Coronavirus diary – Jeremy Thompson on life under lockdown

Jeremy Thompson is a former Sky News presenter in his 70s. He is documenting how the coronavirus lockdown is impacting his everyday life in a personal diary.
To catch up, read about what happened during week one, week two, week three, week four, week five, week six and week seven.

Monday 25 May
There’s a whiff of rebellion in the air.
A sense that some are loosening their lockdown shackles and making a break for freedom.

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Testing their ‘social bubble’ to bursting point.

Friends tell me they’re simply using their common sense, or as one put it, “Cummings sense”.

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Another mate sums it up this way: “It’s like everyone thinks we were well behaved for two months, stopped the NHS from going under, now it’s over and we’re going to drink beer with mates. And if BJ’s mates don’t care, then why should we?”
A sentiment widely echoed. In fact friends in Asia, Africa, America and Australia have all told me how they’ve been watching the Dominic Cummings saga unfold with jaw-dropped fascination.
“A classic case of how to make a bad situation a whole lot worse!” says a journo mate in Melbourne.
Back to the lockdown dilemma, plenty of pals admit to feeling caught in limbo land – desperate to get out and get on with their lives, but still fearful at what lies out there.

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Then there’s my lot – mature citizens – labelled as vulnerable. The stats don’t lie. “Age is the dominant factor in the risk of those dying,” a doctor friend quotes to me.
Nearly 89% of COVID-19 deaths in the UK have occurred in those aged over 65. So caution is the watchword. I’ll see how the world copes as it emerges from its corona chrysalis.
Then decide on my level of risk aversion. I call it common sense.
But encouragingly there are age exceptions – like Spain’s oldest woman who survived the virus at the age of 113. While a friend’s mum in Yorkshire got the virus. She’s 86, lives in a care home and couldn’t be more vulnerable.
Yet she’s fully recovered and is as right as rain. Then there’s Jackie’s mum in Cape Town, who’s just decided to go for it.
So armed with a mask, gloves, sanitiser and walking stick she’s carrying on with her life. “She’s as vulnerable as hell”, Jackie tells me. “But at 83 she says she doesn’t have time to subside in a heap in her house. She’s so over lockdown!”

Image: Jeremy is telling his lockdown story
Tuesday 26 May
My granddaughter Bella’s 20th wasn’t quite the celebration she’d hoped for. But she made the best of it.
A picnic lunch in the park, then her dad James cooked a paella big enough to include all the neighbours. Everyone dined on their front doorsteps and sang Bella “Happy Birthday”. A pandemic party.
A lot of mates are feeling liberated now they’re allowed back on the golf course. No one more so than Craig, who got a hole in one on his first outing at Pike Fold in north Manchester.
Well done Craig. But he is rather a good golfer.
A few other friends are having to reclaim their territory from the wildlife. I’ve seen foxes on fairways here.

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Wild boar have been ploughing up European courses and monkeys are reported having battles in Thailand. But in South Africa, where the government still has a ban on golf, some members face a walk on the wild side when they do return. At a course near the Kruger Park, lions, hyenas and wild dogs have taken up permanent residence, while cheetahs are finding fairways are an ideal hunting ground.
There’s an even stranger sight at Simon’s Town where the town’s famous colony of African penguins, who live on Boulders Beach, have become so emboldened by the lack of traffic, they’ve taken to roaming the streets.

Image: African Penguins in Simon’s Town, South Africa. File pic
Wednesday 27 MayOne thing that’s intriguing me as a veteran newshound is how the public seems to have turned on the media. One news boss tells me the antipathy of the public is a real issue.
“Like in wartime Britain, a lot of people feel it’s unpatriotic not to support the government in times of crisis.” So, in the UK at least, they’ve taken against journalists, especially those asking ministers tricky questions.
A few friends tell me they agree. They think a lot of news is “biased” and not sufficiently loyal.
Not surprisingly, as a journalist, I feel it’s the news media’s job to ensure those running our country are held accountable, even if the questions are sometimes uncomfortable.
After all no government can honestly say they’ve handled this crisis without errors. But in the ‘post-truth world’ of fake news and weaponised social media, many seem to have passed on impartiality, in favour of hearing an echo of their own views.

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It is hard to imagine how we Britons would react to the more draconian measures adopted in many Asian countries. As Paul reminds me, in Thailand airports will stay shut until the end of June, which is pretty drastic when 30% of the GDP comes from tourism.
Thailand has only allowed repatriation flights, with all passengers forced to spend 24 days in government-controlled quarantine centres.
Paul can’t believe we Brits are still debating whether to wear masks and “getting your knickers in a twist about a mere 14-day quarantine”.
Up to now Thailand has fewer than 60 COVID deaths, the UK over 38,000. As if the virus wasn’t bad enough, friends in Hong Kong fear Beijing’s new security law will undermine the city’s freedom and autonomy to such an extent it could do more long term damage than COVID-19.

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Mark, an old cameraman mate who runs a film production company, shows me a video he’s made aimed at sending a positive message about the future to clients and colleagues. But he admits Beijing’s actions and the street protests don’t bode well.
As he tells me: “I’m damned glad I’m not covering this as a news story!”
Thursday 28 May
Mark in the Cape is applying his considerable marketing expertise to the coming-out-of-COVID-conundrum and has come up with his “roller-coaster solution”.
Most people like a white-knuckle thrill, he says, but there are standard health warnings advising certain people not to take the ride, namely anyone with a heart condition, those recovering from a major operation, pregnant women, the excessively overweight and those with compromising disabilities.
Why not apply the same risk rule to lockdown? Mark’s suggestion: “If your doctor says you can’t go on a roller coaster, stay at home. For everyone else, roll up and enjoy the ride”.

That’s as long as the ride doesn’t get too giddy. From the US, Allen tells me he’s in “total disbelief, watching people pack pools in the Ozarks and beaches in Maryland. It’s like they’re saying I’m not putting up with this BS and I am going to have fun, and not let government rule my life.”
Then there are the riots that have followed the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of a police officer. It may be hard to get America back in its COVID-19 container.
In contrast, the Danes have been the model of good behaviour, I hear. They were one of the first European countries to close down and shut borders and one of the first to ease the lockdown.
Though my pal Ulrik, who runs a cab company in Copenhagen, says it hasn’t been easy. “My taxis have not been on the streets since mid-March. That’s tough.”
One compensation though – he’s been allowed to play golf for the past two months. For a tenth week we join neighbours to clap for carers. But could this be the last hurrah?
Annemarie, the woman who came up with the whole idea, says that was her final applause. Time to leave it while it’s still a positive force. Let’s see if the nation agrees next Thursday.

After The Pandemic: Global voices
Friday 29 May
“Lucky we’re an island,” observes AJ in Brisbane, as he points out that Australia has only had 103 COVID-19 deaths.
“I think the country’s handled the whole thing pretty well.” AJ, a cameraman I’ve known for 30 years, tells me he needs a permit just to cross the state border from his home in Queensland to see his kids in New South Wales. “It’s locked down tight. They’re not messing about with this thing.”
But AJ reckons the biggest bonus to come out of it is “families and friends have really reconnected. It’s great to see. I hope it lasts when this is all over.”
Further south, Victoria has racked up three times more fines than any other state in Australia for social distancing breaches.
Bob tells me that one local radio jock is suggesting: “It either means that we’re stupider than everyone else, the police force is more zealous than elsewhere, or we’re a community of dobbers (Australian slang for informers) ready to put our neighbours in the frame at the slightest excuse.”
Bob adds, with maybe a hint of pride: “But we’ve only paid 2% of the fines – that’s the Victorian spirit, chaps!”
South Africa is another country under a strict lockdown, with curfews, army checkpoints and booze bans. But President Cyril Ramaphosa is under immense pressure to ease the restrictions in a nation of huge inequalities.
Bantu Holomisa, an old friend, who now runs the centre-left United Democratic Movement, says the rules are too tight for a developing country with so many people living in poverty.
Bantu, a former army general and government minister, tells me: “It’s so difficult to enforce the regulations. Sometimes you find a family of 12 people living in a four-roomed shack.” The economy was bad enough before the crisis, he explains, with 30% unemployed.

Now another seven million have lost their jobs. “It’s a time bomb. Unless government, business, labour and scientists come up with a compromise to kick start the economy, the situation will worsen.”
On top of that, my medical mates in SA warn that the pandemic isn’t likely to spike until August with anything up to 13 million infected.
Saturday 30 May
I look longingly again at our holiday list, now tippexed to extinction.
This week we agree to roll over a safari in South Africa until August 2021.
That seems an awfully long way off.
Meanwhile, I return to the thankless task of trying to get refunds from airlines. Some really don’t want to give back your cash, whatever the law says.
Though praise where it’s due for two airlines.
Jet2 coughed up for tickets for Lynn’s Dad, who was going to fly from Leeds to join us in Spain to celebrate his 90th birthday. Even Jet2 agreed that Nevil is not going to be 90 again, so offering a rebooking was a bit pointless. And Norwegian refunded our flights without a squeak.
Some other airlines are dragging heels like they’re in reverse thrust.
Sport is back – in Australia at least where mates are already watching rugby league on TV.
Next week Aussie rules footie starts. Here the Premier League will kick-off in a fortnight.
Horse racing and golf is on the move – all behind closed doors of course. Cricket will have to wait until mid-July.
Sadly there’s still no sign of the sport I’m keenest to see – rugby union.
Mates at my club Harlequins don’t think it’ll happen this season. As one player tells me the big problem is: “How can rugby players socially distance?”
Good news for those of us about to resume our seats as armchair sports fans – one of my rugby locals in Twickenham is selling draught beer takeaways.

Sunday 31 May
One of the stranger upshots of the pandemic in South Africa is a run on pineapples.
The government’s ban on alcohol sales has led to a surge in home brew. Pineapples, which make a much-loved beer, sell out within minutes.
Sales are up 900%. Locals refer to a hearty drinking session as getting ‘pineapplised’. Getting fruited might well be the answer to erasing the more frantic of news headlines.
After a week of venting about the political Cummings and goings, I sense even the most splenetic of our pals is starting to experience FF – Fury Fatigue – a well-known condition amongst those who assiduously follow the Downing Street dog and pony show.
Gardening is still one of the hottest topics on our social round. Graham’s surprise abundance of radishes in Norfolk: “Maybe I should have read the seed packet.”
Garden centres with “queues like Disneyland,” according to Bruce.
While Dominic reports an unusual shortage – slug pellets. Another result of the gardening bonanza. Are slug pellets the new pasta, flour and toilet rolls, he asks – “the latest object of mass stockpiling?”
Either way he’s having to recycle old slug pellets. One friend in East Anglia tells us he finally has a reason to travel further than the local garden centre. He’s being called into hospital for a colonoscopy.
“Oh well,” he says with a stoic smile “It’s a day out. I guess it’s something new to look forward to.”
As I’ve suggested before, every corona has a silver lining.
This week from today to Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World – a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.
We’ll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. And you can take part too.
If you’d like to be in our virtual audience – from your own home – and put questions to the experts, email afterthepandemic@sky.uk

Source : Sky News