Applauding the NHS

A quiet day in the home office today, in contrast to yesterday I had just one meeting; a team social to keep everyone in contact while we all work from home.

One team member prepared a quiz with questions from the British Citizenship Test. All the questions were based on British history, such as who is the famous English, Elizabethan playwright?, and which British sportsman won five consecutive gold Olympic medals in rowing? (Shakespeare and Sir Steve Redgrave). I’m quite a fan of British history so was pleased to have won the quiz. There were three out of the 30 on the call who scored 11/15, however I answered the questions quickest out of the three top scorers, so claimed the trophy (it would have been 12/15 if I’d have got to the first question in time!)

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After the quiz I decided to take my “one daily exercise” allowance and walk to the Iceland frozen food store up the road. I was almost out of milk and bread, luckily they had both in stock, and I picked up some other bits as well, including my personal favourites, chocolate Hobnob biscuits and Jaffa Cakes! Life in lockdown is much more bearable with hobnobs and jaffa cakes.

I managed to dig out the rest of the space I needed for my compost bin later in the afternoon, then spotted my neighbour sat outside his house when I was finished. We had a good chat about the surreal situation we’re living in, while keeping a good few meters apart over the garden fence, before heading inside again for the government press conference that’s become a daily 5pm routine. Today, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, put in place a bailout scheme for self-employed people who were unable to work because they have to stay at home. They’ll now get 80% of their annual profits paid by the government for the next three months adding another £9 billion to the aid package the government have put in place.

The rest of the evening news was given over to a campaign to give the doctors and nurses working for the NHS a round of applause. Every household was asked to open their front doors and clap at 8pm. TV news crews covered it around the country and neighbours could be heard clapping along the street and neighbouring streets. It was a really moving and emotional experience with the whole country showing their appreciation for those putting their own lives at risk to save many others.

 

Spring has sprung

Today has been the warmest and sunniest day of the year so far. After checking the new laws to make sure the girls could legally travel between me and their mum, she picked them up at lunch time; hopefully having a regular change of scenery will help avoid complete boredom for them.

I took the opportunity to sit outside for a while at the picnic table. Three hours worth of teleconference and video-conference meetings in the morning, then a video presentation in the afternoon left my throat quite dry.

I picked up the cough from Chloe a couple of days ago, but during my presentation I found myself increasingly coughing and losing my voice to a dry throat. I had to pause the presentation at one point and head to the kitchen for a glass of water. I’m seriously wondering now if I might be carrying the virus.

Fortunately, after that final meeting I was able to retreat back into the garden and the fresh air did me some good and settled my throat. I decided to put my evening to good use and dig a patch at the back of my garden which has just been a wasteland since we moved here 10 years ago. An area about 3-feet by 12-feet is a hill of soil and other debris, with a large tree or bush in the middle. The only thing I use it for is composting grass after mowing the lawn, but when the horses from the farm come out around Easter they’ll eat the grass clippings and that can give them huge problems with their stomachs and potentially kill them.

I decided to dig out a portion of the ‘hill’ nearest the farm, just big enough to slide my large compost bin into. I can then put the grass cuttings into the composter and keep a lid on it, keeping the horses safe and dealing with my own garden waste. I dug and moved earth of a couple of hours but only got half way through the hill. The rest will have to wait, but at least I’ve been able to get outside and have plenty of fresh air and exercise without actually leaving my home and breaking the law!

Homeschooling

Day one of the lockdown and day two of homeschooling.

Officially, school’s are now closed until further notice. The general expectation is that they’ll be closed through to the summer holidays and reopen again in September. This summer’s exams have been cancelled. GCSE’s and A-levels will be awarded based on predicted grades and existing teacher assessment/evidence. However, schools have been asked to stay open to look after children of ‘key workers’, doctors, nurses, police officers, armed forces, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, financial industry workers and a few others. Without school’s these children may be looked after by their elderly grandparents – something the government needs to avoid as over 70s are being asked to self-isolate – or their parents who would have to take time off work, keeping them away from the effort to save lives and save the economy.

School leaders aren’t ones to walk away from their children. Almost unanimously schools decided to issue work for children to complete at home. Each school is approaching it in a different way, like everything at the moment, there’s no rule book, no instructions, no right way to do things. Chloe has been given a pack of work to complete over the next couple of weeks, while her sisters are receiving daily emails from teachers who are setting work. Some want the work emailing back for marking, some say they’ll mark it all once school reopens and some have said if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. Everybody is learning as we go, there is no single approach, it comes down to what each of us feels is the right thing to do.

Amelia sat down to get on with her maths and history work and Chloe did some maths work, while Hannah quite happily sat on the sofa all day playing on her phone and watching TV. I left her until around 3pm before saying she’d have to do some schoolwork or I wouldn’t let her have tea. School work isn’t a legal obligation right now, but I can’t just let her watch TV all day for the next few months, so some schoolwork needs to happen to keep her mind active, and make sure she doesn’t fall behind everybody else who seem to have been made to sit and work all day according to the posts parents are making online.

After some maths and science work I got her engaged with art and even a bit of PE out in the garden.IMG_7562

This got real

Throughout the day news reports were showing pictures of crowded beaches over the weekend, gatherings in town centres, and other social meetings. The government’s guidelines were being ignored by a large section of society.

In the afternoon TV stations started promoting a broadcast by prime minister Boris Johnson which would be on TV at 8.30pm. Until now his daily press conference had been shown around 5pm on the news channels, but this was going out in prime time and across all the main channels.

“Stay at home. The only you’re allowed out of your home is….” was Johnson’s message. We were now starting to understand what lockdown meant. We’re not allowed out of our homes unless one of these four conditions apply:

  1. Shopping for food/medical necessities – but get it delivered if you can
  2. Once a day for exercise – on your own or with members of your own household
  3. Medical need or providing care
  4. Travelling to or from work (if you can’t work from home)

If you are caught out of your home for any other reason the police can issue on the spot fines. The first will be £30, but if you continue they can escalate upto £1,000. New laws are to be rushed through parliament this week to confirm the right for police to issue these new fines. The laws will be reviewed every three months until they’re no longer needed.

This was a direct response to those people who didn’t follow the advice. While other countries had been quick to ban citizens from leaving their home, our government wanted to offer the opportunity for everybody to act responsibly without having to enforce it. They treated us like adults, yet some of us just couldn’t be trusted. Indeed, some even posted online that they will keep doing whatever they want, until they are banned from doing it; and that advice and guidance didn’t have to be followed.

I’ve thought it for some time, but these last few days have really confirmed my feeling that we’re now living in a society that says, “fuck you, I’ll look after myself”. That’s not all of society of course, but there’s enough people to make it noticable.

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Lockdown

A couple of days ago the government asked people to observe ‘social distancing’, another term that just a week ago wasn’t part of our everyday parlance. Now it’s a phrase that everybody knows, but some either don’t understand it, or blatantly ignore it.

The rule is, we shouldn’t go within two meters of other people outside of our own household. If you can work from home, you should. If you can avoid going to the shop, you should, you shouldn’t go out socially, indeed pubs, restaurants, ice rinks, bingo halls, cinemas and theatres have all been closed. Today is Mother’s Day and we’ve all been told not to visit our mothers, it’s just too risky.

Even though the prime minister has been forcing this message daily, lots aren’t getting it. The popular seaside areas which are normally very quiet in March have been packed this weekend, there are huge queues at supermarkets where people are panic buying food. There are no toilet rolls on the shelves, even though 95% of UK stock is produced in the UK and there are warehouses full of the stuff, they just can’t get them to the shops fast enough to keep supplies on the shelves. There is no pasta in the country. People are stockpiling the dried staple which will keep in their cupboards and no go off in a few days. There are shortages of all sorts of food.

I took a walk to Iceland, a frozen food supermarket this afternoon. There have been large queues outside supermarkets in the mornings, to the point that they are now only allowing elderly or vulnerable people in the high risk groups, and NHS staff, in to shop for the first two hours of opening. I chose to visit just after 12pm, when the nation will be eating their lunch, probably with their mothers having ignored the PM’s appeal.

There were only a couple of customers in the shop when I got there, so no need to queue. I worked my way around the isles making sure I didn’t cross paths with anybody else, keeping to the two-meter rule. The freezers were almost empty. I managed to pick up some frozen chicken breasts – it’s impossible to get fresh ones at the moment, and there was just one pack left in the freezer – but there was plenty of fresh food available such as fruit, ham, yoghurts, margarine and bread. The milk shelves were empty, but that’s not unusual for a Sunday afternoon.

When I got home I emptied my freezer and made a list of the contents. It could be some time before I can replenish them, but we’ve got a lot more in that I knew, it’s just massively disorganised so I couldn’t see or find a lot of it.

The government are starting to put out visuals to get the message across. They key message being, “Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save lives”.

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Self isolation – day 10

I made Amelia cry today. She desperately wanted to go out with her friends, but I wouldn’t let her. We had four more days of self-isolation to complete. She pleaded with me, she’d only go out for a short time, she’d come straight back afterwards, she’d be ok, she wasn’t ill, she wouldn’t catch it or spread it…

The answer was no. Lots of people are not taking Coronavirus, and it’s risks, seriously. While it’s true that children don’t seem to have serious symptoms, if any at all, they can be carriers and spread it to other, more vulnerable people.

Our next-door neighbour is in his 70s, the government class this age group as high risk. The girls have been told if they see him they must keep two meters away, if they are carrying the virus we don’t want to spread it to him.

I spotted Chloe out in the back garden playing football with him in the afternoon, she kept a safe distance as she’d been asked, and so did he. Meanwhile, Amelia’s friend came round to drop off some school books, she went out and I saw her giving the friend a hug. I wasn’t impressed and called her back in. She just doesn’t get the seriousness of it.

I reminded her that given my asthma I also fall into a high risk group, and while she might think she’s invincible, if she catches the virus from someone who shows no symptoms, the might also show no symptoms but will spread it on to me. I’ve got a long history of catching chest infections and finding them hard to fight off. While it’s been about a year since I’ve used my asthma inhaler, I really don’t want to get this virus and given the severity of it – thousands have died across the world in just a few weeks – I don’t rate my prospects if I do get it.

Unprecedented times

I woke up this morning and looked out of the window to see a brilliant sunrise coming up over the houses at the far end of the farm which backs onto our back garden. I went out into the garden with my work laptop to grab a picture of my new home office desk. There have to be some advantages to being stuck at home, right?

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You’d think so, but when the girls came around, only Chloe went outside to see it. The other two just looked through the window and refused to venture in to the back garden!

As the news about the countrywide school closures sank in, Hannah became upset again at the prospect of not seeing her friends, while Amelia was bothered about one friend in particular who was quite vulnerable; she wanted to be there to support her friend.

I picked up a few things from the garden centre and set about spending the morning tidying up the rockery area, which for the last 10 years has refused to allow anything but weeds to grow. I laid a plastic weed-prevention sheet, covered it in bark and laid some heavy stones on top to keep it in place when the wind picks up. I found a couple of garden ornaments to decorate it too, including a little dog with a solar powered lamp which is now home to a strawberry plant, hopefully to deliver some juicy fruit later in the summer.

I also planted potatoes in two buckets so we’ll have some fresh homegrown vegetables to eat later in the year. It’s my first attempt at growing my own food. I’m really pleased with the results and it compliments the picnic table to give somewhere nice to sit out in the sun.

We spent the evening watching the news, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is becoming a regular feature alongside the government’s chief medial officer and chief scientist. While China seems to be over the worst of the virus, the situation in Italy is looking far worse. The whole country has been locked down with people banned from leaving their homes without good reason.

Spain are also in lockdown, a phrase which just a week ago was only used by schools and businesses in emergency planning meetings in case of terrorist attacks. France, Germany and other countries across Europe are putting similar measures in place.

In the US, president Donald Trump insists on calling Coronavirus the “China virus” and the “invisible enemy” and preaching about how well he is handling it, and eradicating it. He’s put plans in place to spend billions of dollars on the response, particularly on testing anybody who wants a test, but more than anything it looked like a huge commercial marketing campaign for some of the companies he admires – he had the CEOs of some of America’s top companies at a press conference with him, some such as Walmart offering their car parks as mobile testing stations. He also announced he’d be buying as much oil as the country could stockpile, the price has crashed over the last couple of weeks and he wants to store it to sell on for profit when the price goes back up. Trump also announced a new healthcare phoneline – much like the NHS 111 service that has been live in the UK for many years – and a website where people can check their symptoms with a quick questionnaire to see if they need testing. It’s being developed by “1,700 engineers at Google” according to Trump. I could knock up what he’s describing in half an hour.

I really don’t understand how or why some people in the UK are criticising our government’s response to the virus. It’s an unprecedented event, there is no playbook, no rules. The government are following scientific advice, doing what they think is right for the country. They’ve put massive financial measures in place to protect companies from going bust and jobs from being lost. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, promised that he’d do whatever it takes to see the country through this crisis. Yes, by now it really is a crisis and it’s ramping up every day.

The plan is to stem the flow of the virus. The fewer people that catch it now, the better the NHS will be able to cope. That won’t reduce the number of people catching it, but it’ll spread it out over a longer period, to make sure there’s enough beds, ventilators and staff available to treat those in need. We have 5,000 ventilators in the UK, the government has offered to buy as many as can be manufactured, with no upper limit. They’ve challenged engineering companies to switch their main business and help to make new ventilators. I feel so much happier about being British given our government’s response compared to that of the US.

Outdoor office

Last year I had planned to buy a patio table and chairs set for the garden, but I never got around to it. I’ve been thinking about it again for the past couple of weeks and the plan was to buy something in time for the Easter school holidays.

Tonight though I decided to bring the timescale forward, if we’re going to have to stay at home any longer then it’ll be a good feature to have so we can sit out in the garden. I opted for a wooden picnic table and two benches. They arrived by courier tonight after the girls had gone back with their mum. It was a part-built flat-pack so I spend a couple of hours assembling them and getting them into the garden ready to surprise the girls when they came back in the morning.

Chloe’s seven days of self-isolation are now over so technically she can go back to school, although I decided to keep her at home for the rest of the week. The government have now announced that all schools will be closed after tomorrow until the pandemic is over so I didn’t see much point in sending her in.

Work isolation

My employer has put in measures to protect staff and the business from Coronavirus. Everybody who has the ability to work from home has been split into two groups.

Group A can go into the office over the next two weeks (or work from home if they prefer), while Group B must work from home and are not allowed into the office. After two weeks the groups swap around with Group A being banned from the office and Group B having the option. This way, the two halves of each team/department will not come into contact with each other and so if the virus spreads through the office, only half the staff will need to be off at any time.

I’m in group A, but I’ll be working from home anyway because of the self-isolation. Still no change to Chloe’s cough, and no other symptoms for her or the rest of us.

 

 

New guidelines

Things were really ramped up by the government last night. The advice is now that if anybody in the household has either a high temperature or new and persistent cough, then everybody in the house must self-isolate for 14 days.

It’s thought that if you have the virus you can transmit it to others for upto seven days, so the timescale has doubled because it’s seven days for the person with symptoms while others might take seven days to show symptoms after catching it. So, I get a cough on day one, I pass it to you on day seven but you don’t show symptoms possibly until day 14.

Of course, this now means that Amelia and Hannah also can’t go to school. Amelia wasn’t too bothered by this, although Hannah was quite upset. She wanted to see her friends but also maintain her 100% attendance record to go into a prize draw at the end of the year.

It’s strange keeping the girls off school when they aren’t ill. Other than the cough Chloe isn’t ill and the other two have no symptoms at all.