If you want a break from continuous Covid-19, I have an article coming soon about my Philippines adventures. The photos and memories are an escape from the chaos.
The threat emerged in China. It was awful but far away.
“Don’t go” my aunt begged. But there were few cases in the Philippines. I was going via Singapore. People had spread it at their airport and a London airport shortly before I arrived back, but it was not a common event.
Someone on the plane has a fever.
We were hovering over Heathrow when cabin crew marched quickly up the plane, one wheeling a suitcase. There was a flurry of activity up the aisles and a curtain was yanked shut.
“Just to let you know, someone on the plane has a fever” announced the captain. There was stifled anxiety and a father was explaining the situation to his child.
We landed and a health visitor distributed forms. Unlike the cabin crew, reassuringly, he was not wearing a mask, just gloves. Waiting outside the plane a medical professional stood wide-eyed, wearing a hazmat outfit with a clear visor covering her face.
Days passed and I heard nothing, so I forgot about the pesky plague.
Then it came to Italy and coronavirus contaminated my newsfeed.
I’ve got a temperature.
My boyfriend had gone skiing in the North Italian Alps in February and there was a good offer for the Austrian mountains, in Tirol.
“Do you need another ski holiday?”
“It’s not for long” he replied.
I said goodbye on the 1st of March.
“I’ve got a temperature so I’ve come back from work early” the text read, on Wednesday 11th.
He phoned NHS111.
“You haven’t been to an affected area so you don’t need a test” they responded. No mention of infection control.
The first UK nationals returning with the virus had been on holiday to Europe. A friend who had dared to enjoy the Sagrada Familia and Sangria in Barcelona was now cuddling her cat in bed.
We never get ill. Not like this.
Worried, I text my boyfriend. “What are your symptoms?”
“Headache, aches, sore throat, cough and my chest feels tight”.
“You must isolate.”
“I’ll go back to work when I’m feeling better.”
“How are you?”
“Temp going up and down now. Woke up last night with the heat, had some really weird dreams. It’s strange how a fever affects you.”
On Saturday 14th March the panic started.
It was day 4 of my boyfriend’s fever but it was finally dropping. I wanted to be sure.
I desperately visited every shop in a five mile radius.
Boots nearby? sold out.
Boots in town? sold out.
Superdrug? sold out.
Argos? sold out.
John Lewis? didn’t sell them.
This could have put his life in danger. Why were they so selfish? Why didn’t they have thermometers? Why didn’t we have thermometers?
Because we never get ill. Not like this.
The media started announcing a daily coronavirus count. There would be bulk-buying. But to my surprise it was business as usual in the pharmacy that morning. There was still a sense of calm. Everything was in stock apart from most of the paracetamol. I bought two lots of products to ease flu. One for me, one for my boyfriend.
A man in the queue turned and looked at my basket, whispered to his wife and walked to the side to wait for his prescription, staring at me nervously as I purchased the items.
“Is this just for you?” the retailer asked.
“No, it’s for someone else as well” I said smiling, as the shop went silent and people gawped.
I was in Waitrose looking for snacks. The bread shelf was empty. The flour shelf (to make bread) was nearly empty. The pasta shelf? empty. The soap shelf? empty. The medicine shelf? empty. The Vitamin C shelf? empty. The toilet roll shelf? empty. Why? “Well at least there’s still beer” someone joked.
A nurse was crying in her car after trying to get food. She has now come down with it too, possibly. My brother came back from an A and E shift in Wales to find his supermarket almost empty. My sister found the same in London.
I was going to see a friend that night when she messaged. “Sorry, I have discussed it and we don’t think it’s a good idea”, explaining that her boyfriend had asthma and sending a link to government advice on social distancing. I don’t know when I can visit her again.
Some people have had to make the heartbreaking decision not to see grandparents,parents, partners or even their own children.
Only £94 sick pay.
The Prime Minister’s announcement came on Sunday 15th. All those with symptoms were to isolate for seven days. My boyfriend now needed to stay home for another four days.
“Great, that’s only £94 sick pay.”
“Think of the vulnerable and older people you’ll be protecting.”
I went swimming with a friend and we went in the steam room, with no steam. I had not wanted to go in but there was only one other person.
My friend is a cancer survivor and had been told she was “medium” risk. She has now received a letter telling her she was one of the 1.5 million English nationals that could end up in hospital from the virus. She had been out on the town until midnight, should she worry about it? she asked. No, I replied. Better to go out now than at the peak of the epidemic in mid-April or May. I sent her a flowers and wine delivery with some of the last Merlot left in the city. Yesterday I won the last sour cream in my neighbourhood and last week I bought the last two packets of chicken in the supermarket. Yet I was frustrated one day when I forgot to buy the vegetables for dinner and couldn’t make another trip for a single cabbage.
Her colleagues got coronavirus taking blood.
I later read that the virus was easily spread in Chinese gyms. But again the source was not revealed, so could not be verified. Fake news and “medical” advice began to infect social media, including gargling with salt water for “protection” and holding your breath for ten seconds meant you had “virus-free” lungs. You could “wash the virus away from your lungs” by drinking tea and “kill the virus” by sunbathing.
I informed my friend that the “e-mail circulated in a hospital” was actually government guidelines with a smattering of lunacy.
The only way to avoid contagion is to keep your distance and wash your hands.
But the public think that does not apply if you are outdoors, so now, as of Monday 23rd we are all on lockdown and gatherings of more than two people are banned. Countryside car parks are shut and the roads are almost empty, perfect for cycling. Meanwhile, our heroic key workers are keeping the country going, including my siblings. My sister worked on the “front line” for two weeks without adequate Personal Protective Equipment and four staff at her hospital tragically died. Her colleague got coronavirus taking blood with only gloves on, and survived.
My brother got infected from his girlfriend who worked on a coronavirus ward. Luckily they got off with a cough and fatigue.
From day 4 onwards my boyfriend started to get better. His sore throat eased and he no longer had a temperature.
A week later, his only irritation was an inflamed nose and a reduced sense of smell. His housemates did not get infected as he kept his distance, wiping kitchen and bathroom surfaces after touching them.
The Guardian has recently reported that around 70% of infectious people have few or no symptoms. With that figure it is easy to understand why numbers are increasing rapidly. This is from a reputable source, a microbiology professor.
Help others more and read the news less.
Now, every time I get home I wash my hands and wipe down anything I have touched before that. I have even started spraying my shopping in case it has been touched by someone who has coughed coronavirus onto their hands. It is so unlikely, but why take that chance.
People suffering from anxiety have told me that the worry around them has made theirs worse.
The most effective way I have found of dealing with the apocalypse is to help others and to read the news less.
One useful story referred to Mutual Aid groups mobilising volunteers on social media. I joined one and bought some items for a local family.
Do you think she’ll get worse?
A family of four was isolating due to their daughter having a cough. She would give me money. I gave her my details for an online transfer instead. The money could have the virus on it. “I will stand three steps away” I replied.
There was the patter of little feet running to the door. A toddler peered up at me with bright eyes.
“She doesn’t seem to have a temperature” I remarked.
“No, she just has a cough” her mother replied.
“She probably doesn’t have it then” I said, hoping to reassure her.
“But children aren’t as badly affected are they.”
“Well no, that’s true.”
“Do you think she’ll get worse?” she asked.
“No, if she’s only got a cough she should be ok, and like you say, children aren’t as badly affected.”
“Will I get it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What if I get it? Will I get it worse?”
“Well have you got a good immune system?”
“Do you have any underlying health conditions?”
“You should be fine then.”
She thanked me and I left, assuring her that I’d message her if I needed anything. I delivered more bread and milk a few days later.
A board read “GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”
Last weekend we went on a walk with my boyfriend’s mother. As we expect that he is immune, we were not worried about him spreading it. He will not be able to see them now until the non-essential travel ban is lifted. Roadblocks have begun to spring up on local motorways.
A fast-tracked emergency bill is ensuring that new infection control laws can be enforced.
I tried to keep my distance from in case I was asymptomatic (infectious but with no symptoms). We also tried to create some distance with groups walking past. It was only a problem if they coughed or sneezed the virus, but better safe than sorry. Irritatingly we ended up sandwiched in between groups of people and sharing narrow paths with them.
No one was willing to keep their distance. We wiped our hands before eating and at the car before we went home, as we had been touching gates.
That land is now shut.
On the way home in the Peak District, we saw a board that read
“GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”
The streets were nearly empty and older people were all inside, isolating for 3 months.
At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.
But there were people sitting in parks, walking and cycling. I doubt we will see icecream vans for a long time, maybe not even in the warmer months.
I have been watching “Summer of Rockets” on the BBC recently and it has reminded me that things could be worse. At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.
Audio poems are soothing, those who are creative can find comfort in the arts. Those who are practical are doing more D.I.Y, the drilling disturbing my work. But at least I could cook myself lunch and spend the rest of the break shooting hoops.
There are entertaining videos and memes doing the rounds. An unemployed sports commentator has done commentary for everyday events, such as the “South East halloumi-buying champions” frequenting Waitrose.
I have also found it helpful to try not talking about it, to absorb yourself in escapist programmes and do what you can, instead of fretting about what you can’t.
No, we can’t go to schools, universities, gyms, pubs, clubs, cafes, clothes shops or restaurants (as of Saturday). We might not be able to see our family, friends or colleagues in person, maybe even our children.
But we can see them online, as long as the Internet withstands the increased demand.
We can do so many things in our homes or individually to entertain ourselves and exercise, so we must enjoy that.
Stay three steps away from others, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth and wash your hands when you get home.
My favourite is Warning, by Jenny Joseph.