Category Archives for "Environment"
After the hottest day of the year saw thousands of people descend on beaches around the UK, the BBC went to Great Yarmouth to see the scale of the mess left behind.
The refuse collector’s cart is overflowing. There’s the usual drinks cans and plastic bottles, but also a crumpled hat, a paperback book and, balanced on top, a wind break.
“It’s as if people have gone slightly mad with lockdown easing,” says Penny Carpenter, as she helps pick up rubbish along Great Yarmouth beach.
“I mean – dirty nappies, what’s that all about? It’s beyond my comprehension, why people do it.
“The word ‘unprecedented’ is used a lot at the moment, but it is an unprecedented amount of rubbish our teams are picking up.”
With cafes and restaurants only open for takeaways, much of the litter is polystyrene cups and burger cartons, plastic bottles and cans. Rubbish bins have been filling up quicker than they can be emptied.
Ms Carpenter said in the 16 years she has lived in the coastal town, she has never seen anything like the amount of litter left in recent days – not even in the summer holidays or after major events.
“It’s a significant increase – we usually fill four or five bags – a massive amount – but yesterday it was 15. It’s mind-blowing.
“We want people to come to Great Yarmouth but, please, think about what you are doing, you are polluting the environment.”
Great Yarmouth Borough Council, where Ms Carpenter is a Conservative councillor and chairman of the environment committee, has had to pull staff from other services to help with the clean-up since lockdown has eased.
It takes 15 litter-pickers three hours to scour the seafront, with the Golden Mile between the two piers worst-hit.
They find broken glass, a bed sheet, face masks, disposable gloves, a table tennis bat, the string and handle from a kite, a broken camping chair and candles from a birthday cake.
Resident James Carr heads to the beach most mornings, early enough to see the ugly fall-out from the day – or night – before.
“Yesterday was particularly bad, there were eight beach towels floating around, plastic bottles every where and three five-gallon plastic beer buckets – I think there had been some kind of party.
“The beach was absolutely covered, with beer bottles, plastic rubbish everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much.”
The 61-year-old said he had seen a “dramatic increase” since the easing of lockdown restrictions, and, like Ms Carpenter, believes the amount of litter goes beyond the levels usually seen during the height of the season.
“It’s definitely worse than when Yarmouth is packed. There’s less people, but those that are here are leaving everything behind,” said Mr Carr.
“It’s annoying – [you would] think would respect the sea and the environment, but they’re abusing it.”
The area normally attracts a lot of wildlife; a colony of little terns flies thousands of miles to nest at North Denes each June and there is a large seal population.
Volunteers have seen a record year for injuries to the marine mammals because of litter.
“We see seals most mornings but we haven’t for a while and I wonder if they’re keeping away, and there are rare birds in the dunes and that’s full of rubbish as well,” added Mr Carr.
“It’s going to affect them all. It’s very sad.”
Mark Wyton is well-acquainted with litter in his role as refuse and cleaning supervisor for the council’s contractor GYB Services, but the tidal wave of debris produced by a day at the beach has given him pause.
“The sheer amount of rubbish we’re getting is colossal,” he said. “We’ve never picked up as much rubbish as we did on Thursday.
“A year ago, people were much more conscientious about the plastics in the ocean, it seems like we’ve come out of the pandemic and people have forgotten about it.”
This is not just a Great Yarmouth problem.
On Thursday, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (BCP) declared a major incident in which crews were abused for attempting to empty overflowing bins on the seafront.
The council said 33 tonnes of waste was cleaned up along the Dorset coastline on Thursday morning, in addition to eight tonnes collected between the piers on Wednesday during a second collection that day.
According to the Local Environment Quality survey, the amount of litter UK-wide has remained consistent. Last year, littering of food and soft drinks went up, while dog fouling and plastic bags declined – the latter after the 5p charge was introduced in England.
Australia and the Netherlands include education and engagement with young people as part of a strategic approach to tackling litter. In Japan, littering is called “illegal dumping” and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 10 million yen (£75,100).
“Littering is symptomatic of a decline in respect for the environment and for other people,” said John Read, founder of Clean Up Britain, which is auditing England’s 330 councils to establish whether they undertake litter enforcement and, if so, exactly how many fines they issue.
“Too many people are disrespectful because councils are weak – and they get away with it. We have the filthiest country – but it’s part of British culture, this sense of entitlement.
“There is a huge cultural fracture in our society, with anti-social behaviour and littering, where there are no penalties.”
Back in Great Yarmouth, there are more than 30 bins beside the beach, including three news bins in the largest 1,100-litre size, but these are still not enough.
A bin next to the pristine bowling green, just a few steps from the prom, is surrounded by a mass of half-eaten food, fish and chip boxes, disposable cutlery and bottles.
Every plastic fork, every chewed slice of watermelon, every dirty nappy, has disappeared in time for the next surge of visitors. The wide expanse of sand is once again restored to its natural beauty – for now.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Ms Carpenter. “We are proud of where we live, we are proud of our town.
“This will be repeated tomorrow and the next day and the next day.”
The leader of Tibetan Buddhism sees reasons for optimism even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. People are helping one another, he tells the BBC’s Justin Rowlatt, and if seven billion people on Earth develop “a sense of oneness” they may yet unite to solve the problem of climate change.
The first time I met the Dalai Lama he tweaked my cheek.
It is pretty unusual to have your cheek tweaked by anyone, let alone by a man regarded as a living god by many of his followers.
But the Dalai Lama is a playful man who likes to tease his interviewers.
Now, of course, such a gesture would be unthinkable – our latest encounter comes via the sterile interface of a video conferencing app.
The Dalai Lama appears promptly and sits in front of the camera, smiling and adjusting his burgundy robes.
“Half-five,” he says with a grin. His eyes sparkle: “Too early!”
We both laugh. He is teasing me again.
I had been delighted when the leader of Tibetan Buddhism had agreed to an interview but a little downcast when his secretary told me it would be at 09:00 Indian Time.
That’s 04:30 UK time. It would mean getting into the office at 03:30.
James Bryant, who produced the interview, took the matter in hand.
“Although nothing is impossible for us, that would be exceptional,” he wrote.
His Holiness’s secretary graciously agreed to move it to 10:00 Indian time.
So, at 05:00 on Wednesday last week I found myself in a BBC office in London watching a video feed from Dharamshala in northern India.
The contrast could hardly have been greater.
I sit among rows of empty desks in the grey half-light while in a palace atop a mountain redoubt in the foothills of the Himalayas, monks in saffron and purple robes sweep by, tweaking cables and adjusting cameras in a gilded room.
Clear mountain light streams in through the windows.
There are worse places to endure lockdown than a palace with sweeping views of icy mountain peaks, and the Dalai Lama acknowledges as much.
“Here we have very pure fresh water and fresh air. I stay here peacefully,” he tells me with another of his signature explosive laughs.
His thoughts are with those who are suffering and afraid during this terrible pandemic but he says there has been much to inspire and to celebrate.
“Many people don’t care about their own safety but are helping, it is wonderful.”
The Dalai Lama smiles.
“When we face some tragic situation, it reveals the deeper human values of compassion,” he continues. “Usually people don’t think about these deeper human values, but when they see their human brothers and sisters suffering the response comes automatically.”
I ask what advice he has for people who are anxious or frightened.
The important thing is to try not to worry too much, he suggests.
“If there is a way to overcome your situation then make effort, no need to worry,” he explains.
“If truly there is no way to overcome then it is no use to worry, you can’t do anything. You have to accept it, like old age.”
The Dalai Lama will be 85 in a few weeks.
“It is no use me thinking I am too old, no use as an old person,” he continues.
“Young people are physical, their minds are fresh, they can make a contribution for a better world but they are too much excited.” He chuckles.
“Older people have more experience they can help by teaching the young. We can tell them to be calm,” he says with another explosive laugh.
He believes the young will be at the forefront of tackling what is now one of his most pressing concerns: the need to tackle environmental challenges.
He says he has seen the effects of climate change in his own lifetime. He seems quite emotional as he remembers his youth.
The 14th Dalai Lama was born in a remote village on the high plains of Tibet in 1935.
He was identified as the tulku, the reincarnation, of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1937.
“When I was in Tibet,” he tells me, “I had no knowledge about the environment. We took it for granted. We could drink water from any of the streams.”
It was only when he arrived in India and later began to travel the world that he realised just how much damage was being done.
“I came here to Dharamshala in 1960. That winter lots of snow, then each year less and less and less.
“We must take very seriously global warming,” says the leader of Tibetan Buddhism.
He urges the world to invest more in wind and solar energy and to move away from dependence on fossil fuels.
The important thing, he tells me, is for us to recognise that we are not individuals alone, we depend on the community we are a part of.
“No matter how rich your family is, without the community you cannot survive,” he says.
“In the past there was too much emphasis on my continent, my nation, my religion. Now that thinking is out of date. Now we really need a sense of oneness of seven billion human beings.”
This, he says, could be one of the positive things to come out of the coronavirus crisis.
But while the world woke up quickly to the threat from this virus, global warming is a more insidious threat, he points out, coming “decade by decade”.
This may make it seem less urgent, and he worries that soon we may find it is beyond our control.
The challenge ties in to another of the Dalai Lama’s great preoccupations: education.
“The whole world should pay more attention to how to transform our emotions,” he tells me.
“It should be part of education not religion. Education about peace of mind and how to develop peace of mind. That is very important.”
Now comes the most difficult part of the interview. I want to discuss the Dalai Lama’s own death – or more accurately, the question of his rebirth.
This is not just an issue for him. What happens when he dies will be key for the future of Tibetan Buddhism and of the Tibetan freedom movement.
China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 to enforce its claim on the region.
Many Tibetans fiercely oppose what they see as an illegal occupation.
As the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has been the figurehead for this opposition.
He reminds me that he has said before that his death may well mark the end of the great tradition of Dalai Lamas – the words mean “great leader” in Tibetan.
“It may end with this great Lama,” he tells me, laughing and pointing to his chest.
He says the Himalayan Buddhists of Tibet and Mongolia will decide what happens next.
They will determine whether the 14th Dalai Lama has been reincarnated in another tulku.
It could be a fraught process. The boy who the current Dalai Lama identified as the reincarnation of the second most powerful figure in Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama, was abducted in 1995. It is the Panchen Lama who would normally lead the search for the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama says what his followers decide is not an issue for him.
“I myself have no interest,” he says, laughing.
His hope is that when his last day comes he will still have his good name and can feel that he has made a contribution to humanity.
“Then finish,” he says with another laugh.
And with that, our interview is over.
EasyJet says it has begun consultations on plans to close bases at Stansted, Southend and Newcastle.
It follows an announcement by the airline that it may need to reduce staff numbers by up to a third because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Unite union said nearly 1,300 UK crew members faced losing their jobs.
Pilots’ union Balpa said it had been told by EasyJet that 727 of its UK-based pilots were also at risk of redundancy.
That is equivalent to one in three of its pilots, Balpa said.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “The lower demand environment means we need fewer aircraft and have less opportunity for work for our people.
“We are committed to working constructively with our employee representatives across the network with the aim of minimising job losses as far as possible.”
However, Balpa general secretary Brian Stratton said the job cuts were “an excessive over-reaction”.
“EasyJet won’t find a supply of pilots waiting to come back when the recovery takes place over the next two years.”
And Unite said the plan to make 1,290 cabin crew redundant was a “massive blow” for a “battered industry”.
“There is no need for this announcement at this time, especially since Easyjet has taken a multi-million pound government loan which it ought to be putting to use defending UK jobs,” said national officer for civil aviation Oliver Richardson.
Easyjet currently has 11 bases in the UK, with 163 aircraft, serving 546 routes.
Even though it is looking at closing the Stansted, Southend and Newcastle bases, it said the airports would remain part of its route network.
That means it will continue to fly in and out but will not have aircraft and crew based permanently at the airports.
Easyjet has seven aircraft based at Stansted, with 335 crew. At Southend, there are 183 crew and four aircraft. And there are three aircraft based in Newcastle, with 157 crew.
The job cut proposals are not limited to the bases that may close, a Unite spokesman said.
Newcastle Airport said it was “saddened to hear of possible job losses and the significant impact this would cause.”
“This is very disappointing for the airport, airline and the North East as a whole and we sympathise with everyone affected by this announcement.”
EasyJet said in May that it planned up to 4,500 job cuts as it struggled with the collapse in air travel due to the coronavirus crisis.
It has started to fly passengers again, but does not expect 2019 levels of demand to be reached again until 2023.
Airlines have been hit hard by lockdowns and travel restrictions around the world, with many announcing job cuts.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that Air France/KLM would present a plan to unions on Friday to cut more than 6,500 jobs over the next two years as the airline deals with the effects of the coronavirus crisis.
The first major hospital to be built in Wales in more than two decades could open its doors four months ahead of schedule.
The £350m Grange University Hospital in Llanfrechfa, Cwmbran, is a 471-bed facility where around three quarters of patients will be treated in their own rooms with ensuite facilities.
First proposed in 2004, it has taken three years to build.
It is now set to open in November, subject to Welsh Government approval.
BBC Wales was given an exclusive tour of the facilities, which overlook the Cwmbran countryside.
The new hospital will provide emergency and urgent care – bringing together services that were previously provided at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport and Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny.
Services like outpatients, diagnostics and care for the elderly will still be provided by those hospitals, along with the smaller Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr in Ystrad Mynach.
The Grange site has 2,612 rooms and more than 40 specialist services, supported by 3,000 staff.
Aneurin Bevan University Health Board hopes the state-of-the-art facilities will act as a magnet for new recruits.
The intensive care department differs to many other hospitals as instead of being one room, it is a collection of individual rooms, separated by glass screens so nurses can monitor two patients at once.
Departments that need to be close together, such as intensive care, the heart unit and relevant operating theatres, are only a short walk away from each other.
Consultant interventional radiologist Dr Chris Chick said: “Historically, our buildings, because they are old, are not designed for the way we would process patients on pathways efficiently.”
He said the new hospital provides “an environment that’s more fitting for a modern way of delivering healthcare”.
Contingency plans had been put in place to open parts of the hospital had the first wave of Covid-19 been more severe.
The hospital’s opening, which was due to happen next spring, has been brought forward to November, providing the Welsh Government gives the go-ahead and releases funding.
Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething indicated the Grange University Hospital could be opened earlier to relieve winter pressures.
“That isn’t about necessarily a second wave or a second surge, it’s actually about our understanding if we can have that hospital operational during winter in any event – regardless of coronavirus – that would have potential benefits,” he said.
“So I’m looking at the opportunity to do so, and we then need to make sure that we’ve got enough capital resources to be able to accelerate that further.”
Renault say they discussed Fernando Alonso’s reputation for outspokenness with him before signing the two-time champion to return to F1 in 2021.
Team boss Cyril Abiteboul said a break from the “toxic” F1 environment had been “important” for the Spaniard.
Abiteboul said Renault had focused on “making sure we don’t let him down by over-promising and under-delivering”.
“We’ve taken the time to be clear … about where we stand today and where we will stand in 2021 and 2022,” he said.
Two-time world champion Alonso’s willingness to speak his mind about the position of his current team has caused tension at times in his career.
Among several incidents, he famously called McLaren’s Honda engine a “GP2 engine” and said it was “embarrassing” over the radio at the Japanese company’s home race in 2015.
And when he was with Ferrari in 2013, he provoked a public rebuke from chairman Luca Di Montezemolo when he told a TV interview who asked what he wanted for his birthday: “Someone else’s car.”
Frenchman Abiteboul said in an exclusive interview with BBC Sport: “We discussed that. It is also one of the reasons why it was important for him to take a year off, to walk away from the sport.
“You know, let’s not underestimate how ruthless, how toxic F1 can be.
“No matter how hard you work, how hard you try, how good you think you are, sometimes it is just not possible.
“And I think that is what at some point burns out every one of us except maybe Toto (Wolff) and Mercedes and Lewis (Hamilton). And doing this sort of break is the best guarantee that these things will not happen again.”
Alonso will turn 40 mid-way through the 2021 season, a similar age to Michael Schumacher when he made an unsuccessful comeback in 2010-12.
But Abiteboul said he had no doubts Alonso could perform at the highest level in 2021.
“It is not a worry,” Abiteboul said. “It is something we take on board. We have taken the time to discuss (it).
“What matters most is not the physical status or situation, it is more the motivation. I guess that one thing that is impacting your level of performance at a certain age is your level of motivation.
“His motivation is strong, and therefore in my opinion, age is not a factor for the duration of our contract.”
Renault signed Alonso following a pre-season driver swap for 2021 in which Ferrari decided to replace Sebastian Vettel with Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo decided to leave Renault and sign for McLaren.
But Abiteboul said Renault’s discussions with Alonso dated back four years to 2016.
“Discussion started way before Daniel’s decision to leave for McLaren,” he said. “I don’t know where things would have got us if Daniel had made a different decision but clearly, let’s be honest, the timing of Daniel’s decision was not helpful – we were focused on other aspects.
“But that being behind (us), today I am very comfortable with this decision.”
Read Andrew Benson’s ‘Fernando Alonso: The F1 great who couldn’t catch a break‘, a look back at two-time world champion Alonso’s 17 years in Formula 1 here.
One of the world’s largest shipping lines has announced a moratorium on the transport of any wood from The Gambia.
A BBC Africa Eye investigation revealed in March that vast quantities of protected West African Rosewood was being trafficked through the country.
Most of it ends up in China, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found.
Gambian authorities have previously denied any involvement in the smuggling.
Rosewood is a family of tropical tree species widely used for furniture in Asia and in particular China. By value and by volume, rosewood is the most trafficked wildlife product in the world.
In June, the EIA published a report saying shipping companies were transporting contraband timber from The Gambia to China.
Three months previously, Africa Eye published an investigation into the million-dollar trade in trafficked rosewood.
Shipping company Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement Compagnie Générale Maritime (CMA CGM), the world’s fourth largest, said that it had done its own investigations as a result of the evidence uncovered by the BBC and EIA.
“There was probably some protected rosewood inside their shipments from The Gambia to China,” said Guilhem Isaac Georges, Director of Sustainability for CMA CGM.
The company has therefore “decided to halt its timber exports from the country until further notice,” he told the BBC.
The shipping company also announced that it would create a global blacklist of shippers involved in the illegal trade of protected and endangered species.
The EIA said that it believed this was the first time a shipping line had banned transportation of an entire classification of goods.
Rosewood is a family of tropical tree species widely used for furniture in Asia and in particular China.
Also called Hongmu or “red wood” this rare and valuable wood is prized for its colour and durability.
It is used primarily for antique-style furniture.
Figures obtained by BBC Africa Eye showed that China has imported more than 300,000 tonnes of West African rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus) from The Gambia since President Adama Barrow came to power in 2017.
That is the equivalent of about half a million trees and worth more than $100m (£80m).
The Gambia is consistently among the five largest global exporters of rosewood, despite declaring its own stocks close to extinction almost a decade ago.
During a year-long investigation in both Senegal and The Gambia, multiple sources confirmed to the BBC that the rosewood being shipped out of The Gambia to China comes from the Casamance region of southern Senegal.
Along a 170km (105 miles)-long stretch of the border between the two countries, the BBC found at least 12 depots containing rosewood and other timber. They were all within Gambian territory.
The BBC investigations revealed that Senegal’s forests are being plundered at an alarming rate to support this trade.
In Senegal it is illegal to fell or export a rosewood tree and yet we saw evidence of this happening in broad daylight.
“It’s The Gambia that has to stop the export of rosewood. They make good speeches, good promises, they say: ‘We are going to stop’, but in reality it is not true,” said Haidar el Ali, a former Senegalese minister of environment, told the BBC.
The Gambia’s current government has also banned the export of pterocarpus erinaceus.
Under the country’s Forestry Act of 2018, importation from another country is only legal if it goes through an official port of entry. But all the depots we discovered have been active since Mr Barrow’s government has been in power.
The BBC also obtained footage showing truckloads of rosewood logs driving towards The Gambian capital Banjul earlier this year.
The government, however, denied the allegations contained in the BBC Africa Eye investigation.
In 2017 the West African rosewood tree was given international protection. It was listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – known as Cites. It is a multilateral treaty to protect the living environment.
The Gambian government, like Senegal, signed up to the international Cites convention. It permits a carefully regulated trade in rosewood so long as it is legal and sustainable.
Mr Isaac Georges said that in the current context in The Gambia, it was impossible to be certain that the country was abiding by the Cites regulations.
So CMA CGM decided “to go further than the local regulations to protect the environment”.
He added that: “The group acknowledged that ‘this highly sought-after wood is felled illegally in the region and then exported under various different guises.”
The timber sector in The Gambia is “plagued by opacity and corruption, it provides the perfect ecosystem for criminal networks to thrive,” Lisa Handy, Director of the Forest Campaigns at EIA, told the BBC.
CMA CGM said it hoped it was “demonstrating its leadership within the shipping industry in the protection of the environment.”
“It is a notable move and a very auspicious start… other shipping lines must also act,” Ms Handy said.
Nascar has banned the display of the Confederate flag at its events.
The US-based motor-racing organisation said the presence of the flag “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment” for fans and competitors.
Nascar’s only black full-time driver, Bubba Wallace, had called for the flag to be banned from racetracks, where it had become a common sight.
“Get them out of here. They have no place for them, ” he told CNN.
The Confederate flag has been a common sight at Nascar circuits, particularly in the sport’s southern US heartland, but for many remains a symbol of slavery and racism.
“No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a Nascar race. It starts with Confederate flags,” said 26-year-old Wallace.
Wallace, who in 2013, became the first black driver to win a Nascar event since Wendell Scott in 1963, has been vocal in support of protests following the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on 25 May.
On Wednesday, Wallace competed in a race at Martinsville with a new livery on his car featuring the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
The Confederate flag had once been embraced by Nascar, with the series staging the now renamed “Rebel 400” every year near Confederate Memorial Day, when the dead from the defeated Confederate army in the US Civil War are remembered.
However the flag’s association with white supremacists prompted Nascar chiefs to describe the flag as an “offensive and divisive” symbol following the murder of nine black Americans inside a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015.
But back then Nascar stopped short of banning the flag’s display altogether, however, instead setting up an exchange program where race-goers could exchange their Confederate flags for American ones.
In a statement on Wednesday, Nascar said: “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
A software developer has tweeted about how wearing a VR headset for hours a day has damaged his eyesight.
A visit to the opticians left him “worried about my future VR use” after a doctor blamed the technology for a problem with his vision.
Glasses should correct the issue but would normally only “be prescribed to 40-year-olds”, he tweeted.
The Association of Optometrists said it had not seen evidence that VR headsets could cause permanent eye damage.
Facebook-owned Oculus states in its handbook that one in 4,000 may suffer “dizziness, seizures, eye or muscle twitching.” It recommends users suffering these symptoms discontinue using the headset and see a doctor.
Doctors have previously warned that virtual reality, which is the computer-generated simulation of a real or imaginary environment, can cause eye strain because the brain is forced to process visual stimuli in a different way to normal.
And users have complained about nausea and dizziness when using headsets, which is generally put down the the way a user perceives space around them, leading to motion sickness.
Danny Bittman, who has worked as a virtual reality developer for four years, suggested it could have affected his eyesight.
“Just had my first eye doctor visit in three years. Now I’m very worried about my future VR use. I have a new eye convergence problem that acts like dyslexia. The doc, a headset owner, is convinced my VR use caused this. He said “these glasses we usually prescribe to 40-year-olds”, he tweeted.
He went on to describe the problem: “My eyes jump when I read things like a screen or books. I’ve always had a small level of this but it’s greatly intensified now. It’s also linked to headaches and vertigo.”
He said that the issue was about “prolonged use”, and admitted that he could spend up to six hours a day wearing a headset, split into 30-minute sessions.
Ceri Smith-Jaynes, from the Association of Optometrists, told the BBC: “We currently do not have any reliable evidence that VR headsets cause permanent deterioration in eyesight in children or adults. There have been some studies looking into the effects of short-term use of VR headsets only; these did not reveal a deterioration in eyesight.
“However, some people do suffer from temporary symptoms such as nausea, dry, irritable eyes, headache or eyestrain. “
But she did have some advice about usage: “If you spend all day in VR without a break, you’ll need time to readjust to the light and the different visual environment of the real world. I would suggest taking a five-to-ten minute break each hour, using that time to move about, blink and look out of a window, or take a short walk.
“The number of hours of headset use a person can comfortably tolerate will vary depending on your binocular vision status (ask your optometrist) and the task you are doing in VR.”
VR headsets have been adapted to help improve eyesight. Start-up GiveVision created a device called SightPlus, that aims to restore vision to people whose eyesight has deteriorated beyond repair by projecting a video of the real world into the working part of the retina.
A clinical trial at Moorfields Eye Hospital suggested it improved eyesight in 59 of the 60 participants, with nearly half saying they would wear the device for watching TV, reading or going to the theatre. The firm is partnering with Sony to develop its next device.
“People should shop, and shop with confidence” when non-essential stores reopen in England on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.
Mr Johnson said retail staff were “excited” and had done “a huge amount of work” to allow for safer shopping.
But he said people must continue to respect social distancing measures.
It comes as a further 36 deaths from coronavirus were announced in the past 24 hours. It brings the UK death toll – across all settings – to 41,698.
The latest daily figure is the lowest since before lockdown began on 23 March, but there tends to be fewer deaths reported at the weekend, because of a reporting lag.
While food shops and pharmacies, as well as other essential retailers including banks and petrol stations, have been open throughout lockdown, non-essential stores, such as book shops and fashion outlets, have been shuttered since 23 March.
The prime minister said he was “very optimistic about the opening [of shops]”, but stressed “the most important thing is public safety and the health of our country”.
He said it was difficult to tell whether there would be “a huge wave… or a trickle” of customers on Monday, but urged the public returning to the shops “to observe the rules on social distancing and do it safely”.
With “fewer than 1 in 1000 cases in the population”, people had made “a huge sacrifice…and we can’t throw it away”, Mr Johnson said.
By Katy Austin, business correspondent
Not all shops will raise the shutters on day one: the reopening will be gradual. But for many, it’s an important opportunity to welcome spending customers back in store.
Having spent time and money preparing safety measures, in line with “Covid-secure” guidelines, shop owners are hoping the public will have the confidence to return, and that they will follow rules on queuing and hygiene.
Some expect an initial surge of activity; others expect much lower levels of trade in the coming months, compared to before the crisis.
One reason is that social distancing will limit the number of customers in store, another is that the experience will be different. There will be less spontaneous browsing, for example, and no relaxing at a café or restaurant while most hospitality venues remain closed.
The lockdown also accelerated the move towards online shopping, with fewer physical stores likely to be needed in future.
Mr Johnson’s comments echoed those of Chancellor Rishi Sunak who earlier praised retailers’ “extraordinary” efforts to create a ‘Covid-secure’ environment.
From Monday, most retailers can open as long as they follow safety guidelines. Those who fail to ensure their premises are Covid-secure could face enforcement notices.
Plastic screens at the tills and floor markings to keep shoppers 2m (6ft 5ins) apart – already a regular fixture in supermarkets – will be a key feature.
Other measures will include pleas not to touch items unless customers intend to purchase them and decontaminating shopping baskets after each use.
It comes as Mr Johnson faces increased pressure to ease the 2m social distancing rule, which many ministers see as crucial to the further reopening of the economy.
Mr Sunak told the BBC the government would “actively” look again at the measure, given its “enormous impact” on the profitability of businesses.
“You are right to highlight the impact it has on business – it is the difference between maybe three-quarters and a third of pubs opening, for example, so it is important we look at it.”
It is understood the review will aim to report back by 4 July – currently the earliest mooted date for the reopening of pubs, bars, restaurants and hairdressers in England.
While other countries have enforced a lesser distance of 1m (just over 3ft), in keeping with the World Health Organization’s recommendation, the UK government’s scientific advisers have so far maintained that being 1m apart carries up to 10 times the risk of being 2m apart.
“Ultimately it is for ministers [to decide],” said Mr Sunak.
“We are the people who are elected to make decisions in this country. People should hold us responsible and accountable for making those decisions.”
The chancellor acknowledged many people would be “anxious” at the prospect of going out shopping again after almost three months in lockdown.
But he stressed “it is a safe environment and we should all be able to go out knowing that we should be able to shop in confidence”.
“Shops up and down the country are desperate to welcome us all back and I think we all want to see our High Streets spring back to life again,” he said.
Designer men’s clothing retailer Brother2Brother will be reopening its Reading store on Monday for the first time since March.
Buying director Steven Hall said the firm “could not wait” to reopen, although the shopping experience might be different from what customers are used to – with staff provided with PPE and a limit of six customers at a time.
In addition to “cleaning of counters after every purchase [and] cleaning of the changing rooms after use… we will also have to quarantine the goods for at least 24 hours before they are put back into circulation”.
He added that customers will be encouraged to try things on at home and return them where possible and “pretty much everything” will be given a sale price as the company looks to shift its seasonal stock.
One way the store is attempting to drum up business is by letting customers book 30-minute slots, allowing staff to prepare a selection of items suited to their tastes.
“If we don’t try to innovate and make sure business can operate at some sort of level we probably wouldn’t be here for very long,” Mr Hall said.
More than half of UK customers expect they will now go shopping less, according to a survey of more than 1,000 people by accountancy giant EY.
And Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of The British Independent Retailers Association, believes people may “soon become weary of queuing”.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), the trade body for retailers, is urging the public to “play their part” in making shopping safer. Along with 25 other retailers, it says customers should follow five steps:
Do you work in a shop that is reopening? You can get in touch by emailing email@example.com.
Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also contact us in the following ways:
The first thing Simon Farrell can remember, after being woken from a medically induced coma, is trying to tear off his oxygen mask.
He had been in intensive care for 10 days, reliant on a ventilator just to breathe.
“I was trying to pull the mask off my face, and the nurse kept putting it back on,” he recalls.
When doctors woke him up, his body had fought off the worst of Covid-19 but he still needed oxygen to support his damaged lungs. And the 46-year-old father-of-two was suffering from such severe delirium he was trying to deny himself the oxygen he required.
“Try to stop me,” he remembers saying, when nurses at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital said they would have to put his hands in boxing glove-sized medical mittens unless he relaxed.
“In the end they had to tape my hands up. I was trying to tear the mittens off, I managed to bite through them, and they had to put new mittens on.”
It is not an unfamiliar story for anyone working in intensive care. The assault Covid-19 mounts on the most severely ill means patients are ventilated for longer, and require a deeper level of sedation, than the typical ICU patient.
That has produced “a lot of delirium, confusion and agitation”, explains Dr Kulwant Dhadwal, a consultant who runs the intensive care unit at London’s Royal Free Hospital.
“Usually if you have a surgical procedure, or normal pneumonia patients come to ICU, you wake them up and they’re less confused and less disoriented than this.”
“This particular group of patients were a lot more difficult to wean off the ventilator.”
Even when that process is a success, it is only the beginning of a long process of physical and psychological recovery. And now the UK has moved past the peak of the virus, attention is turning to the huge challenge – both in the health service and in the community – of rehabilitating Covid-19 survivors.
“Often rehabilitation is seen as a Cinderella service and not a priority,” says Sally Singh, professor of pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation at the University of Leicester.
“But because of Covid, and the number of people that it has affected, the need is pressing. It has become a national priority – to support people to get better.”
Tens of thousands of people around the UK are now setting out on that journey.
Some came close to death in intensive care units, others needed less intrusive hospital treatment to help them through the worst. All of them have had their lives changed by Covid-19.
But for the most seriously ill patients in intensive care, rehabilitation begins well before they are woken from a coma. Physical and psychological support has to be there from the start. Even when a patient is asleep, nurses and therapists will move their joints and their bodies to make sure they don’t get too stiff.
“For example, we have an in-bed bike,” explains Kate Tantam, a specialist rehabilitation sister in intensive care at University Hospital Plymouth NHS Trust.
“Even if a patient is on multiple organ support on a ventilator, and on lots of drugs to keep them alive, we will still put them on a bike.”
“We bring it to the bed, and we can put their feet into it, and the machine can then do the work for you.”
ICU staff will also talk constantly to patients while they are deeply sedated, telling them where they are, and what is happening to them, and reassuring them that they are safe. It’s all part of the process of preparing them for the moment when they are woken up.
“Some patients do wake up saying, ‘I remember your voice,'” says Kulwant Dhadwal. “They wake up with some kind of memory.”
But the process with Covid-19 has proved even more delicate and difficult than normal, partly because so many ICU patients were on mechanical ventilators for extraordinarily long periods of time.
Many of them woke up profoundly weak, although some regained strength unexpectedly quickly.
“Usually when somebody’s been asleep for 40 days or more, it takes six weeks or longer for them to be totally free of the ventilator, to be ready to even start walking or standing,” Kulwant Dhadwal says.
“But some of these patients were making progress within a week, which we found very unusual, very specific to this disease.”
Another challenge in the immediate recovery from critical illness with Covid-19 is the severe inflammation.
Many patients can’t cope with a breathing tube inserted through the mouth because the larynx and the area above the vocal cords are badly swollen as part of the illness. That means doctors have often had to often perform tracheostomies, creating an opening in the neck to gain access to the windpipe, in order to remove the breathing tube that connects patents to the ventilator.
“You’ve got to look after the tracheostomy, it’s a wound in the neck,” explains Carl Waldmann, a consultant in intensive care at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.
“So, it was a long, slow process getting them off the ventilator. It might take them a week or two weeks or even longer.”
And behind every observation lies a human story.
Abraham Raskin’s family were told in late April that it was unlikely he would survive. But on 12 June he finally left the Royal London Hospital after more than 50 days in intensive care, a tracheostomy, and a month in a medically induced coma.
“The very fact that I’m alive now is a miracle,” he says, “I was nearly a goner.”
On a video call arranged by nurses on 18 May his family saw his face for the first time since he was taken into hospital in early April. He wasn’t able to say anything, but he did raise an eyebrow.
Abraham was severely delirious for some time after waking up. “I was talking all kinds of rubbish,” he says.
“Afterwards when I heard about what I was saying, I felt like I was mad or something. It’s not pleasant.”
But he is now back at home, still very tired, and following a basic exercise programme planned from him by a physiotherapist. With support from family members, he can get upstairs to sleep at night.
“Some people can’t really walk anymore when they come out of this,” he says, “and some take months to recover. I hope I’m not one of them.”
As many as three-quarters of intensive care patients who need mechanical ventilation to help them breathe will suffer from delirium. And the observations of many doctors suggest that delirium has been particularly acute, and hallucinations unusually vivid, for people who fall critically ill with Covid-19.
Delirium can be caused by the infection itself, and the fevers which accompany it. But it is intensified by the strong sedative drugs that have to be used to keep patients comfortable, and the unsettling environment of intensive care they find themselves in.
While patients are in a coma, and after they wake up and begin withdrawing from these drugs, they often experience frightening hallucinations, and cling to unsettling beliefs about what is going on.
“Delirium doesn’t have a dreamlike quality,” says Dorothy Wade, the principal health psychologist in intensive care at University College Hospital in London. “Patients always say ‘it was completely real – I was just living in this terrifying alternative reality.'”
Doctors think that chemical imbalances prompt the brain to create its own explanation for why the body can’t move and the patient can’t speak. Often people think they’ve been kidnapped or tortured, or they think they’re in a prison cell about to be put on trial.
“They tend to feel that the nurses and the doctors and the staff are all in some conspiracy,” says Dorothy Wade, “that this is all part of a conspiracy to make money out of them by selling their blood or their organs.”
It means that psychologists like Dr Wade try to step in as early as possible. It’s important not to argue with delirious patients, she says, but instead to try to offer reassurance about what has really been happening.
Simon Farrell left hospital relatively quickly after being taken off a ventilator, but he still recalls the vivid nature of the delirium he experienced.
“I remember Elliott, my younger son, coming into the room in PPE,” he says. “Now, that clearly wasn’t right. No children were allowed on the ward. The hospital was locked down. It didn’t happen.”
In his head at the time, though, he believed it to be absolutely true.
“You just feel it is what’s happening,” he says. “And there was a lot worse than that. That was a simple one.”
The challenge of dealing with the acute delirium that accompanies Covid-19 has been heightened by the fact that family members can’t be at the bedside when patients are trying to return to reality. Seriously ill people wake into a world of flashing lights and machines, of disrupted sleep and hospital staff in full PPE.
“It has a huge impact on patients,” explains Krystyna Walton, a consultant in rehabilitation medicine at the Salford Royal Hospital in Greater Manchester. “They are already confused, and it must be incredibly difficult.”
“If somebody has suffered encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and they have memory problems or insight problems, they’re not aware of the way that Covid has affected the world, so they can’t understand why there are no visitors.”
And the social isolation imposed by the pandemic also has repercussions for friends and family.
Hannah Farrell, Simon’s wife, works as a neuro physiotherapist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where he was a patient. She recalls one evening when he was still severely delirious, a nurse she knew rang and suggested that hearing her voice on the phone might calm Simon down.
“Apparently, it settled Simon, but it certainly didn’t settle me,” she says. “I didn’t sleep all night, because Simon just didn’t sound like Simon at all.”
“For me, it was quite upsetting, and I’m sure other relatives have said the same.”
Some patients can still be delirious weeks after waking up.
And delirium, says Kate Tantam, along with other frightening early experiences, “is the key link to post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression” among people who survive their time in ICU.
Roughly one in five people who pass through intensive care in normal times go on to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And the signs are that with Covid patients that number could be considerably higher.
The same goes for more general anxiety and depression after leaving hospital. The extreme circumstances of the Covid pandemic, and the social isolation that has come with it, are likely to make things worse.
The lack of a reassuring family presence, for example, continues to pose additional problems after patients are released from acute hospital wards into care homes and rehabilitation units. Hospitals have invested in iPads to facilitate contact, and family liaison teams make sure video calls take place every day, but it’s not quite the same.
Krystyna Walton gives the example of one of her patients who had severe Covid pneumonia, as well as renal failure and dialysis.
The patient spent several weeks in critical care, and several more on a medical ward before being moved to a rehabilitation ward with cognitive deficits. They have not been able to see their family for three months.
Normally in a rehabilitation unit, staff would try to personalise a patient’s surroundings and encourage them to wear their own clothes. But the restrictions surrounding Covid have prevented much of that.
And because family members are unable to visit, or speak to medical staff face-to-face, they often struggle to understand just how sick their relative has been.
“There are no visitors in care homes, there are no visitors in rehabilitation in the NHS or in the independent sector,” says Krystyna Walton.
“And even after leaving rehab there have been restrictions that we all have had to deal with, which makes it more difficult to visit a vulnerable person in their own home. All of this has a huge psychological impact.”
So, the NHS is going to have to prepare for the possibility of a fresh wave of PTSD patients, just as it is trying to deal with a backlog of mental health (and other) cases which have been neglected during the worst of the pandemic.
“We won’t know for several months how big a problem this is going to be,” says Dorothy Wade.
“To begin with people are very relieved to be out of hospital, especially after such a long stay. Sometimes it can take quite a long time for them to realise that something still isn’t quite right.”
It doesn’t always turn out that way. Alongside post-traumatic stress, doctors acknowledge the concept of post-traumatic growth, and point to patients who emerge from critical care with a new outlook on life.
“There are some people who – no matter how difficult this has been – find themselves in a more positive frame of mind,” explains Julie Highfield, a consultant clinical psychologist based in intensive care units in Cardiff.
“People feel this is a chance they never thought they would have, and they are determined to live their life well.”
Simon Farrell is certainly trying to focus on the positive and he has been recovering week by week. But he admits it has to be tinged with realism.
“I think people feel if they get physically stronger, they’re then mentally stronger and they’re fine. And that’s not always the case. The two are not aligned.”
For many people physical recovery can provide the biggest challenge, particularly if they have spent weeks in intensive care.
“Covid is a nasty, nasty disease that kicks every single system you’ve got in the neck,” says Kate Tantam.
And sometimes when people wake up from four weeks of sedation, like thousands of Covid-19 patients have done, the only thing they can move is their fingertips.
“We have to rebuild everything with them,” she says, “and teach them how to do everything physically again – from being able to feed yourself or being able to touch your hair, to being able to stand and being able to sit.”
A prolonged period of recovery is not unusual after intensive care, but many Covid-19 patients have experienced particularly severe fatigue and muscle wasting. They are exhausted – sitting in a chair for half an hour might be followed by four hours sleep. And rebuilding muscle takes time.
“If we don’t give patients the right level of nutritional input, they are not going to recover,” Kate Tantam says.
So, dieticians have an important role to play, alongside physiotherapists, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists. If you have just survived a multi-system disease which attacks different parts of the body in different ways, it stands to reason that you need various forms of help to recover.
Many Covid patients will return to normal life relatively quickly. But some have suffered kidney failure and may require ongoing renal support, while others will need to be referred to cardiologists or may have developed neurological conditions that require specialist care.
The challenge, says Carl Waldmann, “is to make sure that everyone gets what they need, and that the right support can be provided at the right time.”
“I think the greatest burden will be in the community,” argues Krystyna Walton, “because many of these patients will have quite subtle deficits that will only become evident to them as they start recovering physically, weeks and months after going home.”
The most common physical challenge for recovering Covid-19 patients is shortness of breath – and that can apply to people who had moderate as well as severe symptoms of the disease.
“For patients that are coming out of hospital,” says Sally Singh, “clearly they’re breathless because they’ve had a respiratory disease. Their lungs are temporarily damaged, but they are also deconditioned because they’ve been lying in a hospital bed for so long that they’ve become pretty unfit.”
It means that simple things like going up and down stairs can become extremely challenging, especially in elderly patients.
But breathlessness is an issue that goes well beyond survivors of intensive care. And a significant minority of people who’ve been infected with the coronavirus are still struggling to shake it off.
Jenny Goldblatt, an infectious diseases doctor at the Royal Free Hospital, fell ill with Covid-19 in March and it has lingered ever since – returning in waves of fatigue, chest pains and breathing difficulties.
She spent a couple of days in hospital in March, where she was given a little extra oxygen. But it was only after going home that her problems began in earnest.
“Every 10 days or so I’d start to feel a little better and I’d start to go for longer walks,” she says. “But then I’d crash in a heap and couldn’t get out of bed for a week.”
It was a month after falling ill that she first managed to walk to the end of the road and back. A keen cyclist, her next goal is to cycle around the block.
“I can’t imagine when I will be able to take my bike for a proper ride, and if I think about that too much it gets a bit depressing.”
Jenny thinks she has cleared the virus, and she has “easily detectable” antibodies in her blood, but her body is continuing to react in unusual ways. Post-viral fatigue is not unique to Covid-19, but this is something more.
Jenny has suffered chest pains and breathlessness; other patients with lingering symptoms report severe headaches or abdominal pains. Three months after falling ill, going back to work or resuming normal life is out of the question.
“I am getting better slowly,” she says, “but I can’t be too ambitious. It is frustrating to be on this rollercoaster, with absolutely no idea how long the journey will take.”
Previous medical experience with pneumonia suggests it can take months, or in extreme cases years, for patients to get back to where they were before. With Covid-19, we are still early in the cycle of rehabilitation and recovery, and every patient is different.
“The honest answer is we don’t yet know how long it will take,” says Sally Singh. “People are researching that as we speak – monitoring chest x-rays, symptoms and the wellbeing of patients to help us identify what the best intervention to support these people may be.”
The trouble is the provision of rehabilitation services across the country can be patchy, especially for people emerging from critical care. And the NHS is already dealing with a massive backlog of non-Covid cases that have been delayed.
“The huge challenge,” says Krystyna Walton, “is going to be the increase in numbers.”
At the peak of the outbreak the priority was to get patients out of acute hospital settings quickly to free up bed space. That means in many cases the rehabilitation assessments that would normally be done in hospital would have been done in the community, or in a care home or a non-specialist rehabilitation setting.
“And my suspicion,” Krystyna Walton adds, “is that many patients may have not had their needs assessed properly.”
Carl Waldmann, who has been working on improving the rehabilitation of seriously ill patients for more than 25 years, says one of the best analogies he can think of is building a rocket, and training an astronaut.
“You put them up into space, but you also have to think about where they’re going to land and what we’re going to do when they get back.”
It is the same, he says, if you put a patient through the complexities of intensive care.
“We’ve had some patients who need seven specialists looking after them afterwards,” he says, “and unless they have all those bits of the jigsaw puzzle, there is a chance they won’t make the recovery they could have made.”
It is important to emphasise those rehabilitation needs don’t stop after the immediate recovery period. Many patients will suffer from scarring of the lungs – a permanent and often debilitating condition. Doctors also know that a significant number of people who have been critically ill have suffered cognitive deficits. Ideally they should have screening for return to driving a vehicle, and for return to work.
“Rehabilitation has to sort of blur into real life and getting back out into the community,” says Krystyna Walton, “doing what you used to do before, looking after your family, earning an income, enjoying leisure facilities and exercise.”
“And that is what takes time and expertise.”
The NHS and individual hospitals are of course building rehabilitation into their Covid recovery plans, but this is a system that has been overlooked for years. Experts in the field hope, despite all the pressures, that Covid will provide a launch pad for change.
“Hospitals are very good at treating people, doing something to somebody to make them better,” says Kate Tantam. “But what they are not always very good at is prioritising the therapeutic and rehabilitation input afterwards.”
It is, in other words, not just about survival, it is about health-related quality of life.
“There is no point giving somebody a massive intensive care stay, if you don’t try to return them to where they want to be.”
Additional reporting: Oliver Barnes
Illustrations: Emma Lynch
When you talk to intensive care doctors across the UK, exhausted after weeks of dealing with the ravages of Covid-19, one phrase emerges time after time: “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
They knew a new disease was coming, and they were expecting resources to be stretched by an unknown respiratory infection which had first appeared in China at the end of last year.
And as the number of cases increased, doctors up and down the UK were reading first-hand accounts from colleagues in China, and then in Italy – in scientific journals and on social media – about the intensity of infection.
“It felt in some ways like we were trying to prepare for the D-Day landings,” says Barbara Miles, clinical director of intensive care at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, “with three weeks to get ready and not a great deal of knowledge about what we would be facing”.
But what arrived in the UK as winter turned into spring took even the most experienced ICU specialists by surprise.