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

Overkill

 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
approvingly.

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.

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