe that for the vast majority of us this will be a better existence and will enable most of the nation to get back to work and help repair the badly damaged economy. The country needs people in work and living reasonably normal lives so that we can feel better generally, with less stress and making sufficient resources available to care for those who are not so fortunate. With most of us not earning a living then the funds for health care will soon diminish and real problems will arise for those who succumb.

We are, as individuals or family groups, very capable of making decisions about the risks we face in our daily lives. Coping with the risk of COVID-19 is going to be just one addition we need to bear in mind. But let us decide what we feel comfortable doing, not a government. If a massive mob of teenagers is descending on the local pub then I may well decide that that's too great a risk for me and I'll leave. Naturally I'd be happier if they keep away but I'm not going to have some law telling them to do so. Similarly, I go into a store and will generally steer fairly clear of others there. If someone approaches me a bit too closely and is coughing and spluttering then I'll do my best to escape his proximity! Yes, it'll be a drag but no, I don't want laws about all this. By and large I would like to think that such groups or sick individuals would realise that what they may be doing is wrong or, at least, inconsiderate and adjust their behaviour over time in the light of experience and what they learn.

Here in Ukraine I see a few more masks but few worn properly. Life does carry on much as it did before and I cannot think of anything that isn't functioning these days. The numbers of cases reported have gone up but are following the same curves as everywhere else. I think that if I was going to get the virus I would have got it by now. I know I take a chance every time I go out on a bus or walk in a busy street. It is in my mind, for sure, and I don't feel as safe as I do in rural Astcote! Having said that, I have to go round Tescos and in and out of a few shops each week in Towcester and I am not so sure the risk is that much lower there than here.

I will return to the UK in a few days' time and there will be the risk of the airports and the plane journey itself to survive. I was hoping that the weather might be better than the grey, very grey days I'm having here, hardly ever leaving an apartment because of the weather, not fears for my wellbeing! From what I can gather, however, there is rain and more rain there too. I will be happier on ground level, though, and able to walk out of a door and stroll around a garden or field for a while. I miss that here where I am nine stories up and the field is a bit of a walk away.

Saturday, August 8

Is it chaos or just life as normal in the Green Zone

I am beginning to come to the conclusion that we have got our reaction this COVID-19 threat completely wrong. If I am still in good health in a couple of weeks then I will be certain of it. I am writing this in Zhytomyr, a town in Ukraine where I arrived on a very hot Wednesday 5th August. Suddenly, a few days earlier, the UK and Ukraine both became members of the Green Zone by virtue of someone calculating that their number of 'active cases' had fallen below a certain figure and this meant that I was no longer required to go through a hugely complicated process to enter the country.

A short while ago I would have had to download an app which would report my whereabouts and require me to take a photograph of myself in a particular place within 15 minutes of a request to do so. The app was totally written in Ukrainian and indecipherable to me. I had, with the help of my friend, started to enter some data which I had expected to need, when she told me to stop because people had been reporting problems if the address entered did not tie in with the location assessed by the app's geo-location software. Better to wait until I arrive in Ukraine, she suggested, and I could merely show the border patrol people that it was installed. at least.

In addition I would have to be tested at a specified medical place in town within 24 hours of arrival. If I were found to be free of the virus then the app would be notified by the medical centre and it should then inform me accordingly that I need not remain locked in a particular location thereafter. Despite all their best efforts, though, there had been reports of delays in notification and incorrect results too. So i was not too enthusiastic about the prospect of not being able to leave an apartment for the duration of my stay here.

Finally, I would have to demonstrate that I had insurance that would meet the costs of any medical expenses incurred should I get afflicted with COVID-19 whilst in the country. I had purchased suitable insurance in March but, unfortunately, not only would it be invalid as a result of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office not recommending travel to Ukraine but, even if, as it turned out, that restriction was lifted prior to my departure, the company issuing the policy needed to have an administrative office of some sort in Ukraine! Mine didn't. For a while this massive hole in the road for anyone trying to get to Ukraine virtually prevented getting here but then the Powers That Be introduced a nifty button on the VisitUkraine website which enabled insurance cover to be arranged at a quite modest cost for the duration of the trip. I had been worried that there might be an age limit or some restriction for previous health issues but no, oldies like me were accepted and so I was able to see how to overcome one hurdle at least.

I was prepared to take a chance on the results thing but, to my delight, the UK changed from Red Zone to Green Zone and all that testing and quarantine stuff evaporated away, leaving only the insurance requirement and a bundle of papers to show the border patrol officer.

On arrival at Zhulainy Airport, a pleasant and efficient little airport, it soon became clear that most travellers from the UK had not done their homework. They might have learned when they boarded the plane as we were all asked to show our insurance documents. As they arrived at the border patrol officer's window they all started having to dive into their cases once more, not only for the same document but also for some paperwork which would show where they would be staying and with contact details. No-one seemed to have completed the forms and so were trying to dictate awkward-sounding addresses to the officer and it all took a great deal of extra time. Yes, I had everything all ready. I was determined not to fall at that sort of hurdle!

The real surprise, however, came as I left the airport. Almost no-one had a mask or face covering. No-one seemed to pay any attention to what we call social distancing. Taxi drivers were just like they had always been and there was no cleaning of seats every time someone got out. I had rather suspected that even in the UK this wouldn't be likely to happen but the drivers might make a semblance of effort at least. 

The bus from Kyiv outskirts to Zhytomyr was pretty full and stiflingly hot. A couple of passengers wore face coverings but that was all. To be honest it was quite a relief not to have felt obliged to wear mine in such heat and, instead, I spent most of the long journey leaning forward to attempt to make the most of the cooler air flow from a nozzle above my friend's seat. Real chaos ensued on the local buses in Zhytomyr town. Usually jam-packed anyway, they had been restricted to certain numbers prior to May but since the easing of many restrictions in the country, people just clambered aboard and stood close to each other as they always had done. There was an occasional face covering but the majority of people seems to dangle theirs from one ear or not bother at all. It was ruddy hot and I can well understand. Mine stayed in my pocket for the most part. Only on entering shops and offices did we use them and even then, if a brief look around showed that no-one was bothering with them, they were dropped or removed again.

One notable exception was on the trolley buses. Here a small round lady would control the numbers getting on at each stop to ensure that there were the same number as were seats available. Needless to say, I spent most of the journey wondering why on Earth an old chap with a dirty old shopping bag was hanging from a bar above my seat and blocking everyone's passage down the bus when there were plenty of seats empty.

In the streets people busily went about their business or shopping or just chatting in the street much as I reckon they always had done. I started trying to give others a wide berth and to avoid breathing in any air that might have recently been breathed out by a passer-by. That didn't last very long. Old and young, healthy-looking and infirm, men and women, all of us basically seemed to be operating on the basis that there was no such thing as COVID-19 or, if there were, it was no great shakes and, as with each years 'flu, what will be will be.

All so very different to the UK that I had left only a short time earlier. There our behaviour is much more tightly regulated and, whilst there may have been some areas where the number of new cases has been growing rapidly, generally we seem now not to be experiencing anything very different in ill health or deaths than might have been expected in any average year. It is also worth noting that even our very heavy death toll of 46000 is of similar magnitude, proportionately, to the deaths from Asian 'flu in 1957 when we took little precaution other than common sense.

We get angry at the mobs or youths and not-so-young too congregating at holiday beaches or tourist beauty spots and decry their irresponsibility at 'spreading the virus'. Personally I am more angry at the mess they leave behind and lack of good manners so many seem to show when they leave their council estates and carry-out meals in front of massive buy-now-pay-later tvs on their reclining buy-now-pay-later sofas to share the real British countryside. Do we ever read about any of these idiots getting ill or dying? Or, for that matter, those who might be expected to suffer from their proximity, the people who actually live in these lovely places. 

I think we should encourage them all to get the hell out of Britain and soil some foreign country's beaches if they have to behave that way. Make it easier to travel abroad, not more difficult. And let's not stop there. Let's lift all the restrictions and just get back to life as it was at the start of the year, or as close as we can get to that. By all means be selective about who we permit to join us from other places but the true chaos is, in my opinion, going to be in the United Kingdom, not Ukraine from here forward.

Friday, July 17

COVID-19 New Cases around the world

As mentioned in the last article, I have been watching the data across the world and, i particular, the numbers of new cases each day and my sheet expresses these as the number per 1m population. This, I feel, provides a better comparison that mere totals and the total active cases seem most unreliable with totally different methods of calculation in different places.

I do appreciate, of course, that there will also be huge problems in the reliability of some of the data from countries with poor recording or testing facilities or procedures. This will almost certainly mean that where the virus has taken hold in a poor, less well-equipped country then the  number of active cases must be significantly higher than the official data shows. or all that, I do feel this is a useful guide, especially as 'active' cases are not available for the UK and some other countries and it is really to see how we're doing in comparison to others that I do this. More in hope than anything else these days, though.

I got a mouthful from some woman in Portugal when I put these on Facebook. She was most offended that I had shown Portugal as red and UK as a nice apple green. Clearly, as she pointed out amongst the huffing and puffing, every country will have lovely safe places where no-one is ill and you can happily visit and hug people and wander around without a mask. I am sure Portugal has many. But unless someone provides me with all the detailed regional data all I can share is the national stuff and, indeed, that is what tends to guide authorities, for better or worse. But, yes, don't make any decisions based on what I publish. It's purely data, made a little more comprehensible.

Depending upon what I am doing with this sheet from time to time it may change to show all the days or may be filtered to show just Europe or just certain areas of the planet.