Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 60 (Monday, May 18 2020)
ALL major crises bring out the best and worst in people. In small communities like Lyme Regis, the best always outdo the worst.
When the epidemic broke, having been involved in the community for more than 50 years, I had no doubt that Lyme would rise to the occasion as newly-formed group, Lyme Regis Community Support, set up by Victoria Cottle and Grace Herbert, sprung into action to ensure that the elderly and infirm in our town were looked after.
That work continues and there have been numerous other examples of kindness in our community. When all this is over there will be an opportunity to pay tribute to all those NHS staff and essential workers, and those working in the community.
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, is already working on plans for the people of Lyme Regis to express their thanks to those who have come together to see that their fellow citizens received the help and support needed.
One section of our community that may have been forgotten is those who work in our shops who have had to stay open during the lockdown, providing essential services but putting themselves at risk.
One of my great friends telephoned me yesterday to ask whether anyone had thought to say thank you to those who have had to work in these shops. For some, it has not been a very pleasant experience, especially those who work in food shops and have had to deal with some very difficult customers.
I promised to record in this diary that people were appreciative of what they were doing and I have passed on the message to the mayor, who I am sure will find a suitable occasion to do so himself.
We could have a vaccine by September
Two encouraging factors emerged from yesterday’s Downing Street briefing, conducted by the ultra-serious Business Secretary Alok Sharma. He reported that the daily death total had fallen to 175, the lowest level since lockdown began and that a coronavirus vaccine could be available in September is trials are successful.
He revealed that pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca had agreed to produce 30 million doses, enough to vaccinate half the British population, if trials are successful.
The trials are being led by Oxford University and Mr Sharma announced new funding of £84million for vaccine research on top of the £47million already earmarked.
But he added that there was no guarantee that the trials would be successful and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned there is a possibility that no cure will be found for the disease.
If the trials are successful it is likely the NHS staff and care workers will be vaccinated first, followed by those with long-term health issues and the elderly. But that September deadline seems very ambitious.
One disturbing and surprising fact that emerged over the weekend was that, although the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the South West was the lowest in Britain, the ‘R’ level was the second highest at 0.8 to the North East.
I don’t pretend for one minute that I understand the science in calculating the ‘R’ level. If the ‘R’ exceeds one then a surge in the epidemic is quite possible and it would seem we are very close to the number following the rise in deaths in care homes .
According to Dr Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath, the ‘R’ depends on three factors – the transmissibility (how easy the disease passes between people); the infectious period (the longer it is, the more chances there are for an infectious person to pass on the disease); and the population through which the disease is passing.
Should schoolchildren return to the classroom?
The big issue at the moment is whether it is safe for children to go back to school as early as June with an almighty argument taking place between the government and the teacher unions.
Ministers have drawn up proposals for a phased return in which children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 start to go back to schools in England as early as June 1, but the National Education Union has described the plans as “reckless” and are advising teachers “not to engage” in the plans.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove escalated the row yesterday by telling the union leaders: “If you really care about children, you will want them to be in school.”
Social distancing is schools is certainly challenging but it seems that other countries, Denmark in particularly, have managed to achieve it.
It seems likely that Lyme’s car parks and toilets will be open with this weekend’s Bank Holiday. I understand Dorset will be making a decision tomorrow (Tuesday) and if they give the go-ahead Lyme Regis Town Council is almost certain to follow.
The town council had one of its outside staff on duty at Monmouth Beach on Saturday and, I am told, they spent all day turning away day trippers looking for parking near the Cobb.
But the barriers will probably be removed this weekend and it will be interesting to see how busy the town will be as Lyme edges towards the “new norm”. How will Lyme react to the changes to come?
Some advice from an unnamed philosopher: “I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better”.