JIM CANNON, chair of the York Older People’s Assembly, offers his reflections on lockdown

“IT was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…in short, the period was like the present."

The opening of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is well known to many and has relevance today. There are many good things from our current situation with the coronavirus and many bad things too.

The community spirit generated in supporting key workers and especially those in the NHS has been uplifting especially with the regular street clapping sessions.

Some 750,000 volunteers stepped forward to help - including 4,000 volunteers in York. Organisations like Helping Hands and the Supper Collective have been delivering meals and shopping to those in need.

A consequence of the drop in car usage was an improvement in air and noise pollution – a very welcome change for many with respiratory problems.

On a grand scale, the progress with identifying potential vaccines and medicine to treat the disease has been positive and, in the context, rapid.

There are now testing programmes for 121 vaccines in place and hopefully some success will come from this huge international cooperative effort. The approach to lockdown and shielding the vulnerable was widely supported by the general populace.

Many older people are still very wary about going out and about and the threat of a second wave puts some off venturing outside their front door.

Yet, against these positives, we have an excess death total which is one of the worst in the developed world.

The chaos caused by moving people from hospitals to care homes without testing was a major contributor. The dedication of care staff was impressive and moving.

Regular updates were confusing and the variation between the different parts of the United Kingdom has been eye opening. The track and trace app for smart phones disappeared as fast as it appeared but we know that Northern Ireland has adopted a variation of the version which Ireland implemented. Meanwhile the UK is still working on it.

The beginning of August saw more confusion as the York Press editorial pointed out. Only two hours’ notice of the introduction of more local lockdowns restricting family gatherings was accompanied by relaxation in some areas.

This led to people meeting in pub gardens instead of their own – not much common sense there. The 14-day quarantine period for people returning from Spain has led to lots of cancelled holidays and recently the announcement of major job cuts in the travel business.

The introduction of a 50 per cent discount in restaurants up to £10 per head, means that a family of five can save £50. Hopefully, this will help the hospitality sector to recover – a significant factor in York’s economy.

Another major change on August 1 is that 3.5 million of people aged over 75 will have to pay for their TV licence. The only exceptions will be those on pension credits. It is estimated that more than million people are entitled to pension credits but do not claim it.

If you are uncertain, then please contact Age UK York, Older Citizens Advocacy York, or CAB York. If in doubt email me at yopachair@outlook.com and we will try to help.

For York Older People’s Assembly, there has been a regular exchange of news and new initiatives. We have some tablets/laptops to provide access to systems such as Zoom or Skype. If you are out of touch electronically and would welcome help, please write to YOPA, 165 Hull Road, YORK, YO10 3JX.

YOPA is also planning for International Older People’s Day which is celebrated on October 1. We do not intend to have any open meetings, but we will be having Zoom sessions and hopefully news items and information on the radio and TV. Watch this space!

Finally, something to cheer you up:

I refuse to accept anyone’s pardon

For failing to work in the garden.

I’d much rather stand

With a glass in my hand

Feeling my arteries harden.

Stay safe and keep your social distance.

Jim Cannon is Chair of the York Older People’s Assembly. You can contact him at yopachair@outlook.com