COVID and Brexit have dominated the news for the last three months with both becoming increasingly critical through December to year end. In England the second national lockdown ended on 1st December and the country reverted to the regional three-tiered system of restrictions. On 2nd December the UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine. We started a mass vaccination programme on 8th December. At around the same time it was reported that approval for the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine was also imminent. Our relief, on starting the mass vaccination programme, was short lived: Within days news had broken that Novel Coronavirus 19 had mutated. Worse still, there was statistical evidence of an accelerated surge in the transmission rate in Kent (where a new COVID-19 mutation was first detected). The new Coronavirus strain, labelled B.1.1.7, appeared to be much more contagious.
Since the discovery of B.1.1.7 in mid December (in the UK) we have plunged further into lock-down, region by region, culminating in deserted streets on Christmas Eve. Over the past few days the disease has been spreading at over 50,000 per every day, and the death rate is now approaching 1,000 per day.
On December 20th France closed it’s borders to the UK. Countries across Europe and around the world followed France in closing their borders to UK visitors.
Operation Brock was made operational within a few business hours and two weeks ahead of the planned Brexit readiness. Operation Brock is a contingency plan which has taken 2 years to implement in Kent. It is specifically designed to deal with disruptions on the Channel crossings and Euro Tunnel in the likely event of a ‘no-deal Brexit’. Manston Airport and a thirteen mile section of the M20 have been provisioned (behind contra-flow barriers) into massive lorry parks. When the borders closed there was an immediate need to deal with thousands of trucks in transit.
Following intensive talks and bilateral agreement between France and the UK, borders were eventually re-opened for freight on Christmas Eve, but only to allow drivers through who had been tested in the UK and confirmed to be clear of COVID.
By the time the freight started moving again there were over 6000 lorries stranded in Kent. It had become a logistical nightmare to resolve and the port of Dover was gridlocked. The Army was brought in to manage the logistics and help administer the tests. Thousands of lorry drivers remained stranded in their cabs on the wrong side of the Channel over the Christmas break. Local charities assisted as best they could with food and provisions for the drivers.
As 2020 draws to a close, this new COVID-19 strain ‘B.1.1.7’ is threatening to overwhelm the capacity of the NHS. I’ve posted more information about this mutation and the impact it is having on this link.
Brexit negotiations have continued continued right down to the wire this month. It wasn’t until Christmas Eve morning that the UK and the EU finally reached agreement on terms for a post Brexit trade agreement. The vote on the agreement went through in the House of Commons yesterday (with a majority of 448) enabling trade goods to continue to flow across the new EU Borders in the new year.
Yesterday morning the UK announced approval of the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine with immediate distribution swinging into action. The first doses are to be given to patients on 4th January.
At 11am today the UK finally severed our EU Membership ties. We are no longer a member of the biggest free-trade zone in the world. Our EU membership has been replaced by different deal which has left both the UK and the EU economically worse-off. What a sad day. Calling Europe: Many of us will miss you. Keep the lights on for us, I hope we will be back soon.
Today is New Year’s Eve 2020 and the country awoke this-morning under further increases to lockdown restrictions. There will be no parties happening tonight as the UK braces for the impact from this new COVID-19 mutation.
Casting my mind back over the past year, I often consider how very fortunate we have been in our immediate family to have (so far) not caught CODID-19. We are also fortunate to be living where we are, in a house with a garden, 500 metres from the nearest countryside footpath, and on the edge of a well connected town which has good services and facilities.
Thinking over the major events of December 2020 and my mind is frown to earlier in the month when I can recall the relief to hear confirmation that Biden had definitely won the US election. It was quite a close call and it took a longer than I’d anticipated to count all the postal votes. I have no doubt that Trump losing to Biden in the US elections is a God-sent gift to the World. The result has de-risked the poisonous geopolitical volatility that Trump and his cohorts have injected around the globe.
The whole pandemic experience has been like one of those recurring nightmares where you know something bad is happening but you are powerless to do anything about it. I was concerned enough to blog about it back in February when the Government was simply failing to take the necessary action. At that time all borders to all coutnries were open, no checks at all for inbound or outbound travellers, we had mass gatherings all over the place with millions of people attending football matches, the Cheltenham Festival, music events, theatres etc. This all continued right through to mid March. AT the end of February the Government appeared to be more concerned about getting on with Brexit and the newspaper editors seemed obsessed about the adulterous antics of Boris Johnson. The COVID-19 outbreak was barely making headlines in February. All this, regardless of warnings from the World Health Organisation and countries in Asia swinging into stringent visible actions at their borders and implementing domestic restrictions to control the spread. It seemed as if our country was drifting, rudderless.
Then it all happened, as if by surprise, the UK Government woke up and came to terms with events and the real an imminent threat from COVID-19. By this time all the PPE, ventilators, testing equipment and other essential medical equipment had been purchased and back-ordered by other countries the world, leaving only the pickings for the UK. Since them the UK Government seems to have been almost consistently playing catch-up, not quite making decisions in time to mitigate the next crisis. I say ‘almost’ because the timely vaccine approval has been a notable exception.
God only knows how many people around the world will lose their lives to COVID-19, or be left with long term physical sickness and disability The long-term economic effects of the pandemic will be profound and they will be amplified in the UK and to a lesser extent across Europe as the UK separates from the EU under the Brexit trade agreement terms.
Paradoxically, the proximity of the disease no longer troubles me as it did in April and March. What will be will be. No point in worrying about what might or might not happen.
I have come to terms with the continued delays from Government to take timely action and I’ve come to expect a complete lack of clarity from our leadership. I’m adjusted to hearing about the abuse of power as senior officials continue to line their pockets (and those of their cronies) through relaxed procurement policies during the crisis. The gap continues to widen between ‘the have’s and ‘the have nots’. There is so clearly ‘one rule for us’ and ‘another rule for them’.
This is all so much yesterday’s news and it has become routine. The future is unpredictable. We are in the eye of this pandemic storm and clearly at a tipping point. I’m optimistic we will get through it and I am sure we will have some greater challenges of us.
COVID references and links:
Technical description of COVID mutation B.1.1.7, first detected in the UK on this link.
NHS COVID-19 advice: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
Worldometer latest coronavirus update: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
Graphs used for UK Daily New Cases and Daily Deaths on this link.