Covid-19 in Banstead
An account for future generations compiled by Gary Walker
This is a contemporary account written by a local resident.
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I had never really imagined that a crisis like this would occur in my lifetime. I had thought that the most likely such scenario would be a Nuclear War; this seemed a possibility in the 1980's. However, I did not expect in these modern times, that a new virus would be affecting all of our lives and would become the greatest disaster since World War II.I knew of the 1918 flu pandemic, but did not seriously expect such a thing to occur in the 21st Century. I have a book which showed baseball players all wearing face masks and a man being refused passage on a bus, as he did not ha ve a face mask.
I, like everyone else, started hearing about COVID-19, in January 2020, but it was still far off, and the Government told us that it was unlikely that it would become a serious issue in the UK.
The first signs that I saw in Banstead about COVID-19, were around the end of February 2020, with shops such as Boots, and other chemists with notices on their front entrances either advertising hand sanitisers, or else saying that they had run out of them.
We were advised to wash our hands after going out, in March, but did not have to wear face masks, then.
I used the Banstead Library, frequently, for internet access, and in March, I sometimes caught snatches of conversations between the librarians about what would happen.
I remember looking at some of the free magazines in there, advertising local events and I realised that NONE of these were going to take place.
As soon as the Pandemic struck, the News went into saturation mode upon Covid; we were repeatedly subjected to non-stop doom-laden items. People said that they could not stand to watch the News, and had to turn it off!
I wished that the items could have been done like they were in the Second World War, with the Pathe News, giving positive reports, along with cheering, uplifting music!
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, along with Matt Hancock, and Professor Sir Chris Whitty gave frequent TV briefings, standing "socially distanced" in a row of three at separate podiums, inside No 10.
In addition, a series of statistics, shown as graphs, showed the state of the Pandemic, such as the R Number, the number of weekly and daily deaths within the past 24 hours, and the number of new cases occurring! More statistics graphs were added later on, as things changed in the course of the Pandemic.
When it was hoped that the upwards rise of the Pandemic on the graphs would start to flatten out, often the opposite happened!
Happily, later on, from the end of 2020, they could start to give the number of vaccines given to people, which was about the only cheering statistic, apart from when Covid rates went down!
But back to early 2020 – the schools all closed down, and more frustrating for me, so did the Banstead Library, on March 20th.
Waitrose was out of flour for weeks as mothers stuck at home with the kids started to do more baking.
The next sign of the coming crisis, and indeed, throughout it, was the new, but soon to be familiar ritual of "social distancing" where people had to keep two metres apart!
There would be queues (often quite long) outside shops and supermarkets such as Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, and Banstead Fruiterers.
I first saw such a queue, outside Banstead Fruiterers, as early as 21 March, two days before Lockdown One.
Lockdown One was announced by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on the evening of March 23rd 2020, and in his address to the nation, he told us that we must stay home, and only go out, once a day, for exercise, or to do shopping for essential items.
Unusually, the front entrance of Waitrose was closed and all customers had to enter through the car park to the back entrance.
Also, the number of people allowed in any one shop at one time was strictly limited. The security guards were busy sanitising and issuing trolleys.
In the early days of Lockdown One, the queue at Waitrose extended all the way to the back of the car park then snaked three times along the back then round to the gated vehicle entrance and into the High Street, outside the Tesco store.
It took an hour just to get into the supermarket. Even when you got to do your shopping, you would find long empty shelves where the toilet rolls used to be, and the same with hand cleanser.
Of course we had the obligatory signs on the floor.
Many times you had to wait while another shopper obstructed the very shelf you wanted to get to, then proceeded to pick up every single item, then put them all back having finally chose just the right one.
NHS staff were allowed to skip the queues in recognition of the long hours they were working.
Happily, the very long queues reduced to something more reasonable after the initial phase of panic buying was over.
Of course, all shop staff also had to wear face masks or shields, and in Boots, I saw people sometimes washing the floor, etc.
Couples were not allowed to shop together in Waitrose as the extra person stopped another shopper being allowed in.
This first lockdown was the most frightening for me and everyone else, even more so, as it was unprecedented in our time. All non-essential shops closed down, for nearly three months, until June 15th. The essential shops such as Boots, Chemists, supermarkets, and newsagents stayed open.
When I did go up to Banstead High Street, it was noticeably empty of people.
However, throughout Lockdown One, and indeed, the entire period, the buses kept on running. Passengers had to wear face masks.
When out, anywhere, one had to keep two metres apart from other people. This, became a bit awkward when I walked up or down Woodmansterne Lane, which is narrow anyway. Inevitably, I would meet other people and they were ALWAYS coming the opposite way to me! This meant that either me, or them, would have to either step out into the road, or else back into somebody's front entrance, in order to keep clear of them.
One was never sure, when dealing with oncoming walkers, of who should give way i.e. who should go out into the road, me, or them? I always thanked those who moved aside for me, but it was irritating when people did not thank me for going on the road (no small thing, with all the cars). Often, I had literally only started walking up the lane, only to encounter the first of many people.
I noticed that far more people were walking along Woodmansterne Lane than usual, as local exercise was allowed but also, people needed to go out to help with their mental well-being. Social distancing extended to the Lady Neville Recreation ground too.
The internet came into its own, then, with many events moving online. Groups could join together to form Zoom meetings, and even schools had to move all education online, too.
The National "Clap for Carers" phenomenon on Thursday evenings at 8pm, started by May, for a few months, whereupon I saw neighbours standing at their front gates, for about two minutes to clap, bang saucepans, etc, and inevitably, some would always let off fireworks, or play music; one house around the back of my block, in Chalmers Road always played the song, "You'll never walk alone".
Inevitably, any social meetings as well as larger fairs and festivals were cancelled. In Banstead, the usual May Queen Fayre, was cancelled, as was Banstead Village Day, in July.
However, in the case of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on May 8th, people got around this, by having individual family celebrations, in their front gardens. I walked around my block down Woodmansterne Lane, Chalmers Road, and Kenneth Road, and down to Chipstead Way, and I saw that virtually every front garden had these celebrations going on. These looked very pretty, with Union Jacks, and bunting, everywhere.
This was helped, considerably, by a freakishly long spell, of gloriously sunny and hot weather from about the start of the Lockdown and lasting for several months. At least, I had a big back garden, so I could sit out in the glorious weather.
I was delighted when Lockdown One was lifted on June 15th, and non-essential shops could re-open.
However, some institutions took longer to re-open, such as barbers, and hairdressers which opened in early July, and Banstead Library which only re-opened after mid-August, but only in a limited way, with a hand sanitiser placed on a desk, just inside the entrance.
In the later lockdowns, one had to book online, or by phone, e.g. to go on one of the computers. We were each given a keyboard which we had to take down to the computer, and when we'd finished, we had to return it to the front desk for it to be sanitised for the next customer!
There was the bizarre situation of returned books having to be 'quarantined' for seventy-two hours before somebody else could borrow them!
Inevitably, we all had "lockdown hairdos", and mine was a mess, too.
Ironically, six weeks after the end of Lockdown One, as from July 24th, everybody was required to wear face masks in shops, and any enclosed spaces. We had not had to do this before, even during Lockdown One.
I saw people either wearing the light blue medical masks, or flowery fabric ones, whilst others, such as myself, wore clear, transparent face shields. Some people wore them all the time, whilst others such as myself only wore them when required to do so. Even wearing the face shield, felt stuffy, and glasses had a tendency to immediately steam up.
The internet was full of instructions on how to make your own reusable mask and suggestions for stopping glasses steaming up.
With a depressing sense of inevitably, it was common to see face masks dumped on the ground, or in parks, etc.
During the summer and autumn of 2020, restrictions were eased as Coronavirus levels dropped, but unfortunately social distancing continued, so any physical social, or other meetings were still cancelled "for the foreseeable future".
A shorter version of the normal service was held on Remembrance Sunday. No parade of course, and the small number of attendees had to keep their distance. Wreaths were laid by two members of the Royal British Legion on behalf of the twenty or so local organisations.
The TV News was constantly full of Coronavirus news and it often became very depressing to even watch it. Every night we were told how many people were admitted to hospital and how many had died the day before. The grim headlines on 26 Jan 2021 told us deaths had exceeded 100,000, but worse, the numbers were still climbing at over 1,000 a day.
In the same news bulletin we were told that other places such as Australia had closed down a whole city because they had three cases of Coronavirus!
On the pavements in the High Street were sticky arrows telling people to keep left! There were bright yellow disks on the pavements all along saying "Shop Safe Shop Local". These started to look a bit grubby after a while.
Every lamp post in the High Street seemed to have two signs attached, one facing one way and one the other. They were place quite high up.On shop floors there were also arrows to denote a one way system, with other signs warning people to stay two metres apart.
Shop counters had plastic, transparent screens erected between them and the customers.
In "Goldings News", a wooden barrier was erected to create a one way system, too.
Even the church had social distancing signs.
In the later lockdowns, there were far more people about than in the first lockdown, but once again, non-essential shops such as barbers, Lorimers, and charity shops were closed.
The government instructed that people who could should work from home again. Others, such as postmen, supermarket workers, nurses and builders, to mention just a few, worked as normal. Ironically, the first three of these were even busier than normal.
Those who were not allowed to work i.e. in non-essential shops, were put on something called “furlough” a government scheme which ensured they did get a proportion of their normal pay.
Some of the numerous coffee shops along Banstead High Street started offering a take-away service which was still allowed.
Heaps of donations appeared outside the charity shops again despite notices to the contrary.
Meanwhile, the virus was spreading even faster with new variants starting to appear.
By early February 2021 a huge vaccination programme was well under way. The first ever injections started on December 3rd 2020, and naturally, the oldest and most vulnerable were vaccinated first.
Mass Vaccination Centres were set up at the Epsom Downs Grandstand and at Nonsuch Mansion, too, but soon a number of smaller venues also offered the vaccine. Maybe at last, we there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
The inspirational Captain Sir Tom Moore, died on February 2nd, and on the next evening there was a "clap for Captain Tom" at 6pm. Just like the "clap for the carers" the neighbours came out on both sides to their front gates to clap! One passing car was bibbing his horn all the way down the Lane, and one or two other cars also beeped! I heard some very distant fireworks.
At the same time, a jogger came down the lane, and it may have seemed to him as though they were cheering him on!
My Mum and Dad, spent virtually all of their lives in Banstead, living first in Lambert Road, and then in a prefab in Lakers Rise, off Chipstead Way, where I spent the first two years of my life. Then we moved to Woodmansterne Lane, in the early 1960's, where I still live today.
I miss them still, but I am glad that I don't have to worry about them getting ill with the Coronavirus, as they, would, of course, be very vulnerable. They would have probably not been able to go out at all, which they would have hated, as they always went out shopping locally right up to the end of their lives!
As I am classed as extremely clinically vulnerable due to having a big heart operation a few years ago, I had my first jab, as early as January 30th 2021, at Arundel House in Garratts Lane, Banstead.
I am writing this article in the hope it will be of interest to the Banstead History Research Group, and this group, will then archive it for future generations.
In early March 2021, I had an unpleasant surprise when trying to enter Waitrose, as they no longer accepted people just wearing a face sheild, as I had done (as I got too panicky wearing a surgical face mask!). This was when the new Delta variant was starting, and the rules in Waitrose had suddenly been changed about 2-3 weeks earlier - that would have been in February.
Before March 21st 2021, I noticed that the bright yellow stickers on the pavements of Banstead High Street had been removed, as they were becoming tatty, and just black circles, and rectangles were left behind for months!
On March 29th, Lockdown No. 3, was eased, and "The Rule of 6" was re-introduced. Outdoor sports were permitted again.
On April 4th, I saw a large crowd leaving the Banstead "Christchurch" (formally known as the Baptists Church) and they were coming out in two different ways, some straight out of the front door, and others, by the side of the former police station, no doubt to cut down on too big a gathering.
The pandemic had left its unique contribution to the rubbish left on the ground - the dreaded discarded face-mask. Indeed, one lady I know, counted a total of no less than 13 of them, on one day, alone, near her home in The Drive.
On April 12th, non-essential shops could re-open, such as the long awaited barbers and hairdressers. As expected, queues formed outside some of them, at first.
I got rid of my "Lockdown" hairstyle on April 20th, and, boy, did it need it!
One very noticeable phenomenon observed, after April 12th, was dining " Al fresco" outside the cafes and coffee shops in the High Street, when people were allowed to sit outside, but not inside them.
At one cafe, people were originally just sitting on tables and chairs set out on the pavement, but later, a wooden area was set up, fencing it off from the High Street, itself.
One or two cafes, had balloon displays up to celebrate their reopening.
On May 9th, a nice sunny day, I saw a long queue waiting to get into "Cafe Italia"; it stretched quite some way down the High Street.
I had my 2nd jab on April 21st.
On May 17th, indoor venues could reopen, such as pubs.
On the same day, the Epsom Grandstand Vaccination Centre closed, due to the upcoming Derby Race, and relocated to Sandown Race Course.
It was the 100th anniversary of the Royal British Legion, in May, and large sized poppy faces were put up on the lampposts in the High Street There was a very beautiful display of them in the Banstead Churchyard, as well, again, around about May 10th. As my late Mum and Dad were in the British Legion, I wished that they could have been here to see this (well, at least in normal times!).
There was a small service commemorating this at the Banstead War Memorial on May 16th 2021.
Very soon afterwards, on June 5th 2021, there was a small event to celebrate the centenary of the unveiling of the Banstead War Memorial. Another small service was held there and a small plaque, donated by W A Truelove Ltd was placed on the grass, nearby. The 100-year history was documented by Lewis Wood of the Banstead History Research Group who put Lockdown to good use by writing a new book on the subject.
The number of people vaccinated, constantly grew, but a new varient from India, termed the "Delta" varient became the new dominant version of Covid-19, causing serious concern from about April, onwards.
In late May, some of pupils at the Beacon School were infected, and the manager in Goldings Newsagents was short of five paperboys who were having to self-isolate!
In June 2021, I was surprised to find that for the first time since 24 March 2020, one could now enter Waitrose from the front entrance again!
I was so used to having to go in by the car park and through the back entrance, as we had been doing for over a year, that I actually went in that way once even after the front entrance had been opened up.
Even more pop-up Vaccination Centres were being set up around the country, including one at the St Nicholas Centre, in Sutton. On June 11th, I saw a long queue, stretching down Sutton High Street from there. By now, the older age groups had been vaccinated, and it was now the turn of the over 20+ group to receive their first jab.
Liberation Day, with the final easing of all restrictions was supposed to be on 21 June, but a week earlier, due to the rise of the Delta variant, even this was put back to 19 July.
Not surprisingly, the Banstead Village Day fair was put back, too, from 3 July, to 7 August.
This would have been about the first Banstead event of normality since the start of the pandemic.
On 15 June, I saw a lorry parked outside the Woolpack, with digital signs saying "Covid cases are rising in your area", and to "get the jab to help protect yourself and others"!
From 18 June to 27 June, a " Surge Testing Site" was set up in the car park next to the Banstead churchyard, and behind shops such as Lorimer, in order to test people to see how prevalent the new Delta variant was in our area! There were big yellow signs in the High Street, indicating it. There were numerous people in high-viz jackets, seeing people in. Some people could do a drive-in test, and others queued up on foot.
For the first two days, many people were going in, even in the rain, but after that, there were very few, going in, and they had to pack up earlier than expected.
29 June 2021
On 19 July, came the long awaited "Freedom Day", when, at last, social distancing was relaxed, and people did not legally have to wear face masks, inside public venues, (although, many venues did "ask" people to continue wearing them). This marked the end of the 3rd lockdown.
This made it possible to finally have public events again, including the Banstead Village Day, on August 7th, the Music in the Park, in September, and the Fireworks display, and music at the Lady Neville Park on November 6th! This would have been a real tonic to everybody, as now, things were getting back to a mostly normal situation.
This actually seemed strange, after being under restrictions for about a year and a half.
On 14 November it was possible to have a full Banstead War Remembrance Service, again! This was particularly appropriate, as this year marked the 100th year since the War Memorial was unveiled here, and also the 100th anniversary of the Royal British Legion, too! This event was very well attended. As far as I could tell, the new vicar of All Saints, Reverend Philip Maudsley, was the only person who wore a mask.
In Banstead Library, we no longer had to carry a keyboard down from the front desk, to the computers, that we were using.
However, some mayhem was still occurring, as the dreaded "Pingdemic" appeared, where people were "pinged" online if they had come into contact with a covid positive person. This resulted in a shortage of workers, which was noticed in our area as the dustmen were late in collecting the paper, and garden rubbish, in July and August!
And from late September, there came, yet another of "the 10 plagues of Moses ", in the fuel crisis, where there was a shortage of HGV drivers to drive the tankers to petrol stations. This was generally seen as the direct result of Brexit, however the driver shortage was felt right across Europe, even in Germany and Poland. The pandemic restrictions meant that no driver training took place nor did any tests.
Panic buying occurred as motorists queued up at petrol stations which were frequently out of fuel! This situation lasted for about two weeks, or so.
I had my "Booster" jab on 15 November, this time at Nescot College in Ewell. They had set up a big Portakabin at the end of a car park.
I entered, and registered at a front desk, and soon went over to one of the vaccination desks, off to the far side of the hall. The nurse took my details and then administered the Booster jab.
Then, we were asked to sit down on chairs, to see if any unwelcome side-effects appeared. There were a number of chairs at the back of the hall, in "the post vaccination area" and the exit was nearby.
There were not many people coming in when I was there. The hall was spacious, and the different processes of entry and registration, vaccinations, and the post- vaccination area, were all kept well separate, with entry and exit doors, well distanced, too. One went through the process in a one-way system.
No sign of an earlier suggestion to get the booster in one arm and the flu jab in the other!
So, by November, or earlier, things were nearly back to normal, but covid infections were still running high, generally. Often, embarrassingly, Reigate and Banstead rates were the highest in the County.
However, many could still be seen wearing face masks, indoors and out, but at least social distancing was virtually at an end.
Signs were still advising wearing face masks in shops etc, and a sign in Banstead Library advised people to avoid handling too many books!
In my case, my Ewell Astronomical Society started having physical meetings again from September, (after 18 months) but others still "attend" on Zoom, so "hybrid" meetings are here to stay, for a while anyway.
In November, many shops, and the library, still had hand sanitisers at their entrances, and I saw people still asking for face masks in Boots, but they had run out of stock!
Black circles and rectangles were still visible on the pavement in the High Street, where formally, social distancing signs had been. However, other yellow social distancing signs were still attached to the lamp posts along with the occasional poppy.
During late 2021, we were in a weird sort of limbo, with things more or less, back to normal, but Covid was still out there!
In the "Orchard" in Banstead, the Christmas Community Event was held for the first time in two years.
By 26 November, news of a new variant of Covid, from South Africa, labelled as "Omicron", was starting to hit the news. We were totld that this was much more infectious than the Delta variant, but the experts did not know if it was more deadly than that, or not. Daily figures showed that it was doubling in number every two to three days.
From 30 November, face masks were again compulsory in indoor venues.
Omicron cases in the UK started by 29 November, but soon escalated into the dominant variant, by mid - December. London was described as the "epicentre" of the Omicron variant, by the media.
Thus, "Plan B" was imposed by the Government from 13 December. This involved some restrictions such as compulsory face mask wearing in indoor venues. People were asked to work from home if they could, and "Covid Passes" were required now for some big events.
In Banstead, I saw that more people were wearing face masks. Boots store had a sign up saying that they had run out of lateral test flow kits as the government had advised people to take a test before mixing with others.
At Tesco, only eight people were allowed in the Post Office queue, at any one time, whilst others would have to queue outside.
I was astonished to see, by 21 December, that a "marquee" tunnel had been set up outside Marks & Spencer, to shelter the queue, as from now, people had to queue up again to go in there!
A sign outside the store proclaimed, "Face Coverings at the Ready"!
A hand sanitiser was placed at the end of the" tunnel", and a sign saying "Let's keep it clean". They did not have this "tunnel" earlier on in the pandemic.
There was a big drive for more people to have their Booster jabs, or earlier ones, and many people did. Indeed, they were even doing them on Christmas Day itself, in some places!
By 22 December, over 30 million in the UK had had their booster jabs, with new pop-up centres, and the Army, helping out, too. I had mine on 15 November, and 12.9 million had been given by this date
I kept on seeing posts on social media from people selling tickets to shows, etc, so they were obviously worried and pulling out of attending big events! Eventually Omicron caught up with the cast and crew and many shows had to be cancelled.
Indeed, Christmas, itself, was again in doubt, as the Government was waiting on the latest data from the Omicron variant. Footfall at the shops was considerably lower than in previous years as people chose to purchase more items online. Despite the extra work, delivery companies still achieved good delivery times. A friend in Banstead ordered a new dashcam from Halfords on a Wednesday afternoon and it was delivered at 8.36 the following morning.
Luckily, unlike 2020, Christmas was saved, as the Government held off adding any further restrictions before the New Year. Local businesses, especially those in hospitality, breathed a sigh of relief.
Early reports suggested that the Omicron variant was not as dangerous as had been feared but it would take weeks to find out more about how it would affect people and the NHS.
We finished 2021 with the situation still uncertain. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland chose to impose new restrictions while England did not. Locally, Reigate and Banstead still had the unenviable distinction of having the highest rate in Surrey, again!
On 27 January 2022, another milestone was reached, in England, as "Plan B" was officially ended, having been in place since 13 December 2021. This meant that face masks were now no longer compulsory in shops, but the Mayor of London made them a "condition of carriage" on London Transport.
"Covid Passports" were also stopped on this date.
The sign to wear a face mask was removed at Banstead Library, although some shops still had signs up asking people to wear them.
Once again, Boots had notices up saying "Sorry. We're out of stock of COVID-19 rapid lateral flow tests today. Please try again tomorrow."
However, COVID-19 was still active, and Goldings Newsagents were short-staffed for about a week from the beginning of February, as some of them had contracted Covid. The shop was still delivering newspapers, but was only open, if at all, on restricted hours, up to 2pm. The Post Office in Tesco was short-staffed, at the same time.
I knew of somebody catching the Omicron Varient by late January.
The marquee "tunnel" outside "Marks & Spencer" had been removed at some point in January.
Prince Charles, and even The Queen came down with Covid, during February, despite being triple vaccinated and being isolated in a bubble at Windsor Castle! The announcement about the Queen came out on 20 February.
Buckingham Palace said the monarch, who tested positive for the virus on Sunday, would continue with "light duties". Thursday's virtual audiences will now take place at a later date, it added. The Queen, 95, also cancelled virtual engagements on Tuesday, but she did have her telephone audience with the prime minister on Wednesday.
On 24 February, face masks on London Transport, were now no longer required to be worn as a "condition of carriage" but passengers were still "strongly recommended" to wear one.
People were also no longer required legally to self-isolate, even if testing positive for Covid.
Some people still continued to wear face masks though, and I wonder how long that they will do so, even after the Pandemic is definitely dead and buried. Some will still feel insecure, even for a long period afterwards, and Boris Johnson, the prime minister says that we now have to live with covid.
A couple that I know were going to Australia at the end of the month, had to have a Covid test three days before they left, and another one at Heathrow, before they would be able to go. They hadn't been able to see their daughter out there, for two years!
So, this period of history, which has seemed to be like living in a Science Fiction/Horror Movie, seemed to be finally ending at last, after nearly two years.
I will be glad when the only place that you will see a face mask, will be in a Museum, or a book, and it is all nothing more than just another chapter of history.
In the future, people will be saying "During the Pandemic", just as people talk about what they did in the Second World War – and as I write this, on 24 February 2022 President Putin of Russia has invaded the Ukraine, possibly starting WWIII.
Coronavirus is here to stay and there is still the possibility of new variants coming in, so while things seem to be getting back to something more like normal, the risk has definately not gone away and the future is uncertain.
With the aforementioned Russian Invasion of the Ukraine, I was thinking about what I said at the beginning of this Covid Chronicle, that back in the 1980s, there was fear about a Nuclear War. Then with the outbreak of Covid, we were suddenly pitched into a science fiction scenario. And now, we were suddenly back, faced with the spectre of a Nuclear War, again!
From the time of the invasion, the TV news, etc, was suddenly saturated with this topic, and I found it bizarre that the Covid situation was only reported, (if at all!), near the end of the news! Two years ago, of course, the Covid virus was receiving saturation coverage.
23 March 2022, marked the 2nd anniversary of the first Covid lockdown.
So what was the Covid situation? Well, although things were virtually back to normal, it still did not mean that the Covid virus had gone away. Indeed, Covid rates were reported to be rising again across the UK, with a new, more infectious virus of the Omicron variant, termed by the uninspiring name of BA2. This was apparent by about 11 March.
The cause was probably an unintended consequence of the relaxations of the rules, but the prime minister says that at some point we have to accept that Covid is here to stay and we have to live with it. Flu is now killing more people than Covid, but the numbers are ‘normal’; most people were never aware of these numbers as they never made headlines.
I heard of some local people catching Covid, DESPITE being triple-jabbed, and even one who had received the second booster, as well!
On 16 March, Heathrow Airport announced that, as of this day, it was no longer compulsory to wear face masks in the building, although of course, with the inevitable rider, that they were "strongly recommended". All travel restrictions due to Covid came to an end, just two days later.
However, the couple that I knew that had finally managed to get out to Australia, told me that they still had to wear face masks on the aircraft, both ways, because Quantas Airlines were still very strict about it. They said that it was horrific trying to sleep, and indeed, they couldn't sleep, at all, due to having to wear them. They said that they had to wear them for eighteen hours!
In all, over the past two years, a total of 163,679 people have died of Covid in the UK, and there were over 20 million infections in all.
Worldwide, over 6 million have died of it, and there were a total of just over 471.1m infections!
One thing that I noticed during the past 2 years, was the change of the BBC idents, before a programme. Prior to the pandemic, they used to show groups of people in an activity, and all coming together in a "oneness" to show people joining together. When the first lockdown started, these were changed to images of people separated by frames, which resembled Zoom meetings!
After the lockdowns were over, the idents went back to the original people in a group, together.
One that I liked, and was particularly beautiful, was images of flowers and parks, separated from each other.
I took a Polymerase Chain Reaction test – luckily known by the easier to remember initials of PCR – on March 22nd, where I had someone push a long stick down my throat and then up my nose, which was not very pleasant.
The second booster jab (i.e. the fourth vaccine jab) was rolled out on 21 March 2022. As usual, this was for the most vulnerable people, first.
When the first lockdown came in, two years ago, I wished that I could have had the ability to go into hibernation for about one year, and then I would wake up, to find that the pandemic had gone.
Unfortunately, even after two years, at the end of March 2022, it was still causing havoc, as I heard of people still going down with it!
When I heard someone saying that they had gone down with "it", it was completely obvious as to what they were talking about.
31 March 2022 was the last day of free Lateral Flow Tests.
Now, things were finally getting back to normal, and the first Banstead May Fayre for two years took place on 30 April. This attracted huge crowds, with a very long procession, including many Vintage Cars, and Army Vehicles!
The whole Fayre had a World War Two/ VE Day theme, (which of course had had to be cancelled two years earlier, when it was the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, in 2020). People will remember having to do the actual 75th Anniversary on 8 May 2020, socially distanced, in their own front gardens!
Woodmansterne had their May Fayre on 2 May.
Despite the huge crowds, at the May Fayres, I only saw three or four people wearing face masks at the Banstead one, and only one at the Woodmansterne Fayre.
However, I was still seeing at least a few people still wearing face masks in the High Street, throughout May, and indeed, on 31 May, I heard a woman in Boots, asking the staff for face masks.
Unfortunately, the media Voices of Doom, started reporting a new virus called Monkeypox, which again started slowly and in low quantities, but was growing fairly quickly! Fortunately, this was not infectious like Covid!
Finally we had somtehing to celebrate – the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations took place at the beginning of June, to mark her 70 years on the throne.
Thus, the huge gatherings in London, for the Jubilee Celebrations, as well as Street Parties all over the UK, could finally take place, without fear.
Now, it seemed that the Pandemic was finally spent, although Buckingham Palace announced on 2 June that Prince Andrew had tested positive for COVID-19!
It was so great that people could finally mix freely. Thinking about it, it almost seemed as if the past two years never happened, so it felt really bizarre.
Despite this, there were still knock-on effects as holidays were thrown into chaos, as it became obvious that airlines, etc, were short of staff, partly due to the fact that many had left the industry during the Pandemic, and gone on to other things. Holidaymakers were left upset and distressed as hundreds of flights were cancelled – sometimes even after the passengers had boarded the plane.
Brexit also played a part, so once again, it was a "Perfect Storm" situation.
The main part of the Pandemic lasted for about a year and a quarter, from March 2020, to July 2021 when "Freedom Day" finally arrived! However, of course, there were still some setbacks and alarms, up to the end of 2021, so in that case, the emergency lasted for about 21 months (a year and 9 months), in all.
Although life seemed to be getting back to normal, COVID-19 had not gone away. Many people, for example NHS staff, were still required to take tests regularly and many others chose to take them prior to visiting family or going to other social occasions. The official advice was still to isolate for five days after testing positve.
Even our own webmaster finally succumbed to the virus, luckily more an inconvenience than anything serious.
As an ancient Chinese Proverb says, "May you live in interesting times!", and I felt that this certainly seemed to be the case, during the past two and a half years.
Covid rates in the UK were reported to be climbing during June 2022, rising by 43% in one week. This was attributed to Super-Spreader events such as Glastonbury, and Wimbledon.
The sub-variants of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, were responsible for the new upsurge, which was being referred to as the "5th Wave".
Even my cleaner caught it in late June, but suffered nothing worse than a bad headache!
I noticed on 5 July, that a few more people seemed to be wearing face masks.
On 15 July, it was announced that a new vaccine would be offered to all over 50 year olds, in the autumn.
The Pandemic would create problems for years, even after it was over, such as shortage of staff.
Indeed, it seemed as if we were going through "The 10 Plagues of Moses" as one crisis followed another in quick succession, what with the pandemic, petrol shortages, War in the Ukraine, prices all skyrocketing, chaos due to staff shortages, strikes, a 40C heatwave, and even wildfires in London! Others were reported in Croydon, and Surrey, too.
And, if all that was not enough, a possible drought was forecast!
At last, people could go freely abroad on their holidays, but airports, and the Channel Ports became gridlocked, due to a lack of staff; many had left when the Pandemic struck, and airlines were struggling to get new staff in. This was, of course, just when people wanted to go on holidays!
The Pandemic made it easy for the Covid excuse, where incompetence of companies could always be blamed on Covid, just as in the last War, the old chestnut "There's a War on, you know!", could be trotted out.
GP's in surgeries were still difficult to access, and often used the Covid excuse. Just as at the height of the Pandemic, people still had difficulty in directly contacting their GPs, by having to go online, or trying to phone the surgery.
Also, some staff continued to work from home, even when it was no longer necessary to do so, thus, it made it difficult to get hold of staff in offices. Others, were absent due to various reasons, including Covid.
The Pandemic made it easier for some businesses to stop accepting cash, and, in some cases, forcing people to only pay by "contactless" payment, which older people, like myself, found very difficult.
Some might have claimed that using cash during the height of the Pandemic would be unhygienic, but I always saw cash being accepted, even if staff were wearing gloves. However, some businesses used it as an excuse to accelerate contactless payments.
Amongst all the mayhem, life in government continued, with the Prime Minister under constant attack about one thing or another. As a result, of "PartyGate", and other incidents, Boris Johnson finally had to throw in the towel, and he formally resigned on 7 July 2022, resulting in a race for a new Tory Leader taking the top spot in the news broadcasts, relegating the pandemic futher down the list, if mentioned at all.
I was still seeing a few facemask wearers in the High Street, in July, especially elderly people, who obviously felt more vulnerable. Indeed, people were still catching Covid, even vaccinated ones, as the virus mutated.
Gary’s A to Z of the Pandemic
BA.2 – Omicron 'stealth' COVID variant, a sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron version of coronavirus. This was the worldwide dominant variant in March 2022.
BOOSTER JAB – a 3rd vaccination jab, after the first two vaccination jabs.
BUBBLE – a protective group of people allowed to meet together during lockdown. Bubbles were created in local schools such as the Beacon School, where separate groups of students were separated from each other in the schools, and had to occupy only certain parts of the schools, whilst moving around the schools, in certain directions!
CAPTAIN SIR TOM MOORE – inspired the country by doing laps around his garden, when he was approaching his 100th birthday, raising millions for charity. He died on 2 February 2021 from pneumonia, and he had also tested positive for COVID-19.
CORONOVIRUS – the virus, itself.
COVID-19 – the official name of the virus.
COVIDIDIOTS – ones who refused to believe in Covid, or else did not obey the rules.
COVID PASSES – where people attending big public events had to show these, as proof of being Covid negative, to be allowed in!
CLAP FOR CARERS - where neighbours would assemble outside their homes at 8pm, on Thursday evenings, to clap for the NHS, etc, Some others would play music or set off fireworks. This phenomenon started in April /May 2020, and lasted a few months, before being stopped.
DELTA – one of the COVID-19 variants, starting in March 2021. All of the variants were named after letters in the Greek alphabet, rather than places, so as to avoid upsetting people from those places! This was originally called the India variant.
DOMINIC CUMMINGS - the Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, until it was discovered that he and his wife had visited Barnard Castle, in April 2020, despite both having Covid symptoms! He made a comical, and absurd, excuse that he was testing his eyesight to see if he was fit enough to drive! He resigned in November 2020.
FACE MASKS – yes, the dreaded masks, we all had to wear, in enclosed spaces, and which became a new type of litter dumped everywhere. Ironically they did not become compulsory in shops until 24 July 2020, which was six weeks after the end of the first lockdown!
FREEDOM DAY – yes, everyone longed for this day, which finally came on 19 July 2021, when the detested social distancing measures were relaxed; this was the key to be able to participate in public events again!
FURLOUGH – a payment for those whose work was stopped by the pandemic e.g. the hospitality industry. They were put on this scheme by the government, so they could get a proportion of their pay.
HAND SANITISERS – hand washing lotions often found at entrances to shops, etc.
HERD IMMUNITY – the Government initially assumed that herd immunity would build up in the population so they did not take Covid as seriously as they might have done, at first! The Herd Immunity did not work very well due to the highly infectious nature of Covid, and its ability to mutate into Variants.
"JABS ARMY" - A drive to get volunteers to get more "jabs into arms", and generally assist the NHS, in the vaccination programme. This name was clearly a take on the Wartime "Dad's Army" Local Defence Volunteers.
JOE WICKS – A PE coach who, during the Pandemic, was frequently on TV motivating adults and children with his "PE with Joe".
LOCKDOWN – the dreaded and detested periods, when all non-essential shops and institutions were compulsorily closed down, with only essential businesses allowed to stay open. Particularly bad in the first lockdown from 23 March to 14 June 2020, when even outside walks and exercise was restricted to one hour, and close to one's home.
LONG COVID – people who have extended symptoms of Covid, lasting indefinitely.
MATT HANCOCK - The Health Secretary in place during the Pandemic who oversaw the rollout of the vaccination programme. He was one of "The three" always with Boris Johnson and Professor Sir Chris Whitty, seen standing socially distanced, at public briefings during the height of the Pandemic. He had to resign in June 2021, when it was discovered that he had broken Covid regulations by kissing an aide!
OMICRON – another variant of Covid-19, starting in late November 2021, originally from South Africa; This resulted in the Government imposing "Plan B"!
(the) NEW NORMAL – a common phrase used during the pandemic as we had to adapt to the new restrictions. Also, the phrase SOME SENSE OF NORMALITY, meant a similar meaning.
PANDEMIC – of course, the global epidemic, itself, which was declared in March 2020.
"PARTYGATE" – referring to the scandal of revelations that Government staff, including Boris Johnson, had attended one or more parties at No 10, when the lockdown rules expressively forbade it! The revelations started to leak out in about December 2021, and more information came out throughout 2022. The London Metropolitan Police had to investigate it, and the Sue Gray report was published!
PINGDEMIC – the dreaded thing where people were 'pinged' by their phones, telling them that they had come into contact with a Covid positive person, and so needed to self-isolate. Ironically, this became a nuisance only in the Summer of 2021, and it caused a shortage of workers, everywhere.
PLAN B – imposed by the Government between 13 December 2021 and 27 January 2022, resulting in more Covid restrictions such as compulsory face masks in indoor venues, working from home if possible, and Covid Passes brought in.
PCR TESTS (Polymerin Chain Reaction) – a test for Covid, where a stick was pushed down your throat and up your nose, as a swab! Not very pleasant to experience!
PPE – (Personal Protective Equipment) - used in hospitals, e.g. protective respiratory equipment, etc.
R NUMBER – the measure of how infectious the virus was, at any one time. A result above 1 showed that the virus was spreading i.e. one person was infecting more than one other person.
RAPID LATERAL FLOW TESTS – self-testing kits, for Covid.
RULE OF SIX – where six people were allowed to meet.
SELF-ISOLATING – where one was required to isolate from others, if they tested positive for Covid.
SHIELDING – where people particularly vulnerable to COVID-19,e.g. those in poor health, would isolate themselves from the public for long periods, even when no longer legally obliged to do so.
SOCIAL DISTANCING – about the most frustrating thing, where people were required to keep 2 metres apart from each other! This measure stymied any public social gatherings and events. This rule was one of the hardest to get rid of.
SUPER-SPREADER – a particularly infectious person who could infect a lot of people at an event that they attended, (a bit like "Typhoid Mary" in the 19th century).
SURGE TESTING – where medical staff tested people to see if they were Covid positive or negative and was a way of seeing the status of the pandemic in the area. A Surge Testing site was set up in the Banstead car park near the Church in June 2021.
TIER (system) – A brief period between lockdown 2 and lockdown 3, in December 2020, whereupon the UK was placed into zones, or "tiers" of various severity in restrictions, with Tier 1 with the least restrictions, and Tier 4, with the severest restrictions.
TWO METRE RULE – meaning that of Social Distancing.
VACCINE /VACCINATION – about the best word that one could hear during the Pandemic. The first people in the UK started to be vaccinated from December 3rd 2020, and a mass vaccination programme was rolled out.
VACCINATION CENTRES – Public vaccination centres, some were big ones, like the one at Epsom Downs Grandstand, or at Nescot. Others were far smaller, and more informal.
VACCINE HESITANCY – people who were reluctant, or refused to be vaccinated against Covid!
VARIANT – one word, dreaded by everyone, which meant that the virus had mutated. Some were more infectious than the original but less dangerous. Some possibly more dangerous.
VENTILATORS – the most seriously ill, with breathing difficulties had to go on theselife-saving machines.
WHITTY – Professor Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, the UK government's Chief Medical Adviser and head of the public health profession. He became a very familar face as he gave us a daily updates on the pandemic during the prime minister's briefings.
ZOOM – one of the minor "horrors" of the Pandemic, where people "attended meetings" by computer, and people could be joined together and communicate with each other - always assuming that the Internet, or computers, did not play up! The whole thing resembled episodes of "Celebrity Squares"[ an old TV game show].
Looking forward to Banstead getting back to normal, helped by all the efforts of Banstead Village in Bloom.
Vaccinations at Epsom racecourse
Epsom Downs Racecourse was opened up as a vaccination centre and many Banstead residents attended what proved to be a very efficient operation.
You drive up just before your appointed time, queue (socially-distanced) outside for a few minutes, check-in, take your seat on a white plastic garden chair, arranged in three rows of about ten, in the main room on the ground floor and wait a little longer. The room is partitioned into two, one half for the local consortium of GPs and the other for the National Vaccine Centre and each is set up differently.
Doctors and nurses keep popping in and out of makeshift offices and stores in the Tote booths, under signs saying "Place your bets here” . . . as indeed we are.
Strange to be in a space with so many people after nearly a year of this pandemic and strange too to remember the bustle of antiques fairs there in happier times.
Eventually, a marshal sees one of the row of seven vaccinators finish wiping down their desk and an empty chair and raise their hand to indicate they are ready for the next patient and then the marshal waves you over. There are few words used here, it's mostly done by gestures.
You have to try to remember the vaccinator's outstretched hand is for your card which records details of the type of vaccine, batch number and date of the first jab. The outstretched hand is not to shake hands! One person forgot this and lots of frantic hand-flapping ensued as the nurse yanked his hand away.
Details are checked, though it's sometimes hard to hear the questions, muffled through two layers of medical masks; the nurses are noticeably better than the doctors at this and make themselves heard. A list of a dozen questions to read; "Have you had a positive Covid test in the last 28 days?" Etc. If you can say "no" to all of them then it's "Are you right-handed? Turn this way. . ." and almost without feeling it, it's done.
"Are you driving? You'll have to wait 15 minutes", and then off to another plastic chair, eyes on one of the many clocks until it ticks over to home time and wondering that the now-anachronistic glitter ball had been left up above, sparkling weakly with reflected winter sunshine, but feeling that maybe a little celebratory dance is called for after all.
Roll on jab number two.
Vaccinations at Nonsuch
I have only one story of an acquaintance who went to the race course at the appointed time only to be held up for about 1.5 hours by the minister of Health visiting to see how the centre worked.
Nonsuch worked like a sweet dream. Went to check-in ten minutes before appointment, sent to holding car park, five minutes later, sent to actual car park and issued with instructions.
Walked to front of Nonsuch House immediately went in. Injected by about 11:10 hours.Sent to holding area for 15 mins and out by 11:31.
Very pleasant staff.