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Journal of the Plague - The Second Wave: from lockdowns to vaccines to the lifting of restrictions

In part two of our feature taking extracts from Cambridge residents Sarah Walters’ pandemic diary, masks are required, Christmas is cancelled, weddings take place via Zoom and - thankfully - help arrives in the form of life-saving jabs.

You can read part one here.

Sarah Walters kept a diary throughout the pandemic. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sarah Walters kept a diary throughout the pandemic. Picture: Keith Heppell

July 18, 2020

As of next Friday, anybody entering a shop in UK must wear a face mask. An on-the-spot fine of £100 can be charged by the police, apparently, but that would imply a huge dedicated police force targeting every shop. Much debate in the press about the efficacy of masks, with leaders around the world inconsistent, esp. the egregious Trump, who inveighs against them one minute and sports one the next.

July 19, 2020

For the first time in four months, I attended a church service in Grantchester. Maybe 20 in the congregation, and mostly middle-aged, not the very young nor the very old. Many rules in place: only two people to a pew; Communion as bread only, and not at the altar rail; no singing, but canned hymns from the new sound system. Peaceful and pleasant, and great to be back in that community and in that place.

July 25, 2020

Much talk of vaccines being developed. Government advisers say they can’t realistically be approved and rolled out until early next year.

August 5, 2020

Almost everything one does now is online, and events of all kinds must be pre-booked. Classes, visits to gardens, restaurants, museums, swimming pools. How does it work for young mothers with children, or the elderly?

August 13, 2020

A-level results day in England and chaos abounds: total dismay as nearly 40% exam grades lower than expected. A-level results were perforce based on teachers’ estimates of their pupils’ achievements and expected level. But then moderated by some weird algorithm to cancel out ‘grade inflation’. A-levels determine tertiary education of course, so universities. will be perplexed. Does anybody recognise how awful, disruptive and impossible it has been for students to do schoolwork through Covid?

A wedding by Zoom
A wedding by Zoom

August 16, 2020

Our son and daughter-in-law attended a Zoom wedding this afternoon. No singing! 45 ‘participants’. It was meant to be held near Cambridge and we were meant to be looking after their little son for the duration. Now we are not needed. Sad really, but they got a good view, stayed in their sitting room, didn’t have to dress up, and Leo could make all the noise he wanted!

August 20, 2020

The manager explained that the rules around Mum’s care home in Bath had still not relaxed, so we can only wish Mum happy birthday through a window. She will be 101 on 24th August. We can give her presents once they have been wiped clean by the establishment!

October 12, 2020

The PM has just announced further lockdown measures for parts of the country worst affected by the spread of Covid. Each town and area is categorised as Medium, High or Very High risk. There is no ‘Low’. In areas of High risk (Cambridge is Medium), pubs, clubs and restaurants will close completely. So far, schools and universities remain open.

October 18, 2020

Last night we went to our first concert since March. It was given by Bridget Hardy, a fellow-dancer who is also a professional singer. The (postponed) concert was held in the Unitarian Church Hall, with 15-20 pre-booked seats spaced two metres apart, everyone except the soloist wearing masks, all filing in one door and out of another. It was a wet, dark October evening… but wonderful to hear a live Mezzo voice singing Beethoven’s ‘To the distant beloved’ - so relevant - full of expressive drama. The tiny audience was enchanted.

October 31, 2020

Hallowe’en, and the overnight threat of a further, month-long lockdown in England. How dreary the prospect is, as it rains, and the wind blows, and the leaves fall in hectic disarray.

Now it’s 9pm and the formal announcement from BJ, who has said for weeks that he won’t allow another lockdown, is that we are all locked down from Thursday this week for four weeks. Furlough, due to stop today, has been extended for another month. This is deeply depressing news, as we stumble into line behind neighbouring countries.

Vaccines to the rescue
Vaccines to the rescue

November 21, 2020

Three of the many chemical research labs have successfully trialled vaccines. None is ready to deliver just yet, but perhaps by next spring we shall see some real global improvement, if not the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Some will object to being vaccinated, as always, apparently - the so-called anti-vaxxers.

There are murmurings about the dangers of unlocking for Christmas. Lockdown may continue; households may not be able to unite; the unthinkable may indeed come to pass.

December 23, 2020

A whole new variant of the virus has broken out and is affecting people at twice the rate of the other… Christmas is now cancelled, with no mingling of households unless in tiers 1-3 and only then on Xmas Day (one other household). The brighter spot is that vaccines are now being rolled out slowly to half a million NHS workers and very vulnerable people.

Christmas Eve, 2020

So far, an unusually peaceful day, the strangest since that far away Christmas Eve in 1978 when my Dad died. It’s been quiet and calm, apart from loud, defiant carol-singing on Cannon’s Green this morning, organised by me and others.

January 8, 2021

With the spread of two variants, Covid is now very much in the ascendancy again. Today, deaths around 1300, and new cases 16,000. The picture changes daily, and we are in lockdown again, with no schools open except for key worker children or those regarded as vulnerable. At the same time, about 1.5 million people thus far in receipt of either the (older) Pfizer vaccine, in two shots, or the newer Oxford vaccine, also in two shots.

January 16, 2021

We are in the middle of lockdown – at least, I trust it is the middle, otherwise we are in big trouble. Cases of Covid in the UK have soared and the death toll reached nearly 1600 in one day. In this second wave, spirits are lower and the public pulling-together which was evident back in April and May last year is less strong.

January 20, 2021

US President Joe Biden is inaugurated, ousting the awful Trump, yippee, but also the worst day so far for UK deaths from Covid, at over 1800, and a record number of new cases too. Were it not for record vaccinations, this would be a dark day indeed. Many vaccination centres are now set up, including racecourses!

February 8, 2021

By now, 12 million inoculated in UK. The government is getting a better press for its rollout of the immunisation program than it has had for its handling of the spread of the infection.

The roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines was a huge success
The roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines was a huge success

February 11, 2021

Yesterday I had my first injection at Clay Farm Clinic in Trumpington. Mine was the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. I was in and out of the walk-through clinic in five minutes, ushered by kind stewards. An orderly queue of middle-aged/elderly citizens grateful for this welcome immunisation and the brief relief it affords from the humdrum day.

March 13, 2021

It’s nearly a year since lockdown began. Officially this is lockdown number three; but it’s tempting to think of the whole 12 months as one single period, because although there have been weeks of eased restrictions, it has been a full year since we started to regard other human beings as a threat to our health; a year since social distancing and the lockdown mentality were lodged in international consciousness.

Even the Botanic Garden is now over-familiar, and I feel that I know every grave in the Victorian cemetery.

April 2, 2021

The first day on which the outdoor pool at Jesus Green was open. A small example of unlocking, along with sports like golf and tennis. Freezing, but nevertheless we resolved to use our booking at 4.10pm, along with some 30 other stalwarts. Icy cold both in and out, and we shivered for ages afterwards; but celebrated the small release.

May 10, 2021

From next week two households can mix indoors. Brave or desperate travellers may shortly fly to the few ‘green’ countries of the world where our govt. deems there to be little risk of bringing back Covid. Behind the ‘green’ list comes ‘amber’ and finally ‘red’ - countries that are rampant with Covid.

Closer to home: my dance class is set to resume in a week’s time, in the flesh, in the church hall in Cambridge. This is seriously good news, and will be the first such class for 15 months. Numbers will be restricted, and we dancers shall keep our distance!

June 27, 2021

At last, able to visit my Mum in person: first I take a Lateral Flow test 30 mins before arrival; then my temperature is taken by the receptionist, who asks a dozen questions about my health; then I don plastic gloves (horrid sweaty things), a plastic overall and a mask in order to be led up the back stairs to Mum’s room, where we are allowed half an hour’s chat. And lockdown has only reaffirmed Mum’s reluctance to leave her own bedroom, which as far as I can tell she now never does.

July 13, 2021

The infection rate is alarmingly high – nearly 35,000 new cases yesterday; but the govt. is still planning to ease restrictions on 19th July. People are protesting, but for the sake of the economy, and the feeling that we must sooner or later resume normal life, the govt seems recklessly bent on keeping to their ‘roadmap’, even though its final step has already been deferred by four weeks.

Further arguments about whether the NHS test and trace app, with its attendant regs. is now over-scrupulous. There is a whole industry around LF and PCR tests and plenty of clinics have popped up (two on Tenison Road alone) to charge people £100-£300 for the privilege. At its worst, whole classrooms of children or working colleagues may have to isolate for 10 whole days when one of their number tests positive.

Addenbrooke's Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell
Addenbrooke's Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell

November 14, 2021

Hospitals, including Addenbrooke’s, are overwhelmed by Covid patients and report too few empty beds. Ambulances are forced to wait outside hospitals before being able to usher their sick indoors, because there are insufficient staff/beds to cope with them.

January 4, 2022

Christmas is over and we settle into a new year of the new Omicron variant virus, hundreds of thousands infected per day.

We were, however, allowed to celebrate Christmas without stringent rules about bubbles and without the closure of churches.

February 25, 2022

As of yesterday, all mandatory Covid restrictions in the UK were lifted, so that it is no longer compulsory to wear a mask in shops or on public transport, nor to quarantine for five days on receipt of a positive LF test.

I’ve been pondering aspects of life under Covid that may never go back to normal, things which we’ve got used to and even benefited from during the pandemic:

GP appointments by telephone/FaceTime – there are many instances where a call is adequate.

  • Zoom meetings and lectures. Zoom dance classes are a poor substitute for the real thing, but Zoom lectures are a breeze.
  • Working at home. We shall never go back to the old days, I believe, when going into the office was an absolute daily requirement. Obviously only applies to those jobs which don’t involve manual work or face-to-face transactions. But the daily commute may be a thing of the past for many workers.
  • Related to this is the need for office space at home. Most people have altered their bedroom/kitchen/sitting room to accommodate desk, chair and computer. We all need bigger houses, or heated sheds!
  • Hand-sanitising. This is now a kneejerk activity on entering many buildings or shops and is unlikely to vanish altogether.
  • Suspicion of people in close proximity. While I doubt that people will go on wearing masks for ever, there remains a wariness about being too close to other people. We have all been infected by mistrust.
  • Doing without cash. Card payments for everything are now so much the norm that nobody carries much cash.
  • It would be comforting to think that the love-thy-neighbour spirit that was especially in evidence early in the Covid months will persist. There was a sense of togetherness against the pandemic and reaching out to help each other, either practically or just by talking over garden fences or on the pavement. But will it?

On a more frivolous note, several friends and acquaintances have kept their hair long. During successive lockdowns it was impossible/dangerous/unnecessary to have your hair cut, so we all got used to our languid locks and beards. And they have stuck! The same goes for hair colouring: we go grey gracefully now, some of us.

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