from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: A Portal into another World.

February 1, 2021.

Our Christmas present from Seattle USA, from my daughter and family there, arrived late. Australia is having problems with shipments from across the world: books from Amazon, Aldi’s Chinese specials, cars, furniture and all those nick-knacks in the 2-dollars shops. Amongst the presents was a PORTAL, the latest device from Facebook, a counter to Amazon’s Alexa’s Echo.

My Kitchen Portal reviewing our bird watching by the seashore

I like the word, ‘portal’. It has currency in the computer world but as a child, I devoured The Lion, the Witch & Wardrobe, the Narnia books, by C.S. Lewis. What a marvellous story. The part where Lucy, playing hide-and-seek, is hiding in the cupboard amongst the winter coats and suddenly feels a cold draft behind her captivated me, as it did so many of my generation. (Do kids still read? Sorry!! – do kids read the Narnia series?). Now THAT was a portal, a magic portal into a world of good and evil, of temptation, suffering and fortitude. I suppose not much different to the world we find ourselves in – without a portal to escape away from.

This Christmas-gift-Portal, a communication device, with its wide 10-inch screen, now sits on our kitchen counter between the set of knives and a more distant toaster – sadly, it won’t teleport me to Seattle or to Capetown.

It is about the size of an horizontal iPad with built-in Alexa and video calling using Messenger and Whatsapp. I know Facebook is unpopular in many circles but this device is amazing. Maybe I cannot see the ‘cons’ yet. The 13-megapixel wide-angle camera (114 degrees) follows you in the room so your caller has a sense of place and activity. It makes a Zoom call look boring. With the Portal you can add people to your call using Whatsapp. I am not sure how many people can be in a family or conference call. With our family spread across the world this is a delight! Other Apps can be added – we direct Spotify through the stereo speakers and back woofer.

When I am alone in the kitchen the Portal streams my photos from Whatsapp and Facebook in a random manner. And it becomes a portal into my past life. I am seeing images from our travels 8 years ago.

In a way seeing these happy images is disturbing because I realise that as time passes in our world, locked down with Covid-19, there will less ability for us to do what we used to do relatively easily. Will we be able to take up our cancelled holidays with alacrity? If this world-wide travel shutdown continues this year, as it appears it might, that will be 2 years taken off our lives when we might have seen our families and taken journeys to distant places.

Our planned April 2020 trip to Indonesia to sail on Seatrek Bali’s beautiful phinisi, the Ombak Putih, to remote islands will not take place in April 2021 although our booking was transferred. April 2022? Will we be fit enough to go? Will the company be still in business? Our challenge this week is, once more, to open up the files on insurance policies and see if we can take the claim further now that travelling this April 2021 is out of the question.

Seatrek Balli has 2 phinisi that sail through the Indonesian islands

We have flight credits for Indonesia’s Garuda Airlines, Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand. All have use-by dates. At the moment, we can plan a local intra-Australian trip – book flights and accommodation – but might find that it is cancelled due to the on-again, off-again border closures. One person wrote in the weekend papers that he had had 3 trips to Queensland aborted due to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk closing borders.

Another example – yesterday, the Western Australia Premier – on a few hours’ notice has shut down the whole of Perth and SW Regions for 5 days because a single case of the more virulent virus has escaped from a quarantine hotel into the community. What about people there on holiday or planning a holiday in the short term? It must be beyond frustrating for the travel industry.

The virus is rampant is many parts of the world and the incidents of new variants bubbling up in such places makes me think that we are not going to be on top of Covid-19 for some time. We all looked to vaccines to be our way back to ‘normal’ life and luckily many vaccines are proving effective. BUT – how to vaccinate the world? The challenges and obstacles are considerable – the cost seems to be only one of the issues – hoarding by richer countries – corruption in many countries – lower effectiveness of some of the vaccines which have not been tested by the west (Sputnik) – slower production. And of course, there are the rabid anti-vaxxers – mostly in the USA courtesy of Past-President Trump. While all this is going on, won’t the virus be mutating? Of course, it will be. Normally, viruses become less deadly. Will Covid-19 follow this ‘rule’? The good news is that this virus apparently mutates slowly.

I am thinking that our new Portal will remain our window into our past, revealing the open, free lives we led only a year ago.

I must not complain. It can become a habit! Yesterday, I took our three-quarter blind Cairn-terrier, Roy dog to the local park for a late-afternoon very slow walk; he sniffed his way from tree to tree. Cricket (in traditional whites) was in progress on the Kensington Gardens Oval and families were packing up their picnics while children screamed around the playground. And while I was admiring the huge lemon-scented gums along the creek, I managed to record a family of laughing kookaburras singing their iconic ‘song’ of chortles and gurgles. Here they are. (PS. Did you notice the blue skies?).

The laughing Kookaburras

From John in Brighton, UK: Dilemmas

27 January 2021

First off having renounced my contributions to COVID2020diary as the year expired should I rise like a phoeniix amidst the ashes?   Or in zeitgeist lingo it’s a bit of a U turn – call me Boris if you like but I’d rather you didn’t. After all it is my first and he must be nigh on double figures and mine’s hardly the end of the World, unlike some of his for many poor souls. Would that all dilemmas be that simple –  I’ve decided to make some sporadic contributions to the ongoing saga that is COVID2020diary. Perhaps that could mutate as efficiently as the corona virus and re-emerge as COVID2021.

The driver to write is when a major event happens and it has as evidenced by two esteemed co-diarists covering different aspects in the last three days.
Immunisation, vaccination, a little prick (no, not him) or the jab as favoured by TV reporters. The name matters not but it’s significant on two accounts, the first being that for the first time, as far as I recall, we should be espousing praise as our vaccination programme outstrips the rest of Europe put together. To my surprise Michael Gove hasn’t (yet) claimed that it’s down to Brexit but that most incompetent of ministers Gavin Williamson was quick to say how it shows what a great country we are.  On that score yes Gav….shame about our childrens’ education. I have an alternative theory and it’s arguably Boris’ coup de grace for the whole of Covid to date. He appointed the rather vapid Nadim Zahawi as vaccine deployment minister and he is sufficiently inert that for once it’s left largely to NHS staff to organise and administer vaccine roll out. This has been done much more by locality than Test and Trace which I’m sure underlies the significant progress albeit with pockets of pique from those who feel left behind.

In this neck of the woods the relatively elderly folk of Chichester are understandably carping today at the absence of a vaccination centre within their city. But it’s gaining pace on its very ambitious schedule and I’d suggest it’s probably the jewel in the corona of Covid management to date – mind you it’s nothing but tat to date as the current statistics bear testimony to.  There seems to be a very clear algorithm of priority based on clinical need and having so far administered a first dose to 4,266,577 despite the NHS being at breaking point is an amazing achievement. I’m in tier 4 so should be called up by Valentine’s Day apparently. My daughter being on a respiratory / Covid placement got her’s last weekend and took a gulp at the last line of the contraindications booklet – “we don’t know of possible long-term effects of the vaccine” so we bear no responsibility,… just sign here. A bit of potential grist to the anti-Vax cohort.

So there’s the second dilemma – to be or not to be when the call up letter comes? The very few deaths after vaccine have been reported in the elderly with serious underlying disease and are probably unrelated and meanwhile a centre for “long Covid” is about to open locally.  So notwithstanding a small risk of adverse effects from the vaccine the scales are heavily tipped in the direction of “ayes to the right”. Bring it on.

My third dilemma is the most tricky. They’re crying out for volunteers to support the roll out of the programme. I can almost see Lord Kitchener’s chilly stare and index finger pointed at me. My country needs me, how can I refuse? First off I decide that if I have the vaccine – Pfizer, please as it looks to be a bit more effective and wait three weeks then I’ll take the risk even tho’ I’m “highly vulnerable”. Then there’s the acid test aka daughter who won’t go in the same house as me or even share the car for a brief trip. I break it gently and…..she doesn’t throw up her arms and tell me I’m mad but a much more muted “I wouldn’t but I can see why you would ”. That’s as strongly a yes as I can hope for. So I send an e-mail to express an interest as long as I’ve been immunised. Perhaps they’ll fast track me or perhaps they’ll tell me the last thing they want is to risk burdening the NHS with yet another of the clinically vulnerable.

The automatic response from the Mass Vaccination Team Sussex tells me they’re inundated with applications so there’ll be a delay before I get a response. Anyway too late…forget it for the moment and watch the news at 6 last night. First the good news –  over four and a quarter million have received their first dose of vaccinations to  date serves only to fuel my enthusiasm to contribute. Then the bad in that 1610 is the highest number of deaths in a 24 hour period since the pandemic began. Then we have the second of Clive Myrie’s very powerful reports from the London Hospital – Monday’s interspersed the grave diggers amongst scenes within the hospital and yesterday he kicked off with a visit to the hospital mortuary.

And doubt is being cast on the 89% protection afforded by a single dose of Pfizer vaccine with Pfizer themselves saying the single dose only prevented 52% of infections and it needed the second jab to reduce infections by 82% and severe disease by 89% (the provenance of our Government’s figure). If this information is accurate (my source is the Daily Mail online hence my slight reservation) then it puts a cat amongst the pigeons for ongoing prioritisation. Indeed the WHO have said that they do not support the UK approach and the second dose should be given within 3-4 weeks or a maximum of six. And of course we follow the science…..when it suits. 
It’s not so cold out today but regarding my volunteering my feet are feeling about as icy as Kitchener’s eyes….

From David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: The Exception

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Knightsbridge Circle

January 15.   The Government has taken, or has had forced upon it, a decision of principle.  The Covid vaccines are not on the market.  The rich cannot buy immunity.

There is a sense, indeed, in which the vaccine programme offers a temporary reversal of the pattern throughout the pandemic of the poor suffering more than the prosperous.  Many of the staff in the NHS and care homes who are now at the head of the queue are amongst the relatively low paid who have been most at risk in recent months.  

Initially it looked as if the wealthy were to be punished for their self-indulgence, as holiday-makers skiing in northern Italy came back to Britain with the virus.  But as it became embedded across the population, the most vulnerable were those who could not afford to work at home, or who lacked adequate domestic space, or who had acquired underlying health conditions though decades of poor diet and inadequate health care.

Now all were to be equal in the programme.  However, the Government reckoned without the culture of the rich.  The Daily Telegraph, where else, has just reported on the offer being made by the private concierge service, Knightsbridge Circle, which charges a basic £25,000 a year for membership.  It looks to be worth every penny.  “A carefully curated membership”, says its website, “ensures that clients receive unparalleled access to the very best of everything that life has to offer.”

This includes jumping the vaccination queue. 

The founder of Knightsbridge Circle, one Stuart McNeil, explained to the Daily Telegraph the recent addition to his service: 

“the inoculations are already well underway, with members based both in the UK and abroad flying out for vaccination holidays, many on private jets. ‘It’s like we’re the pioneers of this new luxury travel vaccine programme. You go for a few weeks to a villa in the sunshine, get your jabs and your certificate and you’re ready to go,’ says McNeill, who assumes that many such members have flown out under the business/education trip exemption. ‘Lots of our clients have business meetings in the UAE.’”

The cost for a curated member is certainly manageable:

“While the potential upper end cost of such a trip is mammoth, McNeill approximates a cost of around £40,000 for a month-long trip to Dubai with first class Emirates flights, meet and greet, accommodation in a sea view Jumeirah Beach apartment, vaccination and membership for two.”

But, dear reader, you ask, is this not illegal?

Well yes, but then again no, but then again it depends on whether Priti Patel wants to enforce her own laws.

It is certainly illegal to take flights for pleasure.  The wording of the new lockdown is clear enough: “You must not leave or be outside of your home except where you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. This is the law.” However, a “reasonable excuse” includes “work, where you cannot reasonably work from home.”  As it is well known that the super-rich live in hovels without desk space or internet connections, it is of course necessary for them to go out to earn their weekly pittance.  As for distance, the rules also say, “if you need to travel you should stay local – meaning avoiding travelling outside of your village, town or the part of the city where you live.”  The UAE, as we know, is just next door to the City of London, particularly when you have a private jet.  No problem.

What is so heart-warming about Stuart McNeil is that he has not lost his moral compass in supplying this service.  According to the article, he “is keen to note that Knightsbridge Circle has not vaccinated anybody under the age of 65.” “We still have a moral responsibility to make sure that people that really need it get it, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on.”  

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly.  McNeill’s only regret is that the Government has yet to make the vaccine available to his private clinic in Harley Street: “I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that Boris allows us to do this.”

It can only be a matter of time.