December 28: It will all end in tier 4

Social distancing sign on York's Millennium Bridge
You don’t have to be a clairvoyant to predict that we are heading for another lockdown

So, it looks like it will all end in tier 4. The end of 2020, that is.

The Government is scheduled to review lockdown restrictions in 48 hours – the day before Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve.

It may feel like most of the country is already in lockdown (tier 4) or tier 3, the strictest of levels. But York has escaped the most draconian of coronavirus measures in recent weeks. It has been in tier 2, with cafes, bars and restaurants and pubs open, as well as shops, gyms, and hairdressers.

Granted, household mixing indoors is banned in York, but people can socialise outdoors, and with family or flatmates in cafés and restaurants. And in pubs – so long as they don’t mind scoffing a Scotch egg with their pint. The rule of six still applies.

Book group meets under Maxine’s gazebo in December

Indeed, we have been doing that. We invested in a gazebo for our small, sheltered garden, with outdoor lights and a heater. It’s been lovely – if cold – meeting a few friends – and even my book group – during December. But I think our days of socialising in such a way are numbered.

It will all end in tiers

So, what can we expect on Wednesday?

Well, you don’t have to be a clairvoyant to predict that York will be placed in tighter restrictions.

Anyone in York planning on getting together for New Year celebrations with friends or family – six in total, of course – better quickly form a plan B.

Most likely York will be moved into the highest level of restrictions: tier 4, as cases have rocketed in recent days and weeks.

In my last blog three weeks ago, I recorded how Covid rates were falling and were among the lowest in the UK at 60.3 per 100,000 people. The rate for the whole of the England back then was 150 per 100,000.

Today, the York Press reports the latest figure (to the week ending December 23) as 218.4 per 100,000 population. York’s rate is now higher than other Yorkshire cities including Leeds, Bradford, and Sheffield.

The steep rise of cases in York is in keeping with the escalating rate in England which is 401.9.

And today, an unsettling landmark was reached too: a record 41,385 Covid cases were recorded in the UK, higher than in the first peak in April.

Worryingly, hospitals in some parts of the country are warning that the NHS is already or is close to being overwhelmed.

We always knew winter would be the biggest challenge of this pandemic.

The NHS always faces extra pressure in winter, but the Covid crisis is bound to make this worse.

New Covid on the block

As if things couldn’t get worse, the cause of this acceleration of cases is the emergence of a new strain of the virus. This new variant is said to be up to 70 per cent more contagious.

Scientists are now trying to work out how this new variant is different. It may be more contagious, but not necessarily more harmful (but not less harmful either). Positively, experts believe the new vaccines should still work against it.

Paying the price for Christmas?

Maxine at Christmas with some festive accessories!

Although plans to ease Covid restrictions at Christmas were tightened at the last hour, many areas were still permitted to mix indoors on Christmas Day.

It is too soon to know what impact, if any, this will have on Covid cases. But news that the new variant is more infectious and taking hold across the country does not bode well.

Christmas was different for many people this year.

It was the first time I spent Christmas Day with just my husband and daughter. The first time we had a veggie Christmas too.

Like many families, we made the best of it.

Just as we have been doing all year.

Lockdown 3:0?

As cases rocket and the NHS comes close to buckling, does the government really have any other option than to lock us all down again?

Few of us will be surprised if  what Boris actually announces on Wednesday is another compete lockdown.

If this happens, the government must accelerate the vaccination programme.

We are expecting Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to be approved any day. This will be a literal shot in the arm for our fightback against Covid.

There have been calls to give just one does of the Pfizer vaccine so more people can be vaccinated. The point being made is that one dose provides 90 per cent protection. A second dose gives 95 per cent coverage.

The government needs to consider all options, and should consider this suggestion seriously.

With the NHS under such pressure, it is an enormous ask for it to take on the challenge of inoculating the nation.

It is all hands to the pump (or rather the jab). We need an army of vaccinators to carry out this project. Recruiting enough people, either as freelance staff or volunteers, will be one of the major keys to success.

This is already under way. News reports today tell of 10,000 medics and volunteers already recruited to help deliver the Oxford vaccine.

As we head into a new year, we have to hold on to the hope that there is a way out of this.

We just need to follow the science.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Can the government keep schools open and send students back to uni? Is Eva back for good; or at least for a few more weeks?

Facts of the day

Cases worldwide: 81,103,454

Deaths worldwide: 1,770,304

Cases UK: 2,329,730

Deaths UK: 79,349

Key developments:

  • Restrictions are tightened in South Africa where a faster-spreading variant of the disease has been discovered. Alcohol sales are banned and a nationwide curfew has been extended in response to infections passing the one million mark.
  • The French health ministry reported 2,960 new infections; down from 8,822 on Sunday and from Saturday’s 3,093. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, planned to review the situation on Wednesday amid fears of a third lockdown.
  • On December 27, York Press reported three more deaths in the previous 24 hours from Covid. These fatalities bring the total number of Covid-related deaths at York and Scarborough Hospitals since the pandemic began to 364.

*Coronavirus facts and figures from The Guardian’s ‘At A Glance’ daily reports, Johns Hopkins world map of Covid cases, The Press, York, and gov.uk

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