I was having a coffee in the Snooty Fox, Tetbury, not far from where Prince Charles has his private residence when my friend Janet told me Boris Johnson was due to speak in a couple of hours.
I received a text message from Romania that the British prime minister was about to hold a press conference.
Europe was waiting for Mr. Johnson’s annoucement: from east to west.
On Saturday, the number of confirmed cases in the UK surpassed the one million mark. In comparison, Romania exceeded a quarter million on Monday.
I left the Snooty Fox (‘Vulpea Ingamfata’ for Romanian readers), a charming inn in a quaint town in the Cotswolds, a region of rolling hills that got rich on the wool trade, and looks like it belongs in the 14th century when English writer Geoffrey Chaucer was alive.
I headed south to the M4 and on to London.
If times had been different, I would have had dinner at the Snooty Fox with my friends.
For days it had been rumored that Britain would follow France and Germany into lockdown. So much for Brexit: London was taking its cue from the continent.
British Airways had already canceled flights to Bucharest for November. By the end of October it was the only airline that had daily flights to the Romanian capital.
On Thursday, when I headed out, there were 15 people on the flight. After Boris Johnson’s announcement, the flight was nearly full: workers, mothers with children and others. A young woman told me she wanted to get back to Romania as soon as possible.
It was hardly surprising. Britain confirmed 21,915 new cases on Saturday and 23,254 on Sunday. The coronavirus spike shows no sign of abating.
The latest government figures also show that 162 Covid-19 related deaths were recorded on Sunday, down from the 326 reported on Saturday.
By the time I reached Heathrow, the news was out. England was headed for a second lockdown. The BBC was on in the Thistle Hotel where I was staying and people hovered around the screen in the lobby, masked up and socially distanced.
In the Gloucester hotel where I had been staying (I was in the UK for a family funeral), staff were uncertain about what would be next. They’d heard the rumors. There were some Halloween decorations up in the lobby and staff were friendly, but apprehensive.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, whether we’ll still be allowed to open,” one told me.
The furlough scheme in which the government pays employees 80% of their wage if they can’t work due to the pandemic was due to end in November. It’s now been extended.
England officially starts the four-week lockdown on Thursday which ends on Dec.2.
Under the new rules, people are allowed to leave home for education, for work that can’t be done at home, for essentials, to escape harm, to volunteer, to exercise and to meet up with someone in your ‘bubble.’
People are banned from going on holiday. The only reason people can travel internationally or within the UK is for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions.
Overnight stays away from primary residences aren’t allowed, except for specific exceptions including for work.
The announcement sparked panic buying in supermarkets: toilet roll rush, Episode 2. On Monday shoppers were flocking to Oxford Street, the Mecca for Christmas shopping to snap up gifts. I imagine the ringing of the tills must have been music to retailers’ ears in these frugal pandemic times.
Unlike in Romania, the British government goes into people’s homes and tells them how many people they can invite to their homes. British people have a habit of meeting each other in their homes rather than going to restaurants which will close from Thursday.
The British, however, would probably never accept filling out forms like we did in Romania for the first two months of the lockdown, and even if they were asked to, there wouldn’t be enough police to check them.
People are generally more law-abiding in Britain, but protests are more violent there.
“We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature,” the British prime minister said, almost sounding poetic. “The virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario of our scientific advisers.”
I went to the hotel restaurant (all restaurants have to close by 10 pm) which looks directly on to the runway and ordered a curry and watched British Airway planes take off into the night sky, one by one, fewer than before.
I arrived back in Bucharest and went into quarantine. I’ll definitely return to the Snooty Fox when this pandemic passes.