Like millions of others around the world, Gulf News Foreign Correspondent Mick O’Reilly is currently under COVID-19 lockdown. This is what life is like in social isolation in Ireland, where there are strict rules about who is allowed out, where, and under limited circumstances.
Wednesday June 3, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
LOOKING FORWARD TO GREATER FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
IF ALL GOES TO PLAN, I’LL BE ABLE TO MOVE 20KM FROM HOME
Day 66 of this lockdown. That’s nearly 1,600 hours of confinement. And unlike prison, there’s no time off for good behaviour.
But there is hope – and the knowledge that everyone one of us who stick by lockdown rules are helping win the battle against coronavirus.
There will be no medal. There will be no parade. Just the reward of being able to say with pride that we all did our bit when it was asked of us.
But there is light at the end of what is a very long tunnel.
Ireland has laid out a five-phase approach to lifting the lockdowns, with each phase spaced three weeks apart to ensure that the lifting eliminates every likelihood of a more deadly second wave.
Phase easing COVID-19 restrictions is due to kick in next Monday, June 8, should public health officials advise it’s safe to proceed to the next phase of Ireland’s roadmap.
Recent weeks have seen the country slowly move towards some semblance of normality during Phase 1 with public health officials expressing cautious optimism as Ireland continues to stop the spread of coronavirus.
LOOKING AT REDUCING 2 METRES SOCIAL DISTANCE TO 1 METRE
On Monday evening, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), headed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, confirmed one death and 77 new cases of coronavirus. One day last week, there were zero deaths.
Last week saw a number of cabinet ministers call for the relaxing of certain public health measures including reducing the two-metre distancing rule to one metre, a move ruled out by Holohan.
At the start of May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a five-step roadmap for lifting the measures put in place by the government to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Under the plan, each phase will last three weeks. The document outlines how each phase impacts different sectors – for example education and sport – what will be allowed at each phase, and under what conditions.
With Phase 1 almost over, the country is due to move to Phase 2 next week.
First off, public health advice is still for people to avoid unnecessary journeys but people will be able to travel up to 20 kilometres from their home from Monday, if all goes to plan. I can’t wait for that to happen. As someone who was used to travelling across Europe before the pandemic, the prospect now of being able to go 20kms is positively joyful now
FOUR PEOPLE WILL BE ALLOWED TO GATHER FOR SOCIAL VISITS
In terms of social visits, up to four people may visit another household for a short period while maintaining strict social distancing from next Monday. For the first time since lockdown measures were introduced, Irish people will be permitted to visit their family in their respective homes.
Social distancing must still be adhered to. The advice is to respect the two-metre distancing which we have all become accustomed to over the last 11 weeks.
This advice is not solely for family members. The Phase 2 easing states: “Up to four people may visit another household for a short period of time but everyone must keep at least two metres apart from people they don’t live with.”
Visits to homes of over 70s and medically vulnerable are allowed but by no more than a small number of people for a short period of time. People will have to wear gloves, face coverings and maintain social distancing.
As part of Phase 2, slightly larger groups of people will be allowed to attend funerals. Yes, up to this point, only 10 could father for a funeral, which was heart-breaking and added to the sense of loss for the too many families who lost too many loved ones during this pandemic.
RETAIL SERVICES WILL BEGIN TO REOPEN
Looking at economic activity, workers who can maintain working from home should continue to do so during this period. Organisations were asked at the outset of the roadmap being published to develop plans for a return to onsite working by employees in light of COVID-19.
Small retail outlets can reopen with small numbers of staff on the basis that the retailer can control the number of individuals that staff and customers interact with at any given time. Cattle and livestock marts – places of great social value where gossip is exchanged as the deals are done, can reopen where social distancing can be maintained.
In terms of cultural and social measures, public libraries with limited numbers can reopen from next Monday.
People will also be permitted to engage in outdoor sporting and fitness activities, involving small group team sports training – but no games will be permitted – as long as social distancing can be maintained.
IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT IRELAND’S PUBS WILL REMAIN CLOSED
Pubs will remain shut until at least Phase 4, which is slated to be on 20 July. Some cafés and restaurants will open in Phase 3, which is set for June 29.
As things stand, the nation will have to wait until Phase 5 on August 10 for most of life to return to some semblance of normality. This is the phase where shopping centres, cinemas, bowling alleys and bingo halls can reopen where numbers can be limited. The same goes for pubs, nightclubs and casinos.
For all this to happen, Ireland must continue to report low levels of infection.
NPHET is due to brief the government later this week and make its recommendations as to whether Ireland can proceed to Phase 2 of the roadmap with Varadkar likely to announce on Friday that Phase 2 will begin on Monday.
What I like is that we have all bought into this phased reopening and we are all doing our bit to make sure that happens. Yes, it might be an overly cautious approach, but that seems far more acceptable that the disorderly chaos that seems evident in Britain. Northern Ireland, which shares an open border with the Republic of Ireland on the island of Ireland, is following the Republic’s softly-softly approach.
UK MULLS 'AIR BRIDGES' TO REPLACE CORONAVIRUS QUARANTINE FOR ARRIVALS
Yes, there is confusion in the UK, and no, I’m not just writing this to be negative.
If you look at the move now to bring in mandatory quarantine for arrivals to the UK form overseas – Ireland is exempt – the reaction has been largely opposed. It’s something that should have been done months ago, when the UK first went into lockdown in mid-March.
British government ministers are aiming to replace coronavirus quarantine for people arriving at airports by the end of June, with so-called air bridges being considered as an option, the Telegraph newspaper reported. The policy of air bridges is meant to enable people from other countries who have achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection to come to Britain.
The Department for Transport and the Home Office have been told to plan to allow for their introduction by the end of the month, according to the newspaper.
Britain’s quarantine for travellers arriving from abroad will be introduced from June 8, Interior Minister Priti Patel said in May. All international arrivals, including returning Britons, will have to self-isolate for 14 days and provide details of where they will be staying under the plans, which were criticised by airlines, business groups and politicians alike.
British officials are working to strike deals with foreign countries to make them exempt, the Telegraph reported.
Now it has also emerged that people will get into their quarantine places by public transport and they can offer several different addresses if necessary.
What’s more, the police will have few powers to enforce the quarantine orders – and only one-in-five of those in quarantine will likely be checked.
Besides, if you do want to get into the UK from anywhere in the world, all you have to do is fly into Dublin, Cork or Shannon first!
COVID-19: SHOULD SOCIAL DISTANCING BE 1 OR 2 METRES?
Part of the debate of how to reopen centres on whether social distancing should come into effect at one metre or two metres. The standard, if I can use such a word during this pandemic, is generally two metres.
Those pushing for quicker reopenings also generally tend to favour one metre over the two.
Now, a study almost 8,000 cases of different coronaviruses has found that there is a “much lower risk” of transmission when physical distance is greater than one metre.
The study also outlines that the wearing of face masks is not an alternative to physical distancing or basic measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as hand hygiene.
The risk of COVID-19 infection is as low as three per cent when people stand more than a metre away from an infected individual, compared to 13 per cent when the distance is within a metre, according to the study published in |The Lancet.
The modelling also found that for every extra metre further away up to three metres, the risk of infection or transmission may halve, with no conclusions as to whether distances of more than two metres were more effective.
ANALYSING DATA FROM SARS, MERS AND COVID-19
The study analysed data from nine studies of SARS, MERS and Covid-19 made up of 7,782 participants, and its authors noted that the certainty of their evidence on physical distancing is moderate.
It was carried out to inform World Health Organisation guidance, and is the first time researchers have examined the use of protective measures in both community and healthcare settings for COVID-19.
It found that although physical distancing, face coverings and eye protection could be the best way to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, none offered complete protection, even when they were properly used and combined.
Thirteen studies across all three viruses which focused on eye protection found that face shields, goggles, and glasses were associated with lower risk of infection, compared with no eye covering at all.
However, the study’s authors noted that their certainty of the evidence for eye coverings is low.
Meanwhile, evidence from ten studies across all three viruses found similar benefits for face masks in general.
The risk of infection or transmission when wearing a mask was found to be three per cent compared with 17 per cent when a mask was not worn – although the evidence for this was based on low certainty.
The authors also noted that there were concerns that mass face mask use risked diverting supplies from health-care workers and other caregivers at the highest risk of infection.
FACE MASKS FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC
“We believe that solutions should be found for making face masks available to the general public,” co-author Dr Derek Chu of at McMaster University said.
“However, people must be clear that wearing a mask is not an alternative to physical distancing, eye protection or basic measures such as hand hygiene, but might add an extra layer of protection.”
In Ireland, current government advice is that people should wear face coverings on public transport, in supermarkets or other situations where it is difficult to practice social distancing.
The government has requested that PPE masks and medical/surgical masks, which are of a higher regulatory standard than cloth face coverings, be reserved for use in healthcare settings.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the research, said: “The most useful finding is that physical distancing matters. There have been plenty of complaints that the guidance in the UK on two metres distance is excessive because it is more than in other countries. But this review supports it.
“Maintaining this distance is likely to reduce risk compared to one metre. Thus, where possible, this is the distance that retailers and employers should use as more premises and workplaces reopen in the future. This is going to be very difficult in some settings but is important and we’ll all need to get used to maintaining this distance for some months to come.”
EUROPE EASES LOCKDOWNS AT A DIFFERENT PACE
The first day of June saw coronavirus restrictions ease from Asia to Europe as the Colosseum reopened its ancient doors in Rome, ferries restarted in Bangladesh, golfers played in Greece, students returned to class in Britain and Dutch bars and restaurants welcomed hungry, thirsty patrons.
Countries around the Mediterranean Sea tentatively kicked off a summer season where tourists could bask on their famously sunny beaches while still being protected by social distancing measures from a contagion that’s still on the march around the world.
“We are reopening a symbol — a symbol of Rome, a symbol for Italy,” said Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum’s archaeological park, adding that the site was “restarting in a positive way, with a different pace, with a more sustainable tourism.”
Greece lifted lockdown measures Monday for hotels, campsites, open-air cinemas, golf courses and public swimming pools, while beaches and museums reopened in Turkey, and bars, restaurants, cinemas and museums came back to life in the Netherlands.
“Today, we opened two rooms and tomorrow three. It’s like building an anthill,” Athens hotel owner Panos Betis said as employees wearing face masks tidied a rooftop restaurant and cleaned a window facing the ancient Acropolis. “We can’t compare the season to last year. We were at 95 per cent capacity. Our aim now is to hang in there till 2021.”
TOURISM IS VITAL TO ECONOMIES OF SOUTHERN EUROPE
A long line of masked visitors snaked outside the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, as they reopened for the first time in three months. Italy is eager to reboot its tourism industry, which accounts for 13 per cent of its economy.
The Vatican Museums’ famous keyholder — the “clavigero” who holds the keys to all the galleries on a big ring on his wrist — opened the gate in a sign both symbolic and literal that the museums were back in business.
Still, strict crowd-control measures were in place at both landmarks: Visitors needed reservations to visit, their temperatures were taken before entering and masks were mandatory.
“Having the opportunity to see the museums by making a booking and not having to wait in line for three hours is an opportunity,” said visitor Stefano Dicozzi.
The Dutch relaxation of coronavirus rules took place on a major holiday with the sun blazing, raising immediate fears of overcrowding in popular beach resorts. The new rules let bars and restaurants serve up to 30 people inside if they keep social distancing, but there’s no standing at bars and reservations are necessary.
Across the UK Brits can meet more people, while in England some children are back in school and car showrooms and open-air markets have reopened. But some scientists, even those advising government, have been in mutinous mood – saying ministers are acting too soon.
And the lifting of restrictions has been described as a “dangerous moment” even by England's deputy chief medical officer.
ENGLAND IS MOVING TO LEVEL 3 OF RESTRICTIONS
The UK’s foreign secretary has defended the government easing of lockdown measures in England from Monday, despite the country’s COVID-19 alert system indicating high levels of transmission.
Dominic Raab said England is transiting from level four, when there should be enforced social distancing measures, to level three, when they can start to be relaxed.
Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the government had “taken evidence from scientists” and has met the five tests it said were needed to relax restrictions.
Prof Peter Openshaw, who is part of a body advising the government on respiratory viruses, told the programme that ministers must proceed with “great, great care”.
Asked whether the government is proceeding too quickly, he said there is “a pretty unanimous message now that we need to take this slowly”.
“We need to evaluate the effect of each step before we move to the next one,” he said.
DIFFERENT IN SCOTLAND, WALES AND NORTHERN IRELAND
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland would stay on a “slow and steady” route out of restrictions.
Scotland is in its third day of eased restrictions, with up to a maximum of eight people from two separate households able to meet outdoors.
In Northern Ireland, groups of up to six people who do not live together can meet outdoors, while in Wales, any number of people from two different households are able to meet each other outside from Monday.
A letter has been sent by 26 senior UK academics and health officials to Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that public faith in the government has been “badly damaged” by Dominic Cummings’ trip to County Durham at the height of lockdown. By remaining in post as the PM’s chief aide, Cummings has further dented the public's faith in the government, the letter says.
As I’ve written here several times, the whole Cummings affair is a huge distraction to the real issues – fighting coronavirus, making sure medical staff and care workers are safe, and getting the UK back to work.
PANDEMIC MEANS WE ALL HAVE TO CHANGE OUR HABITS FROM NOW ON
Lockdowns have brought drastic changes to our routines and forced us to alter our social habits and re-evaluate our relationships. And the effects of these changes will continue into our lives after lockdown. These changes could also have a significant impact on our mental health even as stringent stay-at-home are lifted across Europe.
“Massive levels of stress and anxiety are a big factor,” clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy told Euronews. “It will impact different populations in different ways, but individual stresses have been ramping up.”
The Ireland-based psychologist noted that each nation would be looking at its own protections for mental health amid the pandemic but stressed that psychological first aid would be necessary.
“This would be a one-off immediate approach and would be around for the general public to use if they are distressed,” he said.
According to Dr Murphy, the interventions being crafted are built around three specific stages: the first being broad-based for stress and anxiety, a second for generalised anxiety and “disrupted grief”, and a peak level for those who could be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
He said the interventions would be in place for everyone, but would be on a particular alert for children, those with disabilities, and the vulnerable.
THERE WILL BE ‘A LOT OF BEREAVEMENT’
At the start of the crisis, “we had the preparation phase with a lot of anxiety,” Dr Murphy said, adding that we had since passed through a “heroic phase, where everyone pulls together”.
“We’re now in the disillusioned phase, where there’s going to be a lot of exhaustion and disillusion.” Following this, Dr Murphy said comes the “recovery phase,” which will bring “a lot of bereavement” and “disrupted grief”.
This refers, in part, to the mourning rituals that have been entirely upended by COVID-19 as friends and relatives have been unable to properly say goodbye to loved ones due to the transmission of the disease.
Dr Murphy said: “From an Irish perspective, you have a wake where you can observe the body. But COVID-19 stops the structure of grieving for that group of people and can be very significant for some.”
The effect of lockdowns across Europe are not always negative. For many, they will have also proven to be a good opportunity to re-evaluate personal relationships.
For cohabiting couples, social psychologist and relationship scientist Veronica Lamarche said partners could use the lockdown to work to “re-prioritise what they want to be getting out of these relationships.”
“Think of lockdown as a clean slate. Things that weren’t working well before, we can focus on and re-invest.”
COUPLES UNDER STRAIN AFTER LOCKDOWN PROCESS
She then noted that some couples would be feeling a strain due to unusual circumstances bringing to light issues when spending a lot of time together.
“Some countries will say there has been a sudden increase in divorce rate, which is partly natural because you're forced to evaluate and re-prioritise what matters,” she said.
But for others, she added: “Some are really valuing and appreciating the time they’re able to spend with their partners. Before lockdown, external factors may have been taking away from the relationship.”
According to Lamarche, strange actions from politicians on the television or watching people breach social distancing guidelines can also be a factor to draw people together.
“When a politician is behaving in a way we don’t expect, it can make us lean closer into our relationship and focus on the good things in our partner and re-establish order.”
THE VALUE OF FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTION
More widely than this, an extended lack of physical face-to-face communication could prompt people to realise just how valuable social interactions can be, according to behavioural psychologist Benjamin Voyer.
"Humans are very social by nature,” he said. “The things we find to replace these interactions do have merit, but people are discovering how tiring virtual communication can be. With face-to-face communication, we can sense and communicate in a much more subtle way. But with online interaction, we need to compensate for the lack of cues that we usually use to signal we are engaged, happy, etc. This makes it more tiring.”
Voyer said lockdowns could also lead to a shift in values of Europe’s traditional cultural mindset – from one where everyone is expected to take care of themselves to another where the default is to take care of others because you expect others to take care of you.
“People are likely to develop these as they are forced to take the perspective of others and understand their difficulties – see parents realising that teaching children is much more challenging than it may look like,” he said.
TAKE A REALLY IDEALISED VIEW OF YOUR PARTNER
For romantic relationships, Prof Lamarche said new evaluations can be implemented in the life after lockdown – but warned of there being a mindful road to reach them.
“There’s a lot of stress, and with stress there comes conflict, and with conflict it can often be easy to displace those stresses onto our partner and wonder if they’re the right one for us,” she said. “The strategy is to take a really idealised view of your partner, even if they are causing you to behave grumpily. Try and hold onto the positives and remember they are also going through the same stresses.”
For Dr Murphy, minimising stress and limiting negative mental effects pare down to a list of a few seemingly manageable things.
“Sleep, rest, good nutrition, staying away from continual news feeds, and wash your hands,” he said, adding: “And control only what you can control.”
Having been though nine weeks of lockdown and well into my tenth, it’s all sound advice from the psychologists. But I also find that knowing that there’s a clear and defined path out of this as I noted above – with three-week intervals between each stage – helps. It’s almost as if each phase of liberation is a reward for following the rules from the phase before.
NEW ZEALAND MAY REMOVE ALL VIRUS RESTRICTION NEXT WEEK
I am a great admirer of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who adopted a very strict approach from the outset. My stepson Jake is down in New Zealand on a two-year visa and it has been a relief knowing that he’s safe there.
Of course, being so far away from everywhere, it was perhaps a little easier for her nation to shut down and shut itself off.
Arden said on Tuesday that all remaining restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus may be lifted next week, after the country all but eliminated the virus domestically.
She said New Zealand could move to alert level 1 next week, which means all social distancing measures and curbs on mass gatherings will be lifted. Borders will remain closed, she said.
“Our strategy of go hard, go early has paid off... and in some cases, beyond expectations,” Ardern said at a news conference.
The cabinet will decide on June 8, earlier than the planned date of June 22, she said.
New Zealand recorded no new cases of coronavirus for a 11th consecutive day on Tuesday and has just one active case in the country.
This was largely because of a strict lockdown enforced for nearly seven weeks, in which most businesses were shut and everyone except essential workers had to stay at home.
“We will be one of the first countries in the world to return to this level of normality so quickly,” Ardern said.
SCIENTISTS HUNT PANDEMIC HOTSPOTS IN RACE TO TEST VACCINES
The science has shown that lockdowns are effective in fighting COVID-19 – so much so that as the first wave of the pandemic is waning, that constitutes a problem for those rushing to develop a vaccine.
Scientists in Europe and the United States say the relative success of draconian lockdown and social distancing policies in some areas and countries means virus transmission rates may be at such low levels that there is not enough disease circulating to truly test potential vaccines.
They may need to look further afield, to pandemic hotspots in Africa and Latin America, to get convincing results.
“Ironically, if we’re really successful using public health measures to stamp out the hot spots of viral infection, it will be harder to test the vaccine,” said Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States.
A vaccine is seen as essential to ending a pandemic that has killed nearly 370,000 people and infected more than 6 million so far, with world leaders looking at inoculation as the only real way to restart their stalled economies.
But running large-scale clinical trials of potential vaccines against a completely new disease at speed is complex, scientists say. Showing efficacy in those trials during a fluctuating pandemic adds extra difficulty - and doing so when outbreaks are waning makes it harder still.
“For this to work, people need to have a risk of infection in the community. If the virus has been temporarily cleared out, then the exercise is futile,” said Ayfer Ali, an expert in drug repurposing at Britain’s Warwick Business School. “The solution is to move to areas where the infection is being spread widely in the community – that would be countries like Brazil and Mexico at the moment.”
SCIENTISTS NEED A LARGE GROUP OF INFECTED PEOPLE
Vaccine trials work by randomly dividing people into a treatment group and a control group, with the treatment group getting the experimental trial vaccine and the control group getting a placebo.
All participants go back into the community where the disease is circulating, and subsequent rates of infection are compared. The hope is that infections within the control group will be higher, showing the trial vaccine is protecting the other group.
With COVID-19 epidemics in Britain, mainland Europe and the US coming down from their peak and transmission rates of the coronavirus dropping, a key task for scientists is to chase fluctuating outbreaks and seek volunteers in sections of populations or in countries where the disease is still rife.
A similar problem emerged when scientists were seeking to test potential new vaccines against Ebola during the vast 2014 outbreak in West Africa. Then drug-makers were forced to drastically scale back plans for large trials because their vaccines were only test-ready late in the epidemic when case numbers were dwindling
Among the first COVID-19 vaccines to move into Phase 2 or mid-stage trials is one from the US biotech company Moderna Inc. Another is being developed by scientists at Oxford University supported by AstraZeneca Plc. The US is planning to launch vast efficacy trials in July of 20,000 to 30,000 volunteers per vaccine.
Collins said U.S. health officials will tap government and industry clinical trial networks in the United States first and use mapping to detect where the virus is most active. They will also consider looking abroad if domestic disease rates fall too far, he said.
TESTING FOR HIV, MALARIA AND TUBERCULOSIS
The US government has experience in Africa of testing vaccines against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.
“Africa is now beginning to experience lots of cases of COVID-19. We might very well want to run part of the trial there, where we know we can collect the data effectively,” said Collins.
Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at Britain’s Oxford University which has teamed up with AstraZeneca, started mid-stage trials last month which he said would aim to recruit around 10,000 people in Britain.
He told Reuters that with COVID-19 disease transmission rates dropping in the UK there is a possibility that the trial would have to be halted if they didn’t have enough infections to yield a result.
“That would be disappointing, and at the moment it’s unlikely, but it’s certainly a possibility,” Hill said.
As a more practical option, researchers are looking to Brazil and other countries in South America, as well as parts of Africa where COVID-19 outbreaks are still growing and peaking, as ripe drug and vaccine testing grounds.
Brazil’s Health Ministry said it is in talks with various vaccine developers, including Moderna and the University of Oxford, about participating in clinical trials. The ministry said its goal was to provide access to a vaccine for Brazilians “in the shortest possible time.
MEME OF THE DAY
This was shared with me on Instagram by Paddy Walsh, a former colleague from back in Dublin when I started out in the news business some 37 years ago. We catch up now and then in person and the stories flow liberally, the beverages too.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
Another day of trading, another day of losses – down £361.50 on the day.
A reminder that this is all pretend, I started out in lockdown with £10,000 – about Dh45,000 to invest on the London Stock Exchange, I don’t pay for trades and I can only buy or sell when the market is closed. There’s no minimum on the amount of stocks I can buy, just as long as I can afford them.
Avast was a gainer, but just not enough to stem the red on drinks distiller Diageo, grocery delivery company Ocado and PowerHouse, a green energy provider
This is how things stand after Tuesday.
Net worth £13,645.88
Ocado, 100 shares: £2172.00
Diageo, 100 shares: £2818.50
Avast, 1,000 shares: £5180.00
PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £342.50
Cash in hand: £55.38
£ loss on last trading day: £361.50
% Gain overall: 36.4 per cent
£ Gain overall: £3,645.88
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection that proves covidiots have heavy feet and small brains.
COVIDIOTS CLOCK UP CRAZY SPEEDS ON UK ROADS
Two-thirds of Britain’s police forces caught people driving in excess of 100mph (161 kilometres per hour) during the first three weeks of the coronavirus lockdown, new data has shown. In the UK, where the speed limit is measured in miles, the limit for highways of 70mph. (113kph)
The extreme speeds were not confined to motorways, as drivers also took the drop in traffic as an invitation to break the law on urban roads and endangering lives, police said.
The highest speed recorded was 163mph(262kph) on the M1 in London, 93 miles (149 kms) over the speed limit, according to the Metropolitan police’s lead on road safety, Det Supt Andy Cox. That driver was in a Porsche but Cox said offenders were spotted in all types of vehicles, from across all demographics, and in all speed zones.
He urged drivers to think of the dangers to “vulnerable road users” during a period when people were being urged by Boris Johnson to avoid public transport and instead to walk or cycle to work.
SPEEDING DATA OBTAINED BY MOTORING ORGANISATION
Police data obtained by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) through freedom of information requests revealed that the second highest speed recorded in early lockdown was 151mph (242kph) on the M62 in West Yorkshire, and the third 140mph (225 kph) on the A14 in Suffolk.
RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams described the speeds as “truly shocking” and warned that motorists travelling this fast have “virtually no time to react should anything unexpected happen”.
He went on: “Some drivers have taken advantage of quieter roads to speed excessively, putting the lives of others at risk at the worst possible time. It’s encouraging that so many police forces have taken firm action even during the lockdown, which sends a strong message to other would-be offenders.”
Five other forces detected motorists driving at more than 130mph (209 kph).
Cox, the London Metropolitan Police lead for its Vision Zero initiative to eliminate deaths on the roads, said his team caught a driver doing 134mph (216kph) in a 40mph (64kph) zone in Enfield in north London. Tracking cameras showed driving speeds in London were “above the limit on average in all categories from the first part of lockdown to early May”, he added.
DATA DOESN’T INCLUDE SPEED CAMERA VIOLATIONS
Data for May showed a tenfold increase in the number of enforcements in the 20mph (32kph) zone, with 530 drivers caught breaking the limit, compared with just 50 in 2019.
There were more than double the number of offences in the 30mph (50 kph) zone, and a near eightfold increase in speeding in the 60mph (96kph) zones. The figures relate to physical interventions by officers and do not include data from speed cameras.
Local councils have also been concerned, warning that speed limits did not change with empty roads.
As schools reopen and more people return to work without using public transport, police are urging people to shun drivers who speed, saying it is the single biggest contributor to fatalities in the capital.
“I can’t say the increase is a surprise, because we see reckless driving all the time. Too often people say this is about revenue-raising – ‘Why don’t you catch some real criminals?’ – which is offensive to me and my team because we have seen what happens when there are life-changing injuries or deaths and how lives are wrecked,” Cox said.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I’m not an expert, but I might be able to help you make a bit of sense of this. And we can all get through it together. Isn’t this what this is all about.
Send your questions for me to Readers@gulfnews.com.
That’s it for now. Let’s check in with each other tomorrow. I have used files from Reuters, AP, DW, Sky News, Twitter and other European and North American media outlets in today’s blog. And remember to stay safe.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe