As soon as we woke up this morning, we were greeted with the news that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca virus has received the approach of the regulators and hence can be released for immediate use (from next Monday onwards) Whereas the dosage is normally one jab followed by another some weeks later, the regulators have approved the protocol that the first dose can be administered (giving about 70% protection) followed by a second dose some twelve weeks later. This approach means that the protection is being spread much more rapidly than if you had one jab followed by another some three weeks later. In order to protect the population, though, it is necessary to inoculate some 2 million people a week and whether this is achievable remains to be seen. The manifest advantages of this particular vaccine are its cheapness (about £3 a shot rather than £25 for the Pfizer alternative) and the fact that it only needs normal refrigeration conditions (and not the -70 degrees of the Pfizer alternative) This makes it much easier to get into residential homes. Also the government has taken out an option for 100 million doses of the vaccine should be sufficient to inoculate the whole of the ‘at-risk’ population in the UK. But it is undoubtedly a race between the rapidly advancing new variant of the virus on the one hand versus the rapidity with which the new vaccine can be ruled out across the population on the other.
Meg and I walked down to collect our newspapers in relatively overcast but not snowy conditions. It looks as though the Midlands lay in between two swathes of snow bearing clouds to the north and to the south. However, where the sludge had turned to ice along the upper reaches of the main road had to be negotiated with a certain amount of care so we either walked on the road or navigated our way with extreme caution along the pavements. Conditions improved as we approached the park, though (warmer temperature? more feet to melt the snow?) After we collected our newspapers, we popped into Waitrose for a carton of milk and then swung onto the High Street in Bromsgrove to go to replenish supplies at one of those cut-price ‘health and beauty’ shops that seem to have sprung up recently. This is because we suspect that we may be moved from Tier 2 to Tier 4 later on today when the changes are announced by Matt Hancock so we were planning ahead for a lockdown (or ‘semi-lockdown’) lasting at least a month. When we got home, we had a nice meal of our favourite Waitrose fishcakes and then settled down to watch the latest news on the rolling news programmes.
Today was the day when the EU-UK trade bill was being rushed through Parliament, with the idea being to get all of the stages passed and then through the Lords ready for the Royal Assent later on this evening. The Labour Party has been whipped to support the bill but in the opinion of many, the Labour Party should have abstained leaving the Tories to pick up all of the fall-out that will undoubtedly occur once the full implications of the deal start to become apparent (not least the mountain of paperwork that is now required, the fact that the fishing industry has been left in the lurch and crucially the position of the services industry is still undetermined) The Commons finally approved the ‘deal’ bu 521 votes to 73.
Last night, I wrote a long email to our friends in Spain who seem to be experiencing some difficulties in coping with the long months of lockdown – I get the impression that the Spanish police are much more assiduous with enforcing regulations than in this country (which may be a long felt hangover from the days of Franco even though he died in 1975). I am offering whatever advice and support I can, even including the suggestion that they try some Yoga which may have some benefits in alleviating long-term stress. It is interesting that the BBC is offering an item on their website under the title ‘COVID-19: Five ways to stay positive throughout the winter‘ in which they have assembled the help of several mental health experts who have provided a series of tips that may prove helpful for many.
Meanwhile, we in Bromsgrove (and many other parts of the country) have been moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3. I am not exactly sure how much more stringent this will prove to be in our day-to-day lives. It means that some three-quarters of the population are in the highest possible Tier 4 and most of the rest of the country in Tier 3. From the point of view of the politicians, at least they can say that this ‘Short term pain for long-term gain as the vaccine is on its way’