Viruses and Volcanoes

A Covid Diary

During what I like to refer to as, The Time of Covid, I used this blog to journal my experiences during lockdown and beyond / kept a journal of my experiences during lockdown and beyond. At the start of the pandemic, my husband had just been diagnosed with a serious lung condition which placed him in the “very vulnerable” or “shielded” category and we made the decision to self-isolate a week before the official lockdown began. We expected to have to do this for 12 weeks and then return to our normal lives when it was all over. Little did we know what the coming year would bring.

Viruses and Volcanoes tells the story of my life in The Time of Covid as a wife, mother, grandmother and daughter from the first days of the lockdown in the UK and later, after we relocated to Barbados, on the other side of the Atlantic. It takes the reader through the shock and strangeness of the early days of the pandemic, the emotional roller coaster of the prolonged lockdown and the gradual adaptation to the new normal.

Viruses and Volcanoes is a personal, unedited and unapologetic narrative of the lives of a middle-aged couple during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was written in real time and is an honest and truthful account of our day-to-day lives between March 2020 and July 2021. As such, it captures the mundane and incredibly monotonous details of the lockdown life that we all experienced at the time.

My aim was not to entertain, explain or examine but simply to record my thoughts, feelings and experiences for posterity, during what was, at the start at least, a truly bizarre and frightening time. I wanted to capture how it felt when the world changed forever overnight before we all became accustomed to it, and it ultimately became our new normal.

I’ll apologise now for the fact that at times I was angry, frustrated, critical and judgmental, but this was my reality at the time. The journal also covers some of the facts and figures about the disease, the government’s attempts to deal with it and the ever-changing beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of our society as a whole.

Viruses and Volcanoes is available in eBook and paperback on Amazon for £9.99 and on multiple digital platforms as an eBook for £2.99.

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Thursday, July 8th, 2021, Year 2 in The Time of Covid.

They think its all over …

Leaving Barbados

Well, we’ve been back in the UK for exactly a week today! Last Thursday we landed at Heathrow at 11 am. We had a good flight and, apart from an almost anticipated 2 hour delay at immigration, a pretty straightforward transit home. The car picked us up at 1pm and we were home by 2.30pm.

Flying in the Time of Covid is different from before, but not dramatically. You get the usual meals and drinks etc. after departure and before arrival, but for the majority of the time you don’t really see much of the cabin crew. If you want water or anything else during the flight you have to ask for it and obviously masks are mandatory throughout.

Our thoughts are very much still with Barbados. Tropical Storm Elsa upgraded to a hurricane just as it hit the country, wreaking devastation across the island. Thankfully, it appears that no lives have been lost but hundreds of trees are down, houses have been damaged and destroyed, roads blocked and many people have been without power or water for several days.

The airport was closed for a few days due to storm damage and, once again, we can’t believe quite how fortunate we have been. We missed it by just 24hours and would have had to change our flights and re-do our Covid tests etc. if it had hit before we left. Our whole Barbados trip has been marked by an uncanny series of lucky coincidences; when we first arrived we missed the need to quarantine in a hotel at our own cost by 4 days and when we departed, we missed the need to quarantine at home for 10 days by 24 hours, and that was only because Virgin moved our flights back by a day!

Home at Last

The past week has been a whirlwind of seeing friends and family and getting the house and our lives back to normal. Various pieces of equipment are revolting in an expression of their disgust about having been left unloved and unattended for 9 months; the shower in the ensuite and one of the radiators in the spare bathroom have both sprung a leak; the printer isn’t printing properly; the motor for the power shower has blown; the back gate, which was sticky before, is now refusing to budge; the gas and electric meter isn’t working; and the whole of the garden and outside space is in need of a good jet-wash and tidy up. I can’t remember where anything is in my kitchen and I have a list as long as my arm of admin type things to attend to. My priority was to do our accounts for 2020/2021 and I finished these yesterday and am slowly getting through everything else. By Monday, I think we should be on top of things.

It’s a weird feeling being back after being away for so long. It’s almost as if we’ve just been on holiday for a couple of weeks, but then it isn’t. In some ways it feels as if nothing has changed – we are seeing the same people, driving around the same streets in the same car, shopping in the same shops, watching the same TV, sleeping in the same bed, seeing the same views from our windows etc. etc. – then, every now and again, something takes us by surprise – new shops and bars on our village high street, a humungous new Marks and Spencer’s at the end of the road, new houses that have sprung up all over the place and grandchildren that have grown by several inches!

It is wonderful to be back though. So many people have taken the time out to stop and welcome us home. I’m enjoying our lovely kitchen with all my amazing gadgets and my big shiny range cooker; our gloriously comfy cozy bed; and my writing desk with my huge monitor that doesn’t give me eye strain and neck ache. I can’t believe I wrote a whole novel with my laptop balanced on my knee on a cushion!

Covid Today

With regard to Covid, it all feels vastly different from the dark days when we left the country last September at the start of the second wave. People seem to be going about their normal lives with just a few restrictions still in place. Table service has become the norm in bars and restaurants, indoor mask wearing is generally adhered to (although we have both noticed a distinct lack of rigour in regard to hand sanitising and contact tracing compared to Barbados, and absolutely zero temperature checks) and there are restrictions on the number of people you can have inside your home. It very much feels as though these restrictions and Covid itself have become part of everyday life and something that we all just have to learn to live with.

This is largely due to the fact that despite the increasing numbers of infections, that indicate the start of a third wave, for the first time this is not being matched by increases in hospitalisations and deaths. Essentially, the vaccine is working! I have to admit that we feel much safer in the knowledge that we are “double vacced”. To an extent, it feels as if we have re-started our lives to where they were at the start of the outbreak back in March 2020, and I must admit it feels good!

Summer of 2021

We have a long summer to look forward to. We have lots of things planned with friends and family; Sunday lunches with our kids and grandkids; lots of catch-ups with friends over a coffee or a glass or two of wine; numerous belated birthday celebrations; a trip up north to see my parents and sisters; a trip to Sweden to see my son and his girlfriend (no quarantine for double vacced travellers returning from amber countries announced today!); a Trident Edge road-trip with my fellow writers to check out the locations that I have used in the book and see if I have adequately captured them in my minds eye; Granny play-dates with my friends and their grandchildren; and a weekend in Stratford on Avon with some friends. On top of all that we have an endless summer of sport to enjoy; Euro20 -deferred to 2021 – (football) is currently underway with England progressing to the final just last night; the British Lions (rugby) tour of South Africa is also in progress; we are entering the second week of Wimbledon (tennis); the Tour de France is almost half-way through; and the Tokyo Olympics start on the 23rd of July.

I have lots of writing projects on the go as well; after the road trip I’m going to edit and write the second draft of Trident Edge then get it beta-read, edited again, proofread and edited again before publishing; I’ve entered the NYC Flash Fiction competition the first round of which starts tomorrow; I’m preparing a submission for the fall edition of the First Line Literary Journal; I’m going to turn this Time of Covid blog into a book; and I also have an idea for a new non-fiction project called I’z a Bajan.

The Final Chapter

All of this, combined with the fact that the government is going to lift all restrictions from the 19th of July, tells me that this is good place to end this particular blog project. It started as a lockdown diary back in March 2020 and then evolved into an account of our Covid experiences in Barbados. My intention was always to bring all these posts together into a book, so that one day our youngest grandchildren will be able to read all about what it was like (for us at least) at the start of The Time of Covid.

It’s been a crazy 14 month rollercoaster of experiences and emotions; fear, disbelief, anxiety and confusion at the start; boredom, frustration and isolation in lockdown; hope and disappointment about ever falling and rising numbers; anger about the behaviours of governments and people (remember the covidiots?); making the big scary decision to leave the country; stress and tension about whether we would even get to Barbados and get there safely; taking risks; having the adventure of a lifetime; being overwhelmed with joy and relief when we got there Covid-free; relishing the warmth, the sunshine, the sea and the beaches and the overwhelming feeling of safety; experiencing a Bajan lockdown, a volcanic eruption, sargassum and a super-storm (which has since been dwarfed by Hurricane Elsa).

Who knows whether Covid-19 will ever go away, and who knows what remnants of our new way of life might persist into the future lives of our grandchildren. I know it’s not going to disappear overnight and that we are all almost certainly going to have to learn to live with it for many years to come, if not for ever. But, in terms of our lives and this diary, we have reached point that definitely feels like a natural point of closure, if not an end.

Keeping with the football theme from last night, forgive me if apply the words of BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme (when England won the World Cup in 1966) to the Time of Covid,

“They think it’s all over,”

– who knows when we will ever be able to complete the comment –

“It is now.”

Barbados Lockdown – Wednesday, April 7th, Year 2 of The Time of Covid.

Is the end nye?

Well, it might actually be starting to feel as if this is finally coming to some sort of end. Not “the end” – we’re a long way from that – but “an end”.

Here in Barbados, we have just had the Easter Weekend. Normally, we are told, a massive celebration of festivals, fish fries and parades. This year we were under a “Stay at Home” directive for the Sundays before and after Easter, and Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday.

However, under a slightly bizarre (but hugely welcome) anomaly we were permitted to travel back and forth to restaurants. To drive straight there, and straight back, and maintain social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitising at all times (except when eating of course!) I suspect this was largely to minimise further disruption and anxiety for the struggling hospitality industry on the islands, who, as you can imagine have been very badly hit.

We took advantage of this and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at a restaurant on the spectacular northern most tip of the island called the Animal Flower Cave (it’s attached to some caves that are normally a popular tourist attraction, but which have been closed due to the pandemic). The food was fantastic, the views magnificent and we were even lucky enough to see a few whales passing by!

Barbados has a vastly different feel to it, so far as we are, into the Time of Covid. Other than the Welcome Stampers (a one-year visa for people who can “work from home” from here), and the usual retired long term visitors, virtually no-one is coming into the island for a vacation, in the traditional sense of the words. Canada and the UK, two of the main tourist markets, are not permitting vacation travel at the moment. The US still does (surprise, surprise) and we have had a recent spate of Americans on the beaches, some of whom are openly flaunting the social distancing rules in a way that is more than disrespectful to local people, who have had their traditional Easter family beach parties, exercise classes and “limes” all forbidden.

The beaches remain closed, apart from the two slots for exercise between 6am and 9am and 3pm and 6pm. The 9pm to 6am curfew has been expanded by one hour to end at 5am. I’ll be honest, that’s not really affecting us much! I’m not feeling any desire to leave the house at 5am, at the moment anyway. Bars are still closed, unless they serve food which most do, and most places will serve you a rum punch or a cold beer, as long as you have a snack at the same time. Tourist attractions are still closed, team sports are forbidden, and pleasure craft trips are not permitted. However, the numbers look good with new cases in single figures for over a week now. Schools are due to reopen on the 20th of April. We are hopeful that the beaches might be opened again soon, as we have seen a few cricket pitches being made ready for play, which could indicate that team sports might be about to resume.

Back in the UK, restrictions are starting to be lifted again. People have been allowed to meet up in small groups outside. Businesses are reopening and people are going back into the office. I’m not totally up with the details as I’ve been focusing on what’s going on here. But fingers crossed for everyone back home that all goes to plan. The high vaccination rates should help prevent a third wave, as is currently happening across Europe, where many countries, like France and Germany, are all going back into lockdown for the third time.

Sometimes, it just hits you how utterly dystopian and futuristic it all seems. At the Mall closest to us, on entry you have to present your face to a small screen that takes your picture and temperature at the same time. A robotic female voice then tells you that your temperature in normal and you are permitted to enter. It feels as if we are living in a sci-fi movie.

So, on the basis of all this, we have booked our flights home for Tuesday the 29th of June. We will have been here for nine months! There will be test on departure, and more tests and quarantine on arrival and only time will tell we will see if the flights are still running by then. It’s beautiful here. Hot and sunny all the time, relaxing and safe, but I am looking forward to getting home.

Barbados Lockdown – Tuesday, March 16th, Year 2 of our Covid-19 Experience.

Further easing of restrictions.

It’s exactly one year since M and I went into self-isolation!

Things have the “feel” of getting back to normal here.

All shops and business have been allowed to re-open. Indoor dining is permitted in restaurants. Curfew has been pushed back to 9pm.

Still no large gatherings or “liming”. No congregating at the bar! Beaches still only open from 6am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm. Social distancing (stay six feet away from people not from your household or social bubble when in groups) and mask wearing are still required.

The numbers are going down and the death rate has slowed. Despite the recent outbreak, compared to the UK, the picture is better now, and has been right from the start. Although we haven’t been able to get the vaccination here yet, and we would have both had it by now in the UK, we definitely made the right decision in coming here.

Cases per million population: UK 62,573 Barbados 11,967

Deaths per million population: UK 1,843 Barbados 132

Even in terms of vaccination rates, Barbados isn’t doing too badly! Up there at number 11 in the world rankings! UK 38.6% of population. Barbados an impressive 18%! I was actually quite surprised by that figure.

On a personal note, we have now entered our 3.5 month extension. We moved house at the weekend and are settling in to our new home. It’s a spacious two-bedroomed, first floor apartment with a wonderful outside space and beautiful view of the sea. Compared to the last place; smaller with no pool, less expensive, but much more comfortable, cleaner and tidier, and far better equipped.

I’m up to 3.5 K on my Couch to 5K journey. Never thought I’d get this far!

We are even starting to have a social life again!

Tonight we are actually GOING OUT to meet some friends for dinner in an open air, roof-top restaurant with a sunset view.

Tomorrow, the same friends are coming over for lunch as they go back to the UK on Saturday. Local aubergines are in season and absolutely delicious, so I’m cooking a Moussaka.

Next week I’m even getting my toenails done, and going to try and get my hair cut!

Barbados Lockdown – Wednesday, March 3rd, Year 2 of our Covid-19 Experience.

As we approach a year since we first went into lockdown back in the UK, here in Barbados, the decision has been made to ease some of the restrictions that have been in place since the 3rd of February.

I was a little surprised as the numbers still aren’t great. However, I think it comes down to a mix of economic concerns, and (we are told) that all the new cases are coming from just a few identifiable clusters, limited to a few distinct households.

As you can see from the graph, the curve is moving in the right direction. The first half of the recent double peak reflects the prison outbreak back in January. If you “ignore” that peak, you can see a steady increase followed by a steady decline. Fingers crossed, that this trend continues.

Unfortunately, deaths continue to rise, as is always the case as people infected 2 or 3 weeks ago succumb to the serious complications of the virus.

Anyway, we are now permitted to visit the beach between 3pm and 6pm as well as our 6am to 9am slot. The nighttime curfew between 7pm and 6am remains in place but the weekend curfew has been lifted.

Some shops have been allowed to re-open, and restaurants are allowed to provide curb-side pick-ups (takeaways). Supermarkets are still operating under restricted hours but can open on Saturdays now.

It means a lot in terms of what we can do! We can exercise in the morning slot and maybe go for a swim in the afternoon, rather than cramming it all in in the morning. This means we don’t really need to get up at 5am every morning, but so far we have found it hard to break the habit. We seem to have discovered the joys of being out and about at sunrise. It’s cool and the light is incredible. There is something to be said for having spent 3 hours exercising at the beach and still have the whole day ahead of you as you enjoy a coffee on the balcony at 9am!

Sunrise on Pebble Beach

Shopping wise the implications are tremendous. Because the vegetable street vendors are open again, we don’t need to go to the supermarket as often and stand in the long lines in the sun. But, because, like us, other people don’t need to go to the supermarket as often now, and we don’t have the pre-weekend panic buying, the lines are shorter anyway. The fish market is open again now too, so we’re going down to buy a big fish today and get the freezer re-stocked!

For me, it’s just nice to know that I don’t have to cook every single meal, every single day, if I don’t want to now. The option of picking up a roti or something special from one of our favourites eating places is something comforting to have in my back pocket. It’s the little things.

The vaccination programme seems to be well underway, even if it does seem to have been a little chaotic in it’s implementation. M registered on the 17th of February for an appointment but has heard nothing since. They said that once all the over 70’s had been given theirs, they would start working through younger people with underlying medical conditions, like him. However, it seems that the general public have been turning up at vaccination centres without appointments and are being given the vaccination regardless. Meanwhile, the people they say they are prioritising, wait at home for appointments that never materialise.

Whether you have an appointment or not, if what we have been told is true, you are looking at a wait in the sun of 4 or 5 hours.

On a more positive note, Immigration called me during lockdown to tell me that my citizenship has been approved and, when the office re-opened this week, I was able to go in and pay my fee. Now I just need to wait for them to send out my certificate and I’m good to go for an ID Card and a Passport!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ve been trying to keep fit during our time here and I recently decided to start a Couch to 5K programme. So far, I’m up to running for 20 minutes in two intervals with a short walk in between, and its going surprisingly well! Today, we also took part in an aqua-robics session in the sea!

The only other bit of news is that we’re moving next week. This house is far too big for us and we don’t really use the pool as much as we thought we might. We have found a lovely 2 bedroom apartment, walking distance from a gorgeous little beach, for a fraction of the price we are paying for this place. When we booked this, we were expecting that some friends and family would have come out to visit us in the new year. Of course, this has not been possible so when we decided to extend our stay, we also decided to look for somewhere smaller. We will stay there for anther three and a half months before we come home on the 1st of July – all being well

Barbados Lockdown – Thursday, February 18th, Month 12 of our Covid-19 Experience.

The lockdown, or “National Pause”, in Barbados has been extended until midnight on the 28th of February.

The lockdown, or “National Pause”, in Barbados has been extended until midnight on the 28th of February. In addition, the curfew has been extended from the hours of darkness (7pm until 6am), to include weekends. This weekend, for the first time, we are not allowed to leave our homes, for any reason, from 7pm on Friday until 6am on Monday. They are also planning to tighten up their monitoring of compliance with the restrictions, and will be dishing out severe penalties including large fines and even prison sentences, to people who breach the conditions of the directive.

It is all because the numbers are not going down, and it seems that not everyone is adhering to the protocols. Several people have been arrested, and taken into custody, for running illegal parties (limes), or opening their business when they are not permitted to do so. To be honest, on the rare occasions when we have been out, on our way to and from the beach or supermarket, we have been surprised by the large number of cars on the road and people that are about. But, you could argue that we were contributing to these large volumes ourselves!

Sadly, deaths continue to rise. A couple of days ago the country lost their first healthcare provider, when a nurse succumbed to the virus. Tragically, on Monday a 9-year-old girl died from Covid-19 related MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children). This has shaken the island community to it’s core. Especially as it was also revealed that around 40 other children are seriously ill with similar symptoms.

On a more positive note, the island has started it’s vaccination programme after it was gifted a batch of the AZ/Oxford vaccine from India. M has registered for his, as a citizen with a serious underlying health condition, and we are waiting to hear when he will be offered an appointment.

As expected, the past couple of weeks have been very different to our lockdown experience in the UK. We get up at 5am every day, and leave the house at 6am to head to the beach to make the most of our 3 hour permitted exercise slot. We walk, jog or swim, and are usually back home just after 9am for coffee and breakfast. When we need to, we pick up some groceries on the way home.

Sunrise on Bottom Bay

I use the term “picking up some groceries” very loosely. Shopping has been the most challenging aspect of lockdown in Barbados. We tried to stock up as best as we could before the Pause but, by the second weekend, we were running out of a few things and fresh vegetables in particular. With all shops being closed on Saturday and Sunday, we thought we’d do a little shop on Friday. Well, it’s fair to say that we were well and truly shocked by the length of the queues, or lines, as they are referred to here. Every shop we tried, had long lines of people outside, winding around the block and down the street. Rather than stand in the blazing mid-morning sun for an hour or so, we decided to make do with what we had in the house and try again the following week.

We tried again on the Tuesday. We still had to queue but it wasn’t as bad as it appeared and, when we made it inside, the shop was uncrowded and well-stocked. Once we got ourselves into the right mindset, the soothing background tunes and the air conditioning helped to make it a relatively stress free experience. Nevertheless, we did a fairly big shop to avoid having to repeat the experience too often!

Other than going to the beach and the supermarket, our days have been spent sitting on the balcony, writing, reading, sewing, and listening to audiobooks and podcasts. In the second week, we were entertained by Mia’s (the Prime Minister) dulcet tones being broadcast from vehicles touring the island, reminding everyone of the need to stay at home, wear a mask and wash their hands, and motivating them to “beat Covid” together. It was quite strange and all felt a bit Orwellian, but doesn’t everything these days?

The upside of it all is that I have got lots of writing done. I have been so encouraged by the feedback on Wait for Me, that I have decided to write a sequel rather than re-visit The Ice Factory or start something new. It’s great fun writing about life in a Zombie Apocalypse and people seem to want more so why not? I have already written 6347 words! At this rate, I’ll have finished in a year or so! Well, we’ll see …

It’s my dad’s 93rd birthday today.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Barbados Lockdown – Tuesday, February 3rd, Month 12 of our Covid-19 Experience.

So, in the final month, of the first year of our Covid-19 experience, we have entered lockdown for the second time! This time in Barbados! I somehow think that this one will be a very different experience to the dark days of March and April in 2020.

Who would have thought that the past year would have been such a strange roller coaster of new and frightening experiences, scary and exhilarating choices and decisions, and the adventure of a lifetime!

Last year, on Monday the 3rd of February, we had just returned from a 3 week holiday in Barbados, and were looking forward to going to the pantomime in Birmingham with our grandson, the following afternoon. Little did we know that the next month the whole world would be in the grip of the pandemic, and that we were about to begin the strangest year of our lives. Nor had we any idea that we would be back in Barbados by the autumn, this time for an extended stay.

On the 12th of January I wrote about the second wave that Barbados had been experiencing since Christmas. In many ways they appear to have regained some control over the surge of infections, but the situation remains worse than it was back at the start of the pandemic for them. They have now had a total of 1585 cases and, sadly, 14 deaths. They have admitted that the virus is now spreading in the community and that some cases of the highly infectious UK variant have been detected.

For this reason, a week or so ago, the Prime Minister announced that there will be a “National Pause” (aka lockdown) from the 3rd to the 17th of February. The hope is that this will serve to eradicate the last traces of the virus on the island.

The basic message is “Stay at Home”, unless you have to go out for medical reasons, to buy food or to exercise between 6am and 9am.

The existing curfew has been extended to 7pm to 6am, during which time it is forbidden to leave your home for any reason except a medical emergency.

Masks are mandatory in all public places.

Parks and beaches are open between 6am and 9am only.

All shops, bars, restaurants and street vendors, except for a few large supermarkets and bakeries, are closed. Supermarkets are open for restricted hours only from Monday to Friday, and are closed at weekends.

It’s not going to be so bad though. It’s warm and we can sit outdoors. We have a pool. We can still do our exercise in the early mornings. The freezer is stocked up. Mia (the PM) has suggested we all use it as time to Rest, Reflect and Renew and that is exactly what we plan to do. I’ve been taking a break from writing since I published Wait for Me, so it seems like a good time to get going again!

On a lighter note – 2021 cozzies come with matching masks!

Testing here remains an issue, particularly in relation to travel. Many countries, including the UK, Canada and the US, now require negative tests before people are allowed to enter the country. In addition, many people are rushing home before prolonged and costly “hotel quarantines” are introduced. This has placed an excessive demand on the testing services, and obtaining results before travel has become an unpredictable and stressful experience. There are many stories of people who have not received their results in time and have not been able to board their flights.

The big story that broke yesterday is that Captain Tom (now Sir Tom) the great British icon of positivity and stoicism in the face of the virus, has died from it! It is not just terribly ironic that the very thing that made him famous has killed him. It is also, for me, symbolic of how, at the moment, it very much appears that all around the world, the virus is winning the fight.

RIP Captain Tom.

Tuesday, January 12th, Month 11 of our Covid-19 Experience.

Well, who would have thought so much could change in the space of a week or two! 2021 has brought with it a wave of infection across the world like nothing we have seen before!

Last time I wrote, just after Christmas, things were fine here. Now, Barbados is experiencing their own second wave! Cases have increased dramatically over the past week.

Up until Christmas they’d had a total of around 300 cases. Today they have 878.

Barbados Active Cases

No-one knows how the virus got into the community. It could have been due to one of the many breaches of visitor quarantine protocols that have occurred over the last few weeks. Some of them were very high profile involving a Love Island star, Zara Holland, and her boyfriend who tested positive and tried to flee the country, and a couple in quarantine who invited a prostitute to their hotel room for a “threesome”!

But, it could just as easily be due to a Bajan National visiting their family for Christmas. One circulating rumour involves a man collecting some Christmas stuffing from his brother who was still in quarantine!

Whoever was responsible for the initial infection, it was unleashed on the Bajan community through a “bus crawl”, that is now being described as a “super-spreader” event.

The Bus Crawl took place on Boxing Day and was attended by members of the prison staff and their families. It involved several buses “crawling” from bar to bar with much drinking and dancing involved. There remains no doubt that a very good time was had by all. However, the fallout is that almost everyone who attended has since tested positive and has passed the infection on to their families, friends and colleagues.

The prison has been badly hit, affecting both staff and prisoners and the Barbados Defence Force has been brought in to run the prison. Multiple shops, bars, restaurants and businesses have closed all over the island. A curfew has been imposed from 9pm until 5am and people from different households are not allowed to gather indoors or outdoors. These restrictions began on New Years Eve, and will remain in place until the 14th of January.

Quarantine protocols have been tightened up and visitors are confined to their rooms until they have a second negative test. Thousands of tests have been conducted over the past week and a huge backlog has been created. People in quarantine are waiting as long as 10 days for their results and incurring large hotel bills as they wait. People trying to get out of the country to destinations (like the UK and Canada) which require a negative test within 72 hours before departure are not getting their results in time and having to re-book their flights multiple times.

And in the UK, things are even worse as well. Numbers are now ridiculously high, deaths rates are soaring, the NHS is drowning and a second National Lockdown has been imposed.

Those of us who hoped that 2021 would bring better times have been sorely disappointed.

But, a glimmer of hope can be gleaned from the fact that the vaccination programme has begun, with 2 million people in the UK having received their first dose.

When is this all going to end?

Sunday, December 27th, Month 10 of our Covid-19 Experience.

Latest update on our pandemic experience.

So Christmas is over and it seems like an appropriate time to write a Covid-19 update. We have been in Barbados now for exactly three months, and officially have another three to go. However, we are now considering extending our stay until June, as things at home seem to be getting worse, not better!

Since September, the numbers have continued to rise, more lockdowns have been imposed, and a new tiered system of restrictions has been developed, dependent on local infection levels.

Initially, the government was intending to allow the relaxing of restrictions for five days over Christmas, but this was revoked at short notice, after a new, more infectious, variant of the virus swept across the UK. Christmas mixing was cancelled in many areas, and everywhere else people were permitted to mix with just one household, for one day only, with overnight stays forbidden.

A raft of countries reacted to the new variant by closing their borders to UK citizens, but it seems that it might be too little, too late, as the new variant has already been detected in many other countries in Europe, and around the world. Let’s hope it doesn’t reach us here!

The good news is that a vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, and others are following close behind. However, it is going to take a very long time to get everyone vaccinated, and a list of priority groups has been developed. The elderly, and health and social care workers, are first on the list, with estimates suggesting that young, healthy people may not receive theirs until 2022!

People have had enough. There have been tears and tantrums over cancelled Christmas plans and many people have been unable to travel home for the holidays. Hundreds of lorry drivers have been trapped in their vehicles for days, in huge queues near the ferry ports. There have been rumours of food shortages and other horrors, and the anti-maskers, anti-vaccers and conspiracy theorists are having field day! But, generally, people are resigned to their new ways of life in a depressed kind of way. All this, and Brexit is just around the corner! Estimates suggest that things are not going to begin to improve until the summer.

Christmas Eve

Here in Barbados, life ticks on in a relatively normal way. Their protocols seem to be highly effective at containing the virus. Things are slowly getting busier. People are still being careful. More and more flights are coming in each day, and more and more people are appearing on the beaches, and in bars and restaurants. Every week a handful of people test positive on their second test but, because they have been in quarantine pending their results, there has been no community spread. Fingers crossed it continues in this way!

We had a wonderful Christmas and did things we could never have done at home. Of course we missed our family and friends back home, but we couldn’t have been with them physically anyway. On Christmas Eve, we set the sun in a south coast restaurant called Naru. We had a champagne breakfast picnic on the beach on Christmas morning and then had our Christmas Dinner at the Atlantis Hotel in Bathsheba. On Boxing Day, we were invited to a beach party by some people we have met here, and spent the day, swimming, chatting, drinking rum punch and eating hot, buttery, roasted breadfruit.

Writing wise, since we have been here, I have completed the biography project I was working on with a friend. My Rachel, was published in December and, so far, is doing really well. I am very close to publishing my first novel, Wait for Me. The manuscript is currently with a friend who is formatting it for publication for me, then I need to do a final read through to double check for any typos or glaring errors. It’s very exciting!

How quickly life can change. This time last year, we had some blinds for our dining room delivered from China. The manufacturers enclosed a packet of Jelly Beans in the package. M refused to eat them in case they were contaminated with the new virus that was causing problems in China. I laughed at him and gobbled them up! Who’d have imagined that that very same virus would, 12 months later, have wreaked havoc and misery across the whole word, infecting over 80 million people, and killing almost 2 million.

The official death toll in the UK is now over 70,000. Excess deaths are higher, over 80,000. Just before Christmas, there were 39,000 new cases in 24 hours and 570 deaths. Rates of hospital admissions are as high as they were back in the peak of the first wave. The only positive in all of this is that deaths rates are lower, almost half of what they were back then. Perhaps they are learning how to manage the disease better?

This graphic representation from the Guardian captures the situation well. Because they were not testing in the community in the first wave, you can’t really compare daily cases, but hospital admissions are likely to be an accurate reflection.

Wednesday, September 30th, Month 7 of our Covid-19 Experience.

We are finally here in beautiful Barbados and we made it by the skin of our teeth!

From the 1st of October, the UK will be deemed a high risk country and all visitors to the island will face and mandatory period of quarantine.

It’s been a week since my last post, and four days since we arrived.

Covid Test day was pretty straightforward and everything seemed to be going smoothly. We had a good drive down to Cirencester, the tests were done, we drove them to Cambridge and dropped them off at the lab about midday. We had a drive-through McDonalds to celebrate. Another 2020 first for us. It was another easy drive home, and later we had our final takeaway curry for a while. So far, so good.

Screen 4 assured us that the results would be through within 24 hours, but that deadline came and went and we had heard nothing. It was long and anxious wait. We spent the day doing our final bits of packing, checked in online and picked up the hire car we were going to use to get to Heathrow. But, we couldn’t complete the Barbados Covid- 19 Immigration Forms without our negative test certificate. I was checking my emails every 10 minutes. I felt sick. I couldn’t concentrate on anything.

It was odd, but we both felt as though we had developed colds since having the swabs taken. We began to question whether we had somehow picked up the virus! We even briefly discussed the possibility that we had been given it by the swabs and it was all some massive conspiracy! We both went a bit mad that day, waiting for our results. In retrospect, its more likely that our bodies were simply responding to the insult of having our tonsils and noses swabbed fairly vigorously for several seconds.

I managed to speak to Screen 4 on the phone around 3. They confirmed that our tests were negative but that there had been a problem with the certificates and they’d have to get them amended and send them to us later. The good news about the results soon dissipated as we started another period of waiting for the certificates to come through. Later? How much later? What if they didn’t come through in time for us to complete the Immigration Forms. Would they even let us on the plane?

(I did amuse myself by telling M that the reason for the delay was that we had both tested positive and they had had to double check the results. He was trying to relax in the bath at the time. His face was a picture!)

But they did eventually come through, around 6pm. I filled in the forms and we sat down to eat. But, I had absolutely no appetite. I felt mentally and emotionally drained. We were almost there. Just needed to get up in the morning, drive to Heathrow and get on the plane. We fell into bed and set the alarm for 4am.

We set off around 5am the next day (Saturday) and had a straightforward drive . After dropping off the car, it was slightly disconcerting to be transported to the terminal in a tiny mini bus with the driver and another man. We hadn’t been inside a car or vehicle with anyone else for a very, very long time. But, everyone was wearing masks and they were only allowing a maximum of four people on the bus at one time.

Check-in was utter chaos! We arrived just after 7.30 am and a few people were already in the queue. It wasn’t good. It seemed as though lots of people were being turned away because they had had their tests done too early. The cut-off was Wednesday at 2pm. There was crying, yelling and despair. Each check-in took forever and the queue got longer and longer.

When it came to our turn she tried to tell us that we’d had ours too early. She was looking at the time which was 09.30. But, she hadn’t realised that we’d had them on the Thursday and not the Wednesday. We had a moment or two of panic before it was sorted out.

Then, we were through! We had a coffee, our first coffee “out” together since March, and boarded at around 10.00. The flight left late due to the delays at check-in. We heard the staff saying that 40 people had been turned away. When we finally took off about 11.30 am (an hour later than planned) I actually had to fight back the tears of relief.

We watched some movies and tried to relax on the 8 hour flight. I’ll be honest, the whole experience at the airport and on the plane felt incredibly risky compared to how we have been living over the last six months. The only saving grace was that everyone on the plane had tested negative and day or two before.

On arrival in Barbados, we had our test certificates examined before we were allowed to enter the airport. Then, we had a temperature check and had to sanitise our hands. We then had to fill in more paperwork to allow the government health officials to monitor us for the next couple of weeks.

When we went through immigration, they barely looked at our passports and documents. We were expecting to be challenged about our length of stay but no-one said a thing. We were ushered swiftly into another queue where we were given some symptom and temperature forms to fill in twice a day for the next couple of weeks.

And so, here we are. Nicely chilled and settled in for our 6 months in paradise!

Back home the numbers continue to rise. Over 7000 new cases, and around 70 deaths, yesterday and today. We are so lucky! It feels very safe here compared to the UK. Now that we are finally here. I’m going to try to stop thinking and talking about the virus so much. I’ll update this blog as and when there is something significant to report. In the meantime, I’m going to concentrate of 3 projects. Finishing the second draft of Wait for Me, getting the second draft of Rachel written and get that book published, and start work on a new project – The Beaches of Barbados!