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Saturday, 8 August 2020

August 8

 August 8

Despite all the bad news, the errors and delays in dealing with the pandemic, Britain is now doing much better than many other countries.There is even an optimisic view of our efforts from the WHO, the World Health Organisation. 

Its special envoy on Covid-19,  David Nabarro, said he was full of hope that Britain was going to do really well

It was locating local outbreaks and society was pulling together and saying, 'We are going to get on top of this'.

For a welcome change, statistics seem to prove this. Apart from local oubreaks, mainly in the north of England, numbers of cases and deaths have fallen well below the peak of a few months ago and are being effectively dealt with by swift local action such as that taken in Leicester

The much criticised test and trace system is starting to work better, with a combination of national and local effort and local government playing a bigger part. 

Wales, which has been delibereately slower than Englad in  removing restrictions, is recording a big drop in cases with the people backing the government and generally obeying the rules.

Other countries are facing bigger problems. In Australia the state of Victoria, with a big rise in cases,  has closed its borders.

 Latin America is now the worst affected area, coronavirus is still rampant in the USA and there are minor outbreaks in Belgium =and France. .

Moving intto late summer and the prospect of colder weather adding to the danger there is sill much to do. 

The luxury of hot sumny days on crowded beaches will give way to the harsh reality of long dark days which will require patience and detremintion if coronavirus is to be defeated. 





 




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Friday, 7 August 2020

Coronavirus diary, Friday 7 August



'Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, it's off to work we go!' sang the seven little dwarf characters in the famous Disney film. 

Unfortunately that is not the attitude of most British workers.
Despite government pleas to go to work millions have decided to stay at home 

Among the reasons - working conditions may not be safe, as with travelling by bus and train, and the need to stay home to look after their children.They don't even want to get on  their bikes as suggested.

This reluctance contrasts with other European countries.
In France over 80% are back at their desks, in their factories and in the vineyards.

In Germany and Italy it's over 70% with Britain lagging at 34%.
The government is making matters worse by not forcing its civil servants to show an example; masses of them are still working from home and likely to do so for the rest of the year as decided by other major businesses employing thousands.

Every day companies including cafes and sandwich shops and wine bars are shedding staff by the thousand.

Since May 163,000 jobs have been lost and more will follow.

The full-time return to school next month may give more parents the chance to get back to work but even that is uncertain due to shortage of child care. 

Hence the Bank of England's latest forecast of over the million unemployed and the economy shrinking by nine and a half percent, this year, the worst for one hundred years.

And that is if coronavirus is kept in check, which is unlikely considering  the global picture.

It will need some better news for us to sing a happy 'Heigh Ho' song.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Coronavirus diary, Thursday 6 August



The decision of the four governments that all children will go back to full time schooling in September is probably the hardest they have had to make.

So much depends on it. It could be decisive in halting the ominously persistent spread of Covid-19 across the world. 
The view is shared by countries throughout the world who are making the same move. 

As in the pandemic in general, there are two related issues, health and the economy.

In possible future lockdowns, if a choice has to be made which is more important keeping shops, pubs and restaurants open or getting schools back to normal, when it comes to young people's future there seems to be little doubt.

England's Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield says schools should be the last places to be shut. The RCPC (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) warns, 'Continued closure of schools risks scarring the life chances of a generation of young people'.

It is a decision which, for the prime minister in particular, needs to be the correct one.

He and the Education Minister for England, Gavin Williamson, have been so often criticised for lack of decisiveness and they need to be proved right this time.

Kirsty Williams

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and his Education Minister Kirsty Williams are determined to get all 400,000 primary to secondary school pupils back and are taking on 900 more teachers to help them make up for lost time. 

A spanner in the works could be the reaction of teachers' unions who insist it is their duty to ensure it is safe.

In Wales parents have been reassured that while it would be wrong to say there was no risk 'on balance, it's right'. Kirsty Williams said that  parents will not be fined if they decide not to let their children return.

Pupils with most cause for concern over the past four months are those who were due to take exams. Scotland has just announced results based on records and teachers' assessments. Twenty five percent of the results have been downgraded, leading to a likely flood of appeals.

Wales has the same plan.

These next three weeks will be an anxious time for parents, children, teenagers and the governments.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Coronavirus diary, Wednesday 6 August



GPs - general practitioner doctors - have cared for Britain's health for a long time.

But they have never seen such an upheaval as that brought about by this pandemic. And it affects every one of us.

Going back over the years, qualified doctors working in the community were GPs but it did not become a trained, specialist role until the 1950s. 

We can all recall our GPs - our family doctors.

My first memory of ours is of the care received by my father, Frank over many years. 

Dad was a crane driver, working at a small wharf on the river Thames in Wandsworth, at first travelling every day from our home in West Ham until we moved to Wandsworth to be nearer his work. It was a hard and dangerous job, especially during world war two. He was approaching 50 and not very fit, which meant regular calls to our doctor.

Worse, he almost died when his steam driven crane toppled over, trapping him. Seriously injured, he spent weeks at home, with the doctor at first calling every few days. That doctor became a friend, sitting down beside Dad's bed, helping him fill out his weekly football pool coupon.

My own experience with GPs came later in life. 

My first was a happy-go-lucky friend from school who had a surgery near my home and who never seemed to me to be serious enough to be a doctor.

Remembering Doctor Don

Then, for many years, my cousin Don Dymond, two days younger than I, who was also at Cardiff High School with me, became our 
family doctor. He was the ideal doctor with a perfect, reassuring 'bedside  manner'. His practice was in Cyncoed Road, near where I live in Sunrise now.

All his patients loved him, especially children, as apart from his skill as a doctor, Don was an accomplished magician. On his calls and in hospitals he entertained young patients with his tricks and jokes. 

Life was even harder for doctors years ago, with long hours, home visits every day after surgeries, and 24 hours on call.

The most dramatic call-out in my home was on Christmas Day 1979. I was awoken by my wife Rosemary who could not find her mother who was staying with us. We could not see her in her room or anywhere in the house until we happened to look under the bed. There she was, huddled up, hidden.

Dr Lindsey, from my cousin's practice, came within minutes. My my mother-in-law was unconscious and could not be moved. Dr Lindsey decided not to send her hospital but to leave her to recover consciousness. We watched over her all day, not going to Christmas dinner at my daughter's in-laws.
 
After an anxious day and night, the next day, fearing the worst, we went into her room to find her awake, sitting up, asking what day it was. When we told her it was Boxing Day she complained bitterly about missing Christmas Day...

When we lived in Penarth our young family doctor, a keen yachtsman with a young family, died suddenly. Staff and patients cried.

Here at Sunrise, a local health centre provides the GPs who, before coronavirus, came every week. Nothing could be easier. No need to make an appointment.

The 'surgery' is a room a few yards from my door. No need to sit by the phone at 7.30am for up to half an hour trying to book an appointment, my last experience in Penarth.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

August 4



Yet another breathless announcement from Health Secretary for England Matt Hancock. Another 'breakthrough'.

This time it is a new 90-minute test to be 'rolled out' in care  homes and laboratories from next week. It's going to be 'incredibly beneficial over the winter', gushes Mr Hancock.  

The new on-the-spot swab and DNA test will help distinguish between Covid-19 and other seasonal illnesses, he explains.

Getting down to impressive details, he tells us confidently -promises? - that almost half a million tests will be available from next week and millions more will be rolled out later in the year.
Around 5,000 machines providing 6.8 million tests in the coming months, the Department of Health adds.

'They will 'help us to break trains of transmission quickly', says Mr Hancock. All very impressive, especially as present tests take one to two days at best.

But is Mr Hancock's unfailing optimism justified?

A word of caution from Professor Sir John Bell, government adviser on tests. He says that there is no publicly available data on the accuracy of the new tests; they produce the same 'sensitivity' as the current lab based tests.

With his news splashed on front pages Mr Hancock must have been pleased with the publicity, especially as it overshadowed  some government not-so-good news - the July target of regular care home tests for residents and staff has been delayed due to the shortage of testing kits. 

We have heard the same story so many times before with the government trying to blind us with science.

Is this another example of a blitz on a coronavirus surge to obscure regular, unfulfilled promises of breakthroughs?

Postscript

The answer appears to be, yes. 
 
A scientific study, released today, warns that the government's test and trace system in England is not good enough to meet a second coronavirus wave. 

It says only 50% of contacts are being traced  and that it is difficult to know the percentage being tested.

Better results were essential if children were to go back to school safely in September as promised. 

Simon Clarke, the Local Government Minister, said the testing figures were higher and 'maturing all the time'.

He said, 'I am  confident' three times in one sentence, always a cause for concern.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Coronavirus diary, Monday 3 August



It's coming up to a year since I came to Sunrise and I am starting to take stock of this amazing period in my life.

And much of my thought is about old age. Sunrise is a haven, a retreat for the elder. At 93 I am slightly at the higher end of the scale of our residents' age, but can't match the home's veterans, Cecilia just turned 104 and Ray100 -  or my late mother Gwen at 102.

But who knows? I may yet get a letter from the Queen who is only a few months older than I.

My flat here is a real home from home and although I take part in many of the organised activities I spend most of my time alone.

I have plenty to do to keep me occupied, including writing this diary but I often think of my fellow residents and how they are coping with life.  

My main conclusion is that most of them are coasting along, in a world of their own. 

Of course, I do not know their thinking but they appear to be content doing and saying little.

Of the 70 or so residents, some have memory problems but only a minority seem to take an active interest in anything. At meal times the restaurant is almost silent. The service from the catering staff and the carers is very good, with three course meals mid day and evening but little comment.

At the monthly residents council meetings there is the occasional complaint but little appreciation expressed.

There are far more women than men and they show more interest in what the home offers; almost all the men prefer their own company, some not saying a word to any other resident. As a sociable person I find this disappointing. 

If our carers think so they do not show it.

One of the pleasures of Sunrise for me is their friendliness.
I enjoy a chat and a laugh with them, despite the handicap of masks and shields.

I know I am fortunate. I have been all my life and my experience of old people has many happy memories.


My mother, seen above, was still lively and cheerful at one hundred plus as was my Granny Dymond, over ninety, always lively (below).


I can visualise her now, sitting in her room in Burnaby Street Cardiff, reading the paper, happy to chat with her children and grandchildren.

That is how I see old age.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Coronavirus diary, Sunday 2 August


Apart from the huge cost in lives and the disastrous effect on the UK economy, the pandemic has created other serious long term problems. The lockdown has led to huge backlogs in health and care services.

At the start, thousands of patients awaiting urgent surgery had their operations and appointments cancelled, tests were deferred while the NHS struggled to avoid being overwhelmed
Now comes the reckoning.

The NHS Federation estimates a backlog of eight to ten million patients this year as so many people have  been unable to have surgery or even to see their GP.

Lives have been put at risk by deferred diagnoses, tests and treatment. Fewer people have been referred to hospital. The effect on the prevention and treatment of cancer is one of the most worrying aspects of the critical situation.

According to cancer research charities there is a backlog of 2.4 million suspected cases, with screening and other tests and chemotherapy treatment delayed. People have held back from contacting their GP, adding to the pent up demand. 

The Royal College of Nursing warns that the problem in England is made worse by the shortage of 40,000 nurses. Social distancing is adding to the difficulties for hospital staff. Worrying statistics. 

The lockdown has put a stop to my regular hospital clinics, two at Llandough and two at the Heath. I have now been on the waiting list for an eye operation for nearly three years while other important assessment and treatment is delayed. 

The regular visits to Sunrise by doctors from the local health centre - their surgery room is a few yards from my flat - stopped months ago although I did have one consultation over the phone and one visit about my arthritis.

I am fortunate .The Sunrise staff are excellent, coronavirus testing regularly and taking my temperature and watching my diabetes blood sugar level twice a day.

If I were alone at home trying to look after myself I would be worried.