Two NHS staff members consult at a UK hospital. Photo for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Jakarta, Indonesia: How low can scum go? In Leeds, in northern England, National Health Staff who are putting their lives on the line caring for critically ill coronavirus patients, are now having to watch their backs when they leave work.

There are reports that some nurses have had their NHS badges stolen – in one case by knifepoint – by thugs.


Because some supermarket chains that remain open have set aside an hour a day to allow doctors, nurses and other NHS support staff to shop and stock up on food and other essential supplies, thugs feel they are targets.

The thugs are stealing the NHS credentials and then using the stolen IDs to shop in that specified time slot.


Regular readers of this space will know that Declan, my nephew, is in his final year as a nursing student in Leeds. He’s turning 21 on Friday but will be working flat out caring for those infected with COVID-19.

He has regularly complained that when he tries to shop, there are limited supplies. But this theft malarkey has meant that he has to be extra careful in case he’s mugged for his NHS badge.


If this is a war against this virus, then people who interrupt or subvert the frontline workers are guilty of sabotage – and we know what happens to them in real wartime situations.

The great toilet roll run has been a cause of laughter, but Declan complained of having run out and resorting to cutting up kitchen roll as a quick fix.

I am holed up here in Jakarta in a hotel close to the main airport here. It’s not quite a budget chain but doesn’t quite warrant the four stars it possesses. The designers have gone overboard with painted concrete and white IKEA-style furniture.

Besides, there’s a lot worse to complain about.

Here, in the capital of the most populous Muslim nation, I am trying to plan my great escape back to Ireland by air, avoiding closing airports and cancelled flights.

I am socially distancing as much as possible. I did venture down for the buffet breakfast and caused quite a commotion as I ate very spicy noodle soup. It was so hot it caught my throat and make me splutter and cough.

Do you know what looks you get if you cough in public?

There I was, coughing, splutter, sneezing and choking. Half of the morning breakfast crowd cleared out, or at least kept a much further distance lest I be infected with coronavirus. It is important, though, to keep a sense of humour during these tough times.

I thought of Declan as housekeeping knocked at the hotel door, asking if they could refresh the room. The maids did leave an extra roll of toilet paper. Back in the UK, scum would rob critical care workers of the chance to get such a luxury.

This hotel is full of others like me – “desperadoes waiting for a train” as an old Country ‘n’ Western song goes – except we’re all waiting on planes.

There are reports of the UK government coming under fire for not doing enough to help its citizens who are stuck abroad. One report I read yesterday came from Bali, where there were some 59 Brits complaining that they were stuck there, and their government wasn’t doing enough to help them.

There are options, and if you’re creative enough and flexible enough, you can make it home under your own steam. That’s what I’m doing. First step is to get off Bali.

Head to Jakarta. Kuala Lumpur is still open. And there are options from there. And they are all steps closer to home.

Getting somewhere in life means not necessarily taking the easiest or most direct route. It’s about being creative, thinking outside the box. Not complaining but getting on with things as best you can.

Those scum back in Leeds take an easy way out. Steal from those helping others to make their lives easier. Come the great day of judgement, they will have their come-uppance, and it can’t come some enough.

Yes this coronavirus crisis, the shutdowns and the lock-ins, is a challenge. It is a challenge for us all to be able to help ourselves and help each other as much as possible.

At the end of this, will you be a giver or a taker?

Will you give of yourself enough to make a difference to those around you? Will you give enough of yourself to make you a more resilient and better person? Or will you take what you can, take what help is on offer, take resources that might be over-stretched and better applied to others more in need?

Following all of the rules put in place, will you look out for your family and strangers? Will you have made a difference?

Will you be responsible in the way you follow instructions from authorities?

Will you hoard or will you leave for others?

Will you ignore social media, the rumours, the nutters, the false information?

Or will you listen to trusted news sources like Gulf News and others?

Some years back, I watched desperate refugees risk life for liberty swimming between Turkey and the Greek island of Kos. Normally, Kos is a quiet holiday respire where holidaymakers from across Europe bask in the summer sun. Four years ago, it was on the route for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian, Iraqi and other refugees from across the strife-riven region who desperately wanted to start a new life in the European Union. Reach Kos and you were inside the hallowed ground then of asylum.

I spoke with one indignant couple from the UK who complained that there refugees were exactly the sort Britain needed to keep out when it left the EU.

And then there was a German couple who left their teenagers at a resort when they went out and shopped, bought supplies and toys for the refugees and wanted to all they could to help.

I think I know who I would rather be.

At the end of this crisis, what will you be? Will you be a better person?

Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe