We started 2021 with over 50,000 new COVID-19 cases each day. A new record high of 57,725 new cases on 2nd January triggered alarms in authorities across the UK. Agencies monitoring the transmission of the disease published graphs that confirmed the rate of infection in this latest wave was still accelerating. On 4th January 2021, the UK’s Joint Biosecurity Centre announced that COVID Alert Level had moved from 4 to 5, indicating that the UK’s healthcare services were at ‘material risk’ of being overwhelmed. In a televised address to the nation that evening, Boris Johnson announced a new lockdown in England and our country was, once again, instructed to stay at home.
After work on the evening of 6th January, I was shocked to walk into the kitchen and see a live broadcast of an angry mob fighting and rampaging through the White House. A most powerful symbol of Western democracy had been over-run by a bunch or right-wing hooligans and thugs.There was footage of White House security staff, weapons drawn to protect politicians who had been in session at the time and were now trapped in locations around the building. This was insurrection. The mob comprised several hundred Trump supporters and they had managed to breach security and fight their way through staff inside the building.There were hundreds more outside, seemingly also intent on getting in. It transpired that this violent action was incited by the rhetoric of Donald J Trump, at a rally in Washington earlier that day, ordering his followers to march down Pensilvania Avenue to the Capitol and to “fight for their cause”.
The whole world looked on at this spectacle, transmitted live to us that evening as the security services gradually regained control. Amazingly only five people lost their lives as a result of this event which put the US into a state of high alert and anxiety in the run-up to the presidential inauguration a week later.
Troops were deployed on the streets in all major cities around the US over the next few days, while Washington was turned into a fortress over night, to remain under military supervision covering a week or so either side of the inauguration.
Trump continued to spout his vitriol and reject the results of the election across social media as long as he could, and then something amazing happened: His account was disabled, first by Twitter, then by Facebook, then Amazon Web Services took down other sites that he was using as platforms for his misinformation and incitement. Where democratically back legislation had failed to manage the situation, a thin line had been crossed by these businesses in stifling the free speech of a dangerous lunatic.
On 8th January we reached a new peak of 68,053 new COVID cases in 24 hours in the UK. On that same day COVID-19 sadly claimed the lives of 1,325 people in the UK.
These were bleak days for staff on the front-line of the NHS. Ambulances were queuing outside hospitals and we all knew it could only get worse. Our health services were dealing with a tsunami of critical COVID patients needing intensive care. It took the UK another 8 days before the daily infection rate dipped below 40,000, by which time the daily COVID death rates were peaking at around 1500 souls per day. The two-week lag between infection rates and hospital admissions meant that the worst was yet to come for hospital staff as patients continued to arrive in this massive surge.
Look at the y-axis scale on these three graphs. Granted that New York may not have yet had the same exposure to new variants that London has been subject to. But comparing London to Seoul is shocking. OMG. What have we learned?
Comparing these three graphs is shocking. Look at the scale on the y-axis of each graph, showing the ‘daily COVID-death-rate’ for each city.
Can’t help thinking about the run-up to Christmas. There were too many warnings and predictions, made by many respected experts, about the risks and consequences of not not tightening up controls at our borders and the consequences of not taking the necessary precautions (across the UK) during the festive period.
There was plenty of statistical evidence (in the public domain) of fresh waves of COVID-19 sweeping across the country. Multiple new mutations had been detected that appeared to be much more transmissible and had not been tested against the vaccines.
Given the known risks, likely consequences, plus the evidence of new variants, I struggle to understand the UK Government’s decision to relax restrictions during the Festive period and keep all of our borders fully open.
It wasn’t until 20th January that COVID-19 death rates in the UK reached the actual peak of this wave, at 1,820 deaths in 24 hours.
Storm Christoph was the third named storm of the winter. This large, slow moving depression blew in from the Atlantic and made UK landfall on the NW coast on 19th January. As the mix of heavy rain, sleet and snow swept across the country, the environment issued 150 amber flood alerts (imminent risk of flooding), 30 red ‘flood warnings’ (take action), and 5 ‘severe flood warnings’ (danger to life). Local authorities across regions at risk distributed sandbags to protect property and hundreds of homes were evacuated.
As the storm swept across the UK, temperatures dropped the initial heavy rain turned to snow, which was heavy enough to lay. The surface water below the snow froze over during the night, making any out-door activities interesting the next day. We didn’t see snow in Guildford until Saturday morning. It started to fall as I was about to walk the dog, and by the time I returned home (90 minutes later) we had about 4 inches of snow on the ground. That was good fun!
At the PM’s COVID briefing to the nation on 22nd January, Boris Johnson talked of evidence that new variants (already known to be up to 70% more contagious) may be associated with a higher degree of mortality. Over the next couple of days there were various reports from reliable sources indicating that some of the new variants are up to 30% more lethal than the original strain.
Almost obscured by all these bad headlines, there was just a hint that end of the tunnel may soon come into sight. Government’s monitoring agencies confirmed (also on 22nd Jan) that that the R-rate had dropped below1 , for the first time since the beginning December! So, the combined effect of the mass-vaccination programme and the latest lock-down were beginning to have a positive effect.
Debenhams was finally taken over by the online retailer Boohoo on 26th January, who acquired the 200 year old brand for a complete steal at £55M.
The UK Covid-19 death toll exceeded 100,000 on 26th January 2021.
While the COVID crisis pre-occupies our minds, there are big things happening around the world that seem almost unnoticed or unchecked by those who have hitherto been in a positions of influence to protect the oppressed. Challenges are being made to China about it’s activities in Hong Kong and he extreme repression (and reports of genocide) of the Uighurs and other mainly Muslim people (link). There is unrest in India, where farmers have united to highlight the widening disparities across society and extremes of deprivation. The Russian leadership are also once again in the limelight towards the end of the month as their security services have been getting heavy handed with supporters of Alexei Navalny (opposition leader, reported as poisoned by the Russian State). Hundreds of protestors have been imprisoned during the past week, as was Navalny when he flew back into Russia from Germany following his recovery from the poisoning incident.
It was really good to hear some positive news, towards the end of January, about two new vaccines undergoing trials in the UK. Novovax has shown to be 89.3% effective with 2 doses, and Ad26.COV2.S (Janssen-Cilag / Johnson & Johnson) has proven to be 66% effective so far with one dose. All will be subject to authority approval for use in the mass vaccination programme.
The UK’s vaccination programme is operating at an unprecedented pace. At the end of the month, Government figures show 8,977,239 people have now received their first (of 2) dose. Of these, 491,053 have also received their second dose.
There is now just the slightest hint of light at the end of this cold dark tunnel. We still have a long way to go and I sense the journey will will be tough and perilous, especially for front-line staff and key workers. To these people, the rest of us are more than totally indebted.