Transcript: Coronavirus has its red letter day

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This is a full transcript of Coronavirus has its red letter day as first broadcast on 25 March. Presented by Beth Rose

BETH -Welcome to the second episode of BBC Ouch's Cabin Fever podcast. Since the last one just a few days ago things have moved on more quickly than we may have imagined. There are more stringent rules about when you can't go outside, 1.5 million people classed as high risk are set to receive letters advising them to shield for 12 weeks, and the government is debating emergency legislation which will impact every facet of society. But what's it like at ground level?

I'm Beth Rose and I'm recording this at my dining room table in London. Also in the virtual studio with me today is Octavia Woodward.

OCTAVIA - Hi, my name's Octavia. I'm recording this in my mum's kitchen, and I have spinal muscular atrophy.

BETH -We've also got fellow journalist, Bryony Hopkins.

BRYONY - Hi. I'm Bryony. I'm recording this from my flat in London with no outside space whatsoever, and I've turned my dressing table into a podcast studio.

BETH -And we've also gone beyond the BBC walls, but only slightly, by inviting John Cervantes into the fold. If you're a real Ouch follower you might remember John from BBC Ouch's very first Storytelling Live show in 2017, where John told us all about how he found love during a mental health crisis. Hi John.

JOHN - Hi. Great to be back in the Ouch family. I'm currently recording from my one bedroom flat in South London. I have a sort of kitchen cum dining room. The nice thing about it is I've got a view of green space at least.

BETH -Oh, so when I said I was at my dining room table that's a bit grand, because I'm in a one bedroom flat as well, [laughter] so I'm basically in the gap between sofa and kitchen. John, so your big story in Storytelling Live was the fact that you found your girlfriend during a mental health crisis.

JOHN -Yes.

BETH -Are you still with her?

JOHN -I am. We've been together now for six and a half years. [cheering]

BETH -Okay, so that is the round table today. A bit of a reminder, this is one of our chatty podcasts, and we're all recording it via a concoction of internet and phone methods, so it might not sound as slick as normal. I think she's gone, totally.

OCTAVIA - Oh no, the Wi-Fi in Somerset. I didn't catch any of that. [Voice: Enter your participant ID. You are in the meeting now.]

JOHN -Hey, there you are.

BETH -Things are changing so quickly we're not going to give any hard and fast information, but what we do know is that 1.5 million people, classed as high risk, are going to receive letters or texts from the government asking them to shield for 12 weeks. That basically means do not leave your house. Now, at risk people include those who have received organ transplants, those living with severe respiratory conditions or those with specific cancers. Now, I feel very forward asking you this, Octavia, but are you expecting one?

OCTAVIA - So, I am expecting one. I haven't received one yet, but people with my condition have been receiving texts pretty much saying you are vulnerable, please do not leave the house apart from having carers visit. Are you guys expecting one?

BRYONY -I'm expecting one as well, so I have Crohn's disease, which is a form of inflammatory bowel disease which is an autoimmune disorder, so I come under the category of people who are on immunosuppressant drugs. It's interesting with people with IBD, because it's quite nuanced depending on what medications you're on and where your condition is at. So some people are at the same risk as the rest of the population, whereas I, because of the specific medications I'm on, I fall into the high to moderate risk. I haven't received anything yet either, but I do know that other people with the same condition have.

JOHN -I'm not expecting anything because I've only just recently been discharged from Mental Health Services for another sort of 16 week round of therapy, and I don't think I'd count anyway. But my mother is in a high risk group because she's got advanced cancer, so we're sort of expecting a letter for her and she's already had some kind of quite frightening warnings from the NHS about what might happen to her treatment if things start to sort of escalate.

BETH -Do the letters go any further than what we're hearing generally, which is stay inside as much as you possibly can?

OCTAVIA - So this is the text that my friend who has a condition got from NHS Coronavirus Service. 'We have identified that you're someone at risk of severe illness if you catch coronavirus. Please remain at home for the minimum of 12 weeks. Home is the safest place for you. Staying in helps you stay well and will help the NHS too. You can open a window but do not leave your home and stay three steps away from others indoors. Wash your hands more often for at least 20 seconds. Read more advice here'.

BRYONY -Open your window. I think the advice is confusing as well, because I thought if you walked for half an hour somewhere where there were absolutely no people then that would be okay, but that text sounds like that's not the case.

BETH -And when we spoke to you last week, Octavia, you were literally packing up your London flat where you have, was it three assistants who help you, and you are moving back to Somerset with your mum because your care package couldn't withstand Coronavirus?

OCTAVIA -Pretty much. So I came back down because even though one carer was still willing to come down from London I didn't really feel comfortable with it. And also, how? Because transport's shutting down. We didn't know if London was going to be locked down. So Mum's been doing my care on the weekend and I have someone who lives in Southampton doing the week days. And then you're kind of also like for how long is it safe to keep that going? I mean, we don't know how long this is going to last for, so you don't want to jump the gun and get rid of care and then my mum not being able to cope.

BETH -And what we should also say is it's not advised to travel cross country in case you do spread the Covid-19 virus, but it's an impossible situation isn't it and you need to have people supporting you and if the only way is to go home that's obviously what you have to do. How is your mum finding this new responsibility?

OCTAVIA - She's happy now that she could physically see me. She was kind of obsessed with the fact that I might have Corona up in London. Every time I coughed she was like, "Oh my god," and now she kind of saw me and was like, "Oh, you're fine." I'm like, "Yeah."

BRYONY -She can look after you now. She's got mum vibes.

OCTAVIA - She has got mum vibes. I don't know how long the novelty will last for, so we'll have to see how it goes.

BETH -Bryony, so you're expecting a letter.


BETH -How does Crohn's impact you and how is it exacerbated with Covid-19?

BRYONY -So Crohn's Disease is an autoimmune condition. It basically means that my digestive system attacks itself, so it causes really unpleasant symptoms. Lots of pain, fatigue, nausea. Those are kind of all symptoms that I've got used to living with because I was diagnosed with Crohn's when I was four. So it's really just part of my life, and it's really interesting because I have been on immunosuppressant medication for as long as I can remember. When I think about it I walk around every single day with the possibility of picking something up because my immune system's so compromised and never have I been in a scenario where actually those drugs which are actually keeping my Crohn's in check is actually what is putting me at risk.

And there was a really big debate when this advice started coming up about underlying health conditions and immunosuppressant drugs and whether people should come off their medication, and the advice very strongly from Crohn's and Colitis UK, which is the charity, was that coming off your medication is actually putting you at more risk because then it makes your disease flare which also puts you at risk.

So my brain has kind of been just massively at sea, and from one hour to the next I'm not really quite sure how I feel, but I've had lots of big operations and I've been on medication for as long as I can remember and I've never suffered from health anxiety and now I really feel like it's something that's coming into my life on a daily basis and it's quite unexpected.

BETH -How are you managing that and what steps are you taking to cut down contact with anyone?

BRYONY -My partner is working from home with me, so I've been working from home for the past two weeks. Obviously after the 12 week advice came out at the weekend from Boris, and then following this week the 1.5 million people will be getting letters, we have decided to isolate together. Because obviously with the advice that if you are living in a shared house is that if someone is going out into the world and coming back in then you shouldn't use the same bathroom, you shouldn't share the same bed, all of those things are very impractical when we live in a one bedroom flat.

So we're going to attempt to stay within these four walls for the next 12 weeks, but we're having to have some pretty hard discussions about how we're going to access food. We're thinking about getting some gloves and a mask so that when my partner goes to get food he's not bringing anything back into the home. But it's just completely uncharted territory isn't it and you're having to think about things that you just never thought you would have to think about.

BETH -Octavia, what's your mum doing if she has to go out shopping to get food? Is she then keeping away from you when she returns?

OCTAVIA - So we try to get someone to drop off shopping, but then when lock down happened it's becoming increasingly difficult. We called Morrisons to see if we counted as an NHS worker, because in theory she's a carer, but no, we don't. So my mum has to be super, super careful, or we try and get deliveries from any more shops open.

BRYONY - Yes, we're in such a similar scenario. Like there just are barely any online shops for food deliveries.

JOHN - It's been a real nightmare. Both of my parents are in the 12 week lockdown because my dad's got a heart condition and my mum's got cancer, and trying to find a way of safely getting them shopping is an absolutely nightmare. Because if you go to a supermarket, unless you have some sort of key worker ID they aren't letting you in in the early morning slots. And I haven't been able to find anywhere to get them a food delivery at the moment.

BRYONY - Ocado have suspended new customers and I'm not a customer currently. So my mum was trying to call up and see if she could direct an order from her account to our flat and then that means that my partner doesn't have to leave. And Sainsbury's says they're prioritising those with health conditions, but apparently you're going to be looking at hours on the phone to try and get a slot. Fun times!

OCTAVIA - It's really weird not going out as well. You get in a weird mental state where you don't know what the outside world is like anymore. One minute I'm really worried and I need to do everything possible and then I'm like so I just need to relax.

BRYONY -I feel exactly the same. Like one minute I'm like I shouldn't even open the window, I need to wash my hands 27 times, which by the way, my hands are actually like sandpaper, I've washed my hands so often. Even though I'm not leaving the flat anymore.

OCTAVIA - I found moisturising antibacterial gel and it's saved my life.

BRYONY -Stop! Oh my goodness. Where did you find that? Do they do home deliveries? It's the only way I'm going to get some. [laughs]

JOHN -One of my friends with chronic anxiety, a bit like me, was joking that we sort of all suddenly feel very average because everybody's started worrying about things now.

BETH -How are you managing with it all, John?

JOHN -I'm quite lucky in the sense that I live with my partner who's also got experience of anxiety. I'm trying to do simple things really to keep on top of the bizarre nature of how things keep changing. So I'm trying to stick to a routine and making sure that I get up and get dressed as if I was going to work. I'm trying to replace my commute with going out for a morning run. And just trying to structure my time, making sure that if I've got work to do I really do just keep it nine to five and then have down time in the evening. And I've started opening up virtual pubs with my friends, so I'm spending the evenings talking to them over Skype and just keeping in contact.

BRYONY -Yes, I think that's really important.

JOHN -I've been surprised how creative people have been getting as well at doing virtual cinemas, having virtual meals with each other. A couple of my friends have even taken to Skyping each other during the day so they can do work together.

I think at a time when a lot of people are feeling very anxious about things it's very reassuring that everybody's kind of clubbing together and trying to help each other.

BRYONY -Yes, I've been doing one lovely thing every day, which is basically just one lovely thing that is going to make me feel good. So yesterday it was actually just a cup of tea, which sounds really small, but that was just something that I could look forward to late in the day. And the other one was trying to meditate and do some home workouts. And I know it's going to get more difficult as the weeks go on to try and find a new lovely thing that is going to lift my mood, or something that I haven't done before, but I think it's really important, like John said, to kind of keep some sort of routine so that all the days don't blur into one.

JOHN -Yes, and I think keeping on top of that idea of self-care is really important as well. I mean, I've even made up emergency kits for myself for the days that get really bad that I'm starting to feel really low and kind of filling them with DVDs and chocolate and stuff like that that I might want to use in a bit of an emergency situation. [laughs]

BRYONY -I think I'm going to do that. Chocolate, maybe 'Sex and the City', maybe a face mask.

JOHN -Face mask, yeah. My partner's got face masks.

OCTAVIA - I kind of knew it would affect me mentally and that it would be really hard, but I think it was like Friday or Saturday it kind of hit and it kind of hit that I didn't know when this was going to end. I picked myself up again but it is just a really weird thing. And also just not knowing how to react.

BRYONY -I'm literally nodding furiously and realise no one can see me nodding, agreeing with what you're saying. It's almost like going through the four steps of grief. Like, I think I was in denial last week.

OCTAVIA - It was a weird novelty.

BRYONY -Yeah, it was like oh, isn't this fun, we're all working from home, and then it was this weekend, and actually listening to Boris when he talked about the 12 week isolation and explaining shielding, even though we already knew that was going to be a concept and I already knew that I was going to be in that group, hearing it really knocked me sideways actually. It was like I was processing the information all over again.

JOHN -I think the other problem is, because things keep changing so rapidly that at the moment I think it's really alarming for people to keep up with all the updates. Because obviously everybody wants the latest information so that they're safe, but every time you watch the news you're not getting any positive fluffy stories that give you a nice little hit of dopamine or serotonin, everything's kind of alarming and stuff at the moment. So I've tried to set myself a rule of checking in with news and social media sort of a few times a day if I can, and it helps keep you away from too much negativity I suppose.

OCTAVIA - It's weird because, pre Corona you're pointedly told that social media, too much of it is bad and you should go and see your real friends and do all that, and then suddenly social media has become your only lifeline to the outside world.

BETH -I think also the weekends are difficult, because during the week we've sort of got a routine basically, we have bits of work to do and you try to get up roughly the same time, listen to the same radio stations, but I've found of Friday night when everyone was WhatsApp-ing and messaging like, "See you next week, have a good weekend," and then Friday night I was like, oh my god, this is it. And there's like nothing to fill the days with anymore.

OCTAVIA - Yes, and I was trying to read this book over the weekend but I didn't really want to concentrate and it all felt a bit weird. There was nothing else to do. But you saw people going out and then you were like, so is it only just me staying in? It was a bit of a head trip, I think I'm getting over it now, but it was a very weird weekend.

BRYONY -Yeah, it was super weird. And I was the same, I was like maybe I'll read a book now. And I've just got a front room and a bedroom and I was like I'll just take myself to the bedroom, that's a different space, I'll try and read my book. And it was the same, I couldn't focus on the words and normally that is quite a respite for me. And I'm just hoping it gets easier once this all becomes a bit more normal. But the hazard of being a journalist as well, there's no escape from that. It's an interesting time.

BETH -Do you think a positive of this is that more people are talking about mental health? In all the government announcements they're keeping open the parks in part to keep people happy and energised. So is this maybe a good moment for mental health?

JOHN -I think it's really positive from the point of view of people are very aware of it and they're very aware of the effects that kind of isolation could be having on people. And I think there's a general greater sense of empathy in the community because we're all sort of together in this. I think people are less afraid at the moment to sort of check in and ask whether you're feeling okay, and I think it is great that the government have been kind of mentioning mental health when they've been talking about this, because as the weeks go on I think making sure that you are being empathetic towards others and keeping in touch with them and sharing bits of your life and keeping in contact over kind of the internet, social media, will become more and more important.

BRYONY -I think that's a really good point actually and I've probably had more digital contact and Facetimes and house parties and Zooms with all of my friends across the country than I probably ever have done. So, like you said, the communication is really open.

OCTAVIA - I almost wish before when I had to isolate for non Corona reasons, I know it's obviously different but I was like oh, it is good that we're all in this together. And I think from a physically disabled point of view it's kind of interesting because able bodied people are having to adapt to be able to not do things physically any more and that's kind of what a lot of us have been doing our entire lives. In a positive way it kind of feels like we're all in the same boat a bit more. So it's kind of weird but nice.

BRYONY -I have had very long periods of isolation when I've been really unwell or I've had really big operations, you know, I've had most of my bowel removed, so I've been in isolation in that recovery sense, and it is true, I hadn't realised how many tools I have already in my bank of coping mechanisms to deal with something like this. I do feel like we have a bit of an edge.

JOHN -It's funny actually. One of my friends who's got quite bad anxiety at the moment was saying that in a weird way one of the silver linings of this situation is he doesn't feel embarrassed about telling people that he's not comfortable going out. Because usually when he goes through anxious periods he doesn't want to go out and see friends and he always gets very upset about baling on plans to see people and stuff like that. And in a weird way he sort of feels quite comforted at the moment that there's no sort of stigma about the fact that he doesn't want to go out.

BETH -How is it impacting you, John? You said you've just come to the end of some treatment, that you finished it right bang in the middle as the pandemic strikes. Is it impacting you or are you actually quite resilient at the moment?

JOHN -It's strange. Because I had just come out of 16 weeks of treatment I was ready to kind of get back into my social life, getting outdoors more and stuff like that, and obviously that's not really a possibility in the same way anymore. So it does feel very strange, really unfortunate timing. But yes, I guess the fact that I am just coming out of another sort of 16 weeks of therapy means that I do feel more resilient than I might have felt four weeks ago, eight weeks ago. I am sort of really thankful in an odd way that the way it's been timed is that I'm kind of on a kind of upswing, if you like, at the moment.

BRYONY -John, it's funny that you say that actually because I was really unwell over Christmas and into January and I just started a course of steroids in February, which have actually put my Crohn's in a really good place. And ironically the steroids is actually what puts me at really high risk, so I'm at home and I can't go anywhere but I'm actually feeling pretty good in comparison to where I was. It's strange timing.

JOHN -Yes, very strange.

BETH -We like to keep these podcasts short and snappy, so we should probably sign off, but it's been great to hear everyone getting in contact with BBC Ouch, especially after the first Cabin Fever episode. And some of you have even sent in queries which we're doing our best to resolve.

We had an email from Alan who said he's really worried about how to renew his Blue Badge and fears that if it runs out it will force him onto public transport. I've been in contact with the Department for Transport who say they are working with local authorities and stakeholders as a matter of urgency. So if we find out soon we'll let you know, Alan.

Also, Lacey got in touch and she says like Emma she's blind and the whole touching thing during Coronavirus made me really nervous, but she said Emma's approach is helpful and validating because I'm not overacting.

And here's a question for all of us, I mean we're not giving hard and fast advice, Sharon, but Sharon emailed in and said, "I'm limited in my walking and have a Blue Badge. Do you think it's okay for me to get out of the house for a time, take a drive in my car and get some fresh air and relieve the stress of being cooped up with my family 24/7?" What do you reckon?

BRYONY -I think it very much depends I suppose whether she's in the category of people that need to be shielded, but I am personally of the opinion that if you can get fresh air it's really good for your mental health.

OCTAVIA - I mean the only worry I'd have, like this is the thing, I don't know if I'm becoming a hypochondriac, would be like door handles or stuff? But if you kind of wipe those down then surely in theory your car is as isolated as your indoors. I mean, anything you can do to help your mental health while being safe is being sensible.

JOHN -I think I saw a similar question being asked on the BBC the other day, and I think it was the Deputy Chief Medical Officer said that if you stay in your car and you don't leave your car and you're going just to sort of get a drive and a change of scenery then that does sort of still count as self-isolation. So if it improves your mental health then therefore it's a good idea, if it's safe.

BETH -So hopefully that gives you some more opinions to take on board, Sharon. If anyone else wants to get in touch we are on Facebook, we're just BBC Ouch. On Twitter we're @bbcouch, and our email address is As well as this Cabin Fever strand Ouch presenter Kate Monaghan has started the Isolation Diary, following her family's life in isolation, which started a few weeks ago actually. It follows the highs and lows and there's some highbrow debates about whether the cats can go out and whether they catch Coronavirus themselves.

And you can also hear our entire BBC Ouch archive which is always available on BBC Sounds. And that really is it for this episode of Cabin Fever. And it's probably time we started playing the really intense soundtrack. But we'll speak to you soon. Bye.



JOHN -Bye.

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