In other (less corrupt, less incompetent) parts of the world, the topic of conversation is turning from one of frustration to one of hope. With the arrival of vaccines and phases for their distribution on the agenda, many people can see the pandemic’s end in sight. Countries hit hard by the pandemic, like the UK, are already implementing roll-out plans. Seeing as South Africa will not experience this feeling of hope for a while, it helps to talk to people who have had the vaccine and whose lives are returning to some semblance of normality.

Tarryn Walton arrived in the United Kingdom on the 3rd of March 2020 to help her gran emigrate. She was supposed to be there until the 19th of March but, true to the uncertain and chaotic nature of 2020, her flight was postponed (seemingly indefinitely) because of COVID-19. Tarryn planned to be home by February 2021. When the opportunity to stay in the UK and get vaccinated came, Tarryn changed her plans (again!).

She is now waiting to get the second jab, 12 weeks following her first one.

Tarryn arrived in the UK with just one suitcase and the equivalent of about R4 000. She has been stuck in the UK since March 2020. Naturally, she started looking for work to support herself and help her gran. Since August, Tarryn has been lucky to secure a job looking after individuals with disabilities and mental health disorders (talk about an essential Hero…). Tarryn helps them live as independently as possible: she is classified as front line/ keyworker.

While Tarryn’s hours have not been negatively affected by UK’s continuous lockdowns, she does have to take COVID swabs every week for work, which are a pain (metaphorically and physically). On top of that, she works on average 48 to 62 hours a week. This is, apparently, the nature of the job.

Sometimes, she does ‘sleep-ins’ in which she stays the night at patient’s houses and is on a 10pm – 6am sleep schedule. There are even 24 hour and 32-hour shifts, resulting in Tarryn sometimes having to work 110 hours a week. Jeepers.

Tarryn recalls how, during the first lockdown (March-May 2020), people were panicking. This reaction trended at all countries that went into lockdown: panic buying and sold-out toilet paper were not unique to the UK. Neither were the calls for social distance, painted 1.5meter lines on shopping centre floors and the despised mask-mandate. There were daily government addresses in the UK, and

“one day, the Queen even addressed the nation, which is apparently a huge deal. I was excited to experience that” says Tarryn.

The motto for the first lockdown was ‘stay home, help the NHS save lives.’

Then, in the words of the UK’s iconic band ‘The Beetles’, ‘here comes the sun’.

With the arrival of summer, bars, pubs and restaurants began to open. A return to normalcy was on the horizon. The government even created a scheme called ‘Eat Out to Help Out‘. People were encouraged to go out and support restaurants and the struggling economy.

“It was so stupid,” says Tarryn “and got to the point where the government would literally pay 50% of your meal if you went to participating restaurants”. Obviously, Tarryn and the rest of the UK ‘went out’.

Then winter hit with a vengeance. By the Prime Minister insisting against another nationwide lockdown to curb the second wave, a ‘tier’ system was implemented. There were three tiers, with the most high-risk areas in the highest tier bracket and having the most severe restrictions. People were frustrated, naturally, and would just travel to lower risk areas to eat out and go to pubs.

Because of this, the UK is now in another nationwide lockdown and have been so for about a month. The lockdown measures don’t really impact Tarryn, because she does the same work regardless of the restrictions. Tarryn explains that in general, people are angrier the second time around. Before the second lockdown, Tarryn went into London and came across a protest-turned-violent riot of anti-vaxxers and COVID Deniers.

“The protestors even told us to take our masks off because apparently, COVID-19 is a conspiracy theory,” said Tarryn.

The second lockdown is all about ‘hands, face, space’. There are also government-created ‘Support Bubbles‘, which is another thing that confuses people. “For example,” explains Tarryn “I live with my gran and mom, and we are my brother’s support bubble. So, he can visit us, but we can’t see my aunt or my grandad or anyone else. England doesn’t seem to understand that.”

On the positive side, the vaccines are being rolled out in the UK. The second phase included key workers: Tarryn falls into this category.

“I got vaccinated on the 21st of January”, she said “and was told by my work that vaccination was voluntary “for now””. She was sent a link by her company to book vaccines online at her local hospital. After being walked through the process, Tarryn waited in a queue with other care workers and then “literally got a jab into my upper left arm.”

She was advised to choose her less-dominant arm because the vaccine would hurt for a few days.

Upon getting the jab, Tarryn felt nothing: no pain. She explained that the worst part of the experience was “having to go into a waiting room for 15 minutes after the jab to see if I reacted negatively. This part was eery because I was in a silent room with strangers wearing masks and feeling every feeling in my body, hoping that it wasn’t a side effect.”

After that, says Tarryn, you signed out, and it was done. On explaining her reason to get vaccinated, she said that she isn’t a vulnerable person but works with people more susceptible to getting COVID 19.

Tarryn also intends to come home as soon as possible and is cautious of the new variant of COVID. She agrees that ‘South Africa is incompetent with everything, so organising the vaccines is a doubtful endeavour in South Africa”.

Besides having a very sore arm that felt heavy for two days (weird, right?!), Tarryn has not experienced any side effects and is now waiting for the second jab before booking her flight back to South Africa.

Kathryn van den Berg

When trying to come up with an alias for my blog, I turned to words people have used to describe me for inspiration. The term 'control freak' popped up in my mind, but I'm not that confrontational and opinionated (anymore...). And so came into existence a happy compromise between my A-type personality and sense of humour.

Kathryn is The Control Enthusiast.