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.
Tuesday April 28, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
LOCKDOWN IS LIKE A PRESSURE COOKER FOR SOME
So 60 per cent of the world’s population are living under some form of lockdown or restrictions on movement.
For many, it’s a chance to learn to skills, learn new ways of doing more with less, finding new ways to thrive rather than simply survive.
But the effects of Covid-19 restrictions on children, on household finances, or simply living in a confined space with so many for so long are reasons why counselling support programs are receiving more calls across Europe.
The lockdown has been likened to living in a pressure cooker. Family tensions are being exacerbated, domestic violence has increased – London police say they’re dealing with an increase of 30 per cent during the lockdown there – and callers also highlight mental health problems.
Indeed, not being able to grieve property when loved ones die as a result of coronavirus are also amplifying stresses in this pressure cooker environment.
Then children are at home, parents are trying to work, there are pets too – and everyone is trying to live in the same confined quarters for weeks on end with no end in sight.
DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN LOCKDOWN REGIMEN
The prolonged confinement without the prospect of an end is one of the main reasons why authorities in Europe have had difficulty in making sure that everyone follows national restrictions on movement. And enforcing those lockdown laws also creates more stress.
Since Monday, children in Spain are not allowed outside to play. They can be accompanied by an adult.
It’s a breath of fresh air – literally in the fresh air.
I haven’t heard stories yet of parents renting out their children to other Spanish families who have no children – simply to be allowed out of the confines of their home.
When Spanish authorities restricted walking to people who had dogs, there was anecdotal evidence that some pet owners were renting out their pooches to neighbours to allow them out. Spanish police clamped down when they saw the same poor dog being walked five or six times a day by five or six different people.
TURNING TO SEISMOLOGISTS
In Ireland, authorities have turned to seismologists who are able to measure background noise as they look for signs of earthquakes or other movements deep within the Earth’s crust. The sensitive equipment, however, also picks up normal ambient noise caused by traffic or the natural rumble of cities as people go about their business.
There was obviously a significant drop when the lockdown regulations went into force. But after five weeks of lockdown, seismologists are reporting an increase in that ambient noise level – people are getting fed up living in pressure cookers and are venturing out more.
After weeks of lockdown, regardless of where people live, the big question they want answered is when can they go out again.
The answer is – and has to be – when it’s safe. When there’s a low risk of transmission, when testing is up to speed, when medical services won’t be overwhelmed, and when there’s a very good chance that resuming activities won’t bring about a second wave of transmission.
Yes it is difficult. Yes we are fed up of being restriction. Yes, we want a resumption of a semblance of normalcy across Europe.
But only when it is safe.
In the meantime, we have to do our part – and stay apart.
HOW ABOUT A HAIRCUT OVER THE INTERNET?
Yes, I need a haircut. No, I’m not this desperate.
But this lockdown and restrictions on movement mean desperate times call for desperate measures.
So how about an online haircut?
That’s what one barbershop in Tokyo is offering – if you’re willing and brave – or stupid – enough to take a clippers into your own hands.
Me? Just working on a mirror is bad enough. But the prospect of giving myself an online haircut following the instructions of a barber on the other end of a Zoom connection – that’s just weird.
In what may be an industry first, Mr. Brothers Cut Club has launched what it calls a “telecut” service. Their barbers will offer customers self-haircut tutorials in real time via Zoom, the Japan Times says.
THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST
Somehow, I can’t see my favourite barber’s shop at the back of the Villa Rotana in Dubai offering this type of service.
“We figured many people are getting annoyed at how their hair keeps growing while they’re staying at home,” said Saito Kon, a barber there.
“But the only option they have at the moment is either to risk infection by venturing outside to get a haircut, or to do nothing as their hair keeps growing.”
So the barbershop decided to offer a temporary solution to that problem.
Here’s where it gets tricky – you need to have all of those tools that barbers have if you’re willing to cut your own hair under supervision.
“We can’t really guarantee that customers can get the perfect, high-quality haircut they would look for at barbershops,” Kon said.
“The best we can do is teach them how not to mess up,” he said, adding that the initiative boils down to him and his colleagues trying to “make a social contribution.”
The service is free of charge. There’s no word on whether they’ll compensate you if you make a complete bags of it.
I’ll pass, thank you very much.
DANCING AWAY THE LOCKDOWN BLUES
If you want to be beat the lockdown, then dance!
That’s the message from around 200 people in one Dublin neighbourhood who organised a mass dance – while following strict social-disanting rules at the same time.
Spaces were marked out eight feet apart, the organiser said.
The event was held at a complex of flats in Ringsend and was the brainchild of Danika Hopkins and Rebecca Larkin.
“It is very important because I have got five kids and we are on lock down like everyone else,” Michael Larkin, said. “Everyone is fed up so it is to entertain our flat complex.”
In Ireland a two-kilometre limit applies for exercise.
“It is really for the kids and the older folk,” he said. “It is really good for their mental health and wellbeing.”
Well done. That’s the spirit.
Maybe other neighbourhoods will follow suit. All it takes is a little bit of imagination and a bit of effort.
A STITCH IN TIME SAVES LIVES
For the past several weeks, staff working on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic for Britain’s National Health Service have been making please for personal protective equipment – PPE.
Everything from masks, gloves, visors and gowns are needed by staff treating those infected with the coronavirus.
And having that vital PPE means nurses and doctors aren’t exposing themselves and their families to Covid-19 too.
That’s why London’s tailors are putting their cutting and sewing machines to use to fill the void.
The British government has faced repeated criticism from National Health Service staff that doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are facing shortages of masks, gloves and other protective equipment.
In response, a group of more than 50 professional and amateur sewers have formed a group called the South London Scrubbers, which is distributing hundreds of medical uniforms, masks and kit bags to local hospitals.
BAT MAN AND BOND MOVIE COSTUMES
Ian Costello, 53, usually makes uniforms, which have featured in James Bond and Batman films and major London theatre productions. But since closing his business because of the national lockdown, the former Savile Row tailor has been making medical clothing.
“The country is in crisis and people need to help out,” he said. “People are banding together and trying to do something. It is a feel-good factor for everyone.”
The sewers range from teenagers to a lady in her nineties. Some are working from their dining tables or living-room floors. There are other volunteers involved in organising the supply chains and delivering the uniforms.
Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said last week there is enough personal protective equipment nationally, but there are local shortages.
Sarah Trindle is one of the sewers, who normally runs a clothing and alterations company. She said that it is essential that medical staff are given the best possible uniforms.
“I just felt very passionately that you wouldn’t send a soldier to the front line without proper equipment,” she said. “I felt passionately that these scrubs should be made up professionally, finished to the highest standard.”
COVID-19 AND THE ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME
When this coronavirus pandemic is over, we will all have our own stories to pass on.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently finding out my ancestors, who went where and who did what.
But a group of 25 Dutch students will have great stories to pass on when it comes to telling about the great pandemic of 2020.
The youngsters, aged 14 to 17, and watched over by 12 experienced crew members and three teachers, were on an educational cruise of the Caribbean when the pandemic caused them to radically change their plans for returning home in March.
Instead of flying back from Cuba as originally planned, the crew and students stocked up on supplies and warm clothes and set sail for the northern Dutch port of Harlingen, a five-week voyage of nearly 7,000km, on board the 60-metre top sail schooner Wylde Swan.
SURVIVING THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE
As they arrived home, the students hung up a banner they had made saying Bucket List, with ticks in boxes for Atlantic Ocean crossing, mid-ocean swim and surviving the Bermuda triangle.
They were greeted by relieved parents, pet dogs, flares and a cloud of orange smoke.
The teenagers hugged and chanted each other’s names as they walked off the ship and into the arms of their families, who drove their cars alongside the yacht one by one to adhere to social distancing rules imposed to limit the spread of the virus that forced the students into their long trip home.
Young sailor Floor Hurkmans, 17, said the impossibility of any kind of social distancing on the vessel took some getting used to.
“At home you just have some moments for yourself, but here you have to be social all the time to everyone because you’re sleeping with them, you’re eating with them, you’re just doing everything with them so you can’t really just relax,” she said.
Her mother, Renee Scholtemeijer, said she expected her daughter to miss life on the open sea once she encountered coronavirus containment measures in the Netherlands.
‘WILL WANT TO GO BACK TO THE BOAT’
“I think that after two days she’ll want to go back on the boat, because life is very boring back at home,” she said.
“There’s nothing to do, she can’t visit friends, so it’s very boring.”
The twin-masted Wylde Swan glided into Harlingen harbour late morning on Sunday, its sails neatly stowed.
Onlookers who gathered on a sea wall to watch the arrival set off flares and a smoke grenade that sent an orange cloud drifting over the water.
Masterskip, the company that organised the cruise, runs five educational voyages for about 150 students each year. And crossing the Atlantic is nothing new for the Wylde Swan, which has made the trip about 20 times.
The company’s director, Christophe Meijer, said the students were monitored for the coronavirus in March to ensure nobody was infected.
He said he was pleased the students had adapted to life on board and kept up their education on the long voyage.
“The children learned a lot about adaptivity, also about media attention, but also their normal school work,” he said.
“So they are actually far ahead now of their Dutch school colleagues. They have made us very proud.”
An amazing feat. And what a great story to be able to tell in the decades to come.
THERE’S BENEFITS TO LIVING ON AN ISLAND
Talking to many friends during these past five weeks of lockdown, we have often said that the safest place to be would be on a small island.
Indeed, on the small island of La Graciosa, just a little to the north of the Canary Island of Lanzarote, locals say there hasn’t been a single case of coronavirus among the 1,800 people who live there.
And I read last week that the Faros Islands, between the north of Scotland and Iceland, have had only a handful of cases.
Of course, it’s much easier to control who comes and goes, and that’s a huge factor in stopping this pandemic in its tracks.
Iceland has coronavirus under control thanks to a strict policy of test, trace and isolate, the country’s prime minister says, adding that there too there are only a handful of cases emerging each day on the sparsely populated island nation.
“Our main guiding line has been to follow the instruction of the World Health Organisation,” said prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir. “That means testing a lot of people, tracing, putting the people into quarantine and having people in isolation where they are sick. These instructions are what we have been doing.”
TESTING AND SCREENING APPOINTMENTS
At clinics across the country, people turn up for appointments to be screened and tested.
But not one of them feels sick. Not one has a cough or a temperature. Not one of them has shown any signs or symptoms of Covid-19.
Had they not been tested, they could have unwittingly passed the virus onto others.
But the clinic is doing more than testing. It is
From a population of 360,000, samples have been taken from 45,000 people, thanks to a collaboration between the public and private sector.
“In a small country, it is easier to get information to everybody,” the prime minister says. “We have also shown a lot of solidarity. And that is very Icelandic. Maybe because we are a small nation and an island.”
But testing is only part of Iceland’s approach.
Huge time and effort has gone into chasing down people who’ve come into contact with someone confirmed to have Covid-19.
MIX-UP OF IDENTITIES IN CREAMATION
This is a story from South America that is tinged both with tears of sadness and those of joy.
A woman in the coronavirus-ravaged Guayaquil city learned on Friday that her sister was alive, weeks after cremating a misidentified body that health authorities had given her after proclaiming her sibling dead.
Alba Maruri, 74, was admitted to an intensive care unit on March 27 suffering from a high fever and difficulty breathing, and medical personnel told her family later that day that she had died, Maruri’s sister Aura said by telephone.
A week later, health authorities handed over to relatives what they thought were Maruri’s remains. Health workers on Friday returned to the family’s home in Guayaquil, the epicenter of Ecuador’s outbreak.
“An ambulance arrived with a doctor, a psychiatrist and the social worker. They apologized, and they tell us ‘Your sister is alive,’ and we were in shock,” said Aura Maruri. “It is a miracle of God what has happened.”
Maruri was suspected to have contracted COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but was never diagnosed with it because she was not tested.
NOT ABLE TO VISIT
Her family was not able to visit her until Saturday because of curfew measures enacted to prevent the continued spread of the disease.
Aura Maruri says she does not know what to do with the metal chest holding the ashes of the body delivered by mistake.
“I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid they would take her [remains] to those containers for the dead,” said Maruri, referring to refrigerated containers set up as mobile morgues as the pandemic spread through Guayaquil.
“There was a failure by the hospital.”
The incident underlines the difficulties facing Ecuador, where the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed the health system and left sanitary workers struggling to collect and identify the burgeoning number of bodies.
How terrifying. This pandemic is truly sickening in the way it is changing people’s lives and the way we grieve.
COVID-19 DISCOVERED IN MINK
Here’s another reason as far as I’m concerned why we should all shun furs.
Two mink farms in the Netherlands have been put into quarantine after animals were found to be infected with the new coronavirus, the agriculture ministry said on Sunday, urging people to report any other likely cases in the animals.
The mink, which were tested after showing signs of having trouble breathing, were believed to have been infected by employees who had the virus, the ministry said in a statement.
The possibility that they could further spread the virus to humans or other animals on the farms was “minimal”, the ministry said, citing advice from national health authorities.
However movement of the ferret-like mammals and their manure was banned and the ministry said it was studying the outbreak carefully, including testing the air and soil. People were advised not to travel within 400 metres of the farms.
They were the first reported cases in animals in the Netherlands of the disease, which has been found in some pets and zoo animals around the world after spreading among people.
COVID-19 DIVORCE – GIMME A BREAK!
Here’s an idea that might take off during lockdowns.
Being confined to small areas for a long period of time means that your parent can sometimes get on your nerves.
But in Japan, they’ve come with an idea to help couples save their marriages.
After the phrase “corona divorce” surfaced on social media earlier this month, Kasoku, a Tokyo-based firm providing short-term rental units, launched an initiative to give couples the time and space they desperately needed.
“The goal is to avoid divorce,” Kosuke Amano, the company’s spokesman, told the Japan Times. “We hope couples first distance themselves and think about [their marriage]. For our part, we will provide rooms that they can live in and an environment for teleworking.”
The stay-at-home request due to the virus is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon.
Japan declared a state of emergency nationwide on April 16, further expanding the coverage of the prior declaration covering Tokyo and six other prefectures.
GROWING SENSE OF FRUSTRATION IN JAPAN
Before the state of emergency was in place, posts expressing frustration toward spouses due to increased teleworking and longer hours spent together had been circulating on social media.
Carrying the hashtag #coronarikon (meaning “corona divorce” in Japanese), one user tweeted, “My husband goes to central Tokyo by train and doesn’t take things such as hand-washing and wearing his mask seriously, making it meaningless for the children to do so.”
Another person tweeted, “My husband lacks a sense of urgency, and I am dismayed. I don’t want to be with someone with that kind of mindset. It’s corona divorce.”
Kasoku, which operates 500 vacation rental units nationwide, has launched a website to offer what it calls a “temporary refuge” for frustrated couples.
The idea resulted from the company president’s first-hand experience of breaking up with his girlfriend whom he had been living with, Amano said.
And it also allowed the firm to fill vacant units as the number of tourists dropped.
As the virus outbreak continues, many families have one or both spouses teleworking and children are staying at home during school closures.
It’s an idea that might just grow elsewhere, given that more than 60 per cent of the world’s population is under some form of limits on their movements.
Hi honey, let’s get a corona divorce!
MEME OF THE DAY
Thanks to my former colleague in Toronto, Bob, for sharing this with me on Facebook.
THE STOCK SHOCK
So, after trading for four weeks, I did a big re-organisation of my pretend portfolio on Sunday in time for trading in London on Monday
A reminder that I started out at the beginning of my lockdown with £10,000 – about Dh45,000 – to invest on the London Stock Market. I don’t pay for trades and I can any amount but only at the end of the a trading day.
Over the four weeks, I turned that £10,000 seed money into £11,113.38
I then liquidated my holdings and looked at everything, and then opted to buy into drinks manufacturers Diageo, high-street food delivery company Ocado, British Telecom and a green energy company.
And it’s been a very good day indeed, with all four stocks making gains – so much so that I’m up £631.50 on the day, and my portfolio has taken a quantum leap.
This is my net worth after Monday’s trading:
Net worth £11,744.88
Diageo, 100 shares: £2725.00
Ocado, 100 shares: £1652.50
BT, 50 shares: £5867.40
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £1470.00
Cash in hand:£29.88
% Gain: 17.4 per cent
£ Gain: £1,744.88
Certainly, there’s no need to adjust this heading into trading on Tuesday. A good day all round!
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that serves as a reminder evolution isn’t all encompassing.
COVIDIOTS FLOCK TO CALIFORNIA’S BEACHES
There’s no shortage of covidiots in California and Florida. In fact it seems as if they have flocked to beaches during a summer-like heatwave despite authorities urging them to avoid trips there and continue practising social distancing measures.
California Governor Gavin Newsom acknowledged many Californians would be tempted to gather outside as the state experienced hot weather.
“CA can only keep flattening the curve if we stay home and practise physical distancing,” he tweeted. “You have the power to literally save lives.”
Police in Pacific Grove closed the Lovers Point Park and Beach because it became too crowded and people were not observing the restrictions.
And officers in San Diego said three people were arrested in Encinitas for violating health orders after they protested against beach closures.
Los Angeles city and county beaches, trails and playgrounds were closed, and officers on horseback patrolled those areas to enforce distancing rules.
AND THERE’S MORE COVIDIOTS IN FLORIDA
And the covidiots were out on the other side of the US as well. In Florida’s Volusia County, home to the well-known Daytona Beach, beaches have been opened for those wanting to walk, surf, bike or swim.
County manager George Recktenwald has warned people against gathering in groups.
“At this point in time, we’re still under the governor's essential exercise order, so if you’re on the beach, you should be physically active,” he warned. “No sitting, sunbathing or hanging out with a cooler.”
But one resident said many beachgoers were not heeding the advice.
“I know they have rules and restrictions, but people aren’t listening,” said John Overchuck who lives locally. “I walked on the beach 10 minutes ago and it’s packed. That wasn’t supposed to happen."
If there’s one thing we know now, good weather brings out the covidiots – regardless of what the rules say.
SCUM TAKE TO ‘SEXTORTION’ DURING PANDEMIC
Here’s a scam that’s been thought up by the lowest of the low.
Police in the UK and Ireland are warning people not to fall for an online phishing con – and using ‘sextortion’ as manes to scare and threaten innocent victims.
People are told if they don’t pay in the region of €2,000 (Dh7,950) in bitcoin via a link provided, compromising photos of them will be sent to their families, or that images of them accessing pornographic websites will be publicly released.
Versions of the scam have being doing the rounds for some time but there has been an increase in the number of emails reported to the authorities amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Police say many criminals view the pandemic as an opportunity to make money online, typically targeting vulnerable or young people.
Criminals’ attempts to extort money from people are never ending and they will use the pandemic to their advantage.
WEBSITES OFFERING CURES FOR COVID-19
Aside from phishing scams, police noted that several websites have been created in recent weeks purporting to sell everything from facemasks to Covid-19 vaccine and cures – neither of which exist yet.
Emails in these phishing scams often state that the sender knows the password the receiver uses for their email account or a certain website.
Sometimes the password the sender shares is actually the receiver’s current or previous password, making the scam seem more genuine. Police say the scammers may have accessed the password from a hacking incident that occurred in the past.
In one such email, the sender informs the recipient they know their email password, contact list and digital activity over the last few months.
COVIDIOTS CONTINUE ARSON ATTACKS ON MASTS
Whoever is responsible for the most inane and stupid theory that the coronavirus and the rollout of 5G needs to be locked up.
It’s a very dangerous conspiracy theory propagated by kooks who are putting lives in danger.
Yes, lives in danger. If a family member is seriously ill all of a sudden and you need to call an ambulance – vital communication masts are out of order or burnt by arsonists who believe this absolute tripe.
There have been reports across Europe and North America of telecommunications masts being targeted by arsonists.
I read recently – in a credible news outlet – that one “pastor” who was described as being a senior Vodaphone executive who shared the theory on YouTube was actually a store salesman who sold phones in a Vodaphone shop, and put the theory out to drum up funds for the church he set up.
Please, stop this nonsense. Believe only what you read on credible news organisations – like Gulf News – who have legal and moral responsibility to report accurate news.
Anybody can post anything on social media and don’t have to face repercussions for it.
MAST DAMAGED IN CORK, IRELAND
Irish detectives believe that a fire at a mast in Cork, the second-largest city in the Republic of Ireland, was damaged because of this batty conspiracy theory linking 5G masts to Covid-19.
A Garda source confirmed that investigators believe that the mast at Ardcullen in Holyhill on the city’s northside was deliberately set on fire late on Wednesday night by people who thought it was a 5G mast.
Posters had appeared in the area in recent days denouncing 5G.
The damaged mast is actually for 3G and 4G services.
As I’ve said here before, that how come Covid-19 is rampant in places that have no connection to 5G.
For all of the positives of social media, the propagation of dangerous conspiracy theories and dangerous health advice makes me wonder if indeed everyone who uses social media should be registered by national authorities and need to be held accountable – just as media outlets are – for spreading false and dangerous theories.
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, 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