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 evolving rules about who is allowed out, where, and under what circumstances. The rules are slowly changing as the first wave of the crisis eases.
DAY 88: Thursday June 25, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
. COVID-19 immunity might not last long for asymptomatic carriers
. We have all become armchair experts in the fight against COVID-19
I will be doing this blog just for a couple more days – Saturday will be my last posting for now – but it is amazing how much those of us who have followed this pandemic closely have become on coronavirus, vaccines, antibodies and how transmission works.
Now comes work out of China suggesting s that the COVID-19 antibodies needed for immunity to the virus do not last as long as many similar respiratory viruses, particularly among asymptomatic carriers.
The limited study, published last week in the journal Nature Medicine, examined 37 asymptomatic and 37 symptomatic COVID-19 patients in the Wanzhou District of China, an area more than 600 kilometres west of Wuhan. Researchers found that antibody levels were lower in asymptomatic patients and began to decline in as little as eight weeks after the patients leaving the hospital.
Between three and four weeks after exposure to the virus, the researchers found that both groups tested positive for Immunoglobulin G (IgG), the most common type of antibody for infectious diseases in the bloodstream, at a similar rate, while 29 symptomatic patients tested positive for Immunoglobulin M (IgM), compared to 23 of the asymptomatic patients.
The study found that levels of antibodies were “significantly higher” in the symptomatic group during the acute phase, meaning the phase in which the virus is still present in the body.
DEVELOPED DAMAGE IN AT LEAST ONE LUNG
The researchers also noted that among the 37 asymptomatic patients, 21 developed damage in at least one lung, even though they exhibited no outward symptoms of the virus. The other 16 patients did not have any abnormalities.
Eight weeks after the patients left the hospital, researchers followed up with both groups and found the IgG levels in more than 90 per cent of symptomatic and asymptomatic patients had declined, with the median percentage decrease in both groups at more than 70 per cent.
Additionally, 40 per cent of asymptomatic patients and 13 per cent of symptomatic patients had tested negative for the IgG antibody.
These declines are in contrast to similar research concerning the SARS and MERS outbreaks, which indicated that antibodies for these viruses can last more than two years and at least 34 months, respectively.
This latest research could explain why some people have reported contracting the virus more than once.
In May, the US military indicated that five sailors aboard an aircraft carrier in Guam had tested positive for coronavirus a second time.
NEED TO RETHINK HOW THE WORLD LOOKS AT REOPENING
Additionally, researchers warn the study emphasises the need to rethink how the world looks at reopening, particularly when it comes to “immunity passports,” a concept in which people with the COVID-19 antibodies could be granted access to return to work or travel, for example.
“These data might indicate the risks of using COVID-19 ‘immunity passports’ and support the prolongation of public health interventions, including social distancing, hygiene, isolation of high-risk groups and widespread testing,” the report states.
“Additional longitudinal serological studies profiling more symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals are urgently needed to determine the duration of antibody-mediated immunity.”
The researchers also indicate that because the antibodies can decline quickly, that this study shows further need for a “timely” large-scale study of antibodies in order to get a fuller understanding of how many people have been infected with the virus.
DEBUNKED: NO, ALL UK RESIDENTS WON'T HAVE TO GET MICROCHIPPED STARTING FROM JANUARY 2021
A letter claiming to be from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has appeared on Facebook, saying that all British citizens will be RFID microchipped from January 2021.
The letter, which has appeared on multiple Facebook pages, says that a new government initiative will see all UK residents being microchipped.
It also says that the NHS will provide the service for free.
The letter describes how the microchips will work and that the NHS will provide them for free
It says the microchipping will allow the government to track the movements of “criminals and terrorists”.
The letter alleges that all chips will come with a unique ID, which when scanned would inform the government whether or not a person is wanted for a crime, is an illegal immigrant or a terrorist sympathiser.
The final paragraph of the letter asks the public to voice any concerns to their local MP, asking for feedback before the law is supposedly implemented.
It ends saying that if you fail to get microchipped after the law is introduced, you will be given a custodial sentence.
TRACKING MOVEMENT OF RESIDENTS
The letter was confirmed to be fake by a spokesperson for the UK Cabinet Office, who said: “I can confirm that no such letter was sent by the Prime Minister, it is entirely fake.”
The post alleges that RFID chips will be used to track the movement of residents.
What is an RFID chip? Standing for ‘radio frequency identification’, an RFID has two parts: an antenna for transmitting and receiving, and the chip, which stores the tag’s ID and other stored information.
An example of an RFID tag is a microchip used to identify dogs if they’re separated from the owner. They are typically short-range, with low-frequency RFID’s only transmitting up to 10cm. Higher frequency RFID’s can go to around 100 metres.
RFID chips cannot be used to track people for several reasons. The chips themselves don’t contain any power source and are only powered by a transfer of energy from a sensor.
NO NAME, NO PINT - NEW RULES FOR ENGLAND'S PUBS AFTER LOCKDOWN
I’m heading to England on June 29 and will be there for about 10 days – long enough for these new changes to take effect on me when I meet family and friends there.
Drinkers in England’s pubs will have to give their name before they order a pint, and there will be no live acts or standing at the bar, the government said in advice for re-opening the sector next month.
Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will have to keep a record of customers for 21 days to assist the state health service’s test and trace operation, which aims to identify and contain any local flare ups of COVID-19 and stop a second wave of infections.
Live performances, including drama, comedy and music, will also not be allowed, the government said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday pubs, restaurants and hotels could reopen in England on July 4, easing the coronavirus lockdown that has all but shut the economy.
DOWN TO 1 METRE DISTANCING
He also reduced social distancing from 2 metres to 1 metre, a change that will allow many more pubs and restaurants to reopen.
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said 75 per cent of pubs in England – 28,000 in total – would be able to reopen. Under 2 metre social distancing rules, only a third of England’s pubs – 12,500 – would have been able to reopen.
“As an industry we will be doing everything we can to ensure both our customers and staff are safe in our pubs,” BBPA Chief Executive Emma McClarkin said.
“We do have significant concerns over the collection and storage of personal customer data when visiting the pub.”
Business Minister Alok Sharma said he would consult with the industry on data regulation, noting that restaurants and hairdressers already kept information when people made bookings.
“We what to work with the sector, we want to work with trade unions, to make sure we get this absolutely right and I’ll be doing that later on this week,” he told LBC radio on Wednesday.
SCOTTISH PUBS AND RESTAURANTS TO REOPEN IN EARLY JULY
People in Scotland will be allowed to meet up with two other households indoors from July 10 and pubs and restaurants can re-open from July 15.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also said the eight-kilometre travel limit will be lifted from July 3, while beer gardens can re-open from July 6.
Hairdressers and barbers can open from July 15, as can holiday accommodation.
Sturgeon said the move was possible thanks to the "real sustained progress" made in suppressing the virus.
But she said the changes depended on keeping the virus under control, and could be reversed if it was felt necessary to do so.
And they will not apply to people who are shielding, who will be given further advice "before the end of July".
The first minister was speaking as new data showed that the coronavirus death rate has continued to fall for the eighth week in a row, with Sturgeon saying these "clear trends" meant "firmer milestones" for the journey out of lockdown could be set.
LOOKING A TWO-METRE RULE IN SCOTLAND
Advisors are still reviewing whether the two metres physical distancing rule should be eased, but a range of different shops and services can now begin planning for re-opening in mid-July.
The government's revised roadmap said shopping centres and dental practices could fully re-open from July 13, while optometrists can begin to scale up work.
From July 15, all holiday accommodation can open up, along with indoor areas of pubs and restaurants and hairdressers and barbers.
Museums, galleries, cinemas and libraries will be allowed to resume business from the same date, as long as physical distancing and other safety measures are enforced.
However live entertainment venues like theatres, nightclubs and bingo halls "will not re-open until a later date", while "further consideration" is being given to the opening of indoor gyms and restrictions on weddings and funerals.
SCOTS MUST NOT BE COMPLACENT ABOUT COVID-19
The first minister said Scots "must not be complacent" about the virus, but said if progress continued to be made then "the prize is getting greater normality back in our lives, maybe more quickly than we would have envisaged a few weeks ago".
Sturgeon accepted that Scotland's pace in exiting lockdown "is slightly slower than England's", saying this was "in my view right for our circumstances and I hope more likely to be sustainable than if we went faster".
And she said each step towards easing lockdown "depends on us continuing to beat the virus back" and could potentially be reversed.
She said: "Our challenge, not an easy one, is to manage all of this change while keeping the virus firmly under control. If at any stage there appears to be a risk of its resurgence, our path out of lockdown will be halted and we may even have to go backwards.
"To avoid that, we must get as close as possible to elimination of the virus now, and build confidence in our ability to control it in future through surveillance, testing, contact tracing and, where necessary, targeted suppression measures."
Information leaflets about the government's contact tracing system are being delivered to every household in Scotland, while ministers are considering whether to make face coverings mandatory in shops.
MEMES OF THE DAY
These were shared with me on Facebook by my second cousin Rob. Like many of my circle of friends, he likes to tease me about my struggle with a few too many kilos. The meme with the $20 bill is just funny, given how many Americans don’t want to wear masks now.
SOME HEALTH SERVICES ADDING 'COVID FEE' AS MORE BUSINESSES REOPEN
As private health services such as dentists, chiropractors and physiotherapists begin to reopen, some have opted to tack on a COVID-19 surcharge in an effort to recoup money spent on new sanitation.
However, some experts warn that the move may deter clients.
University of Toronto finance professor Lisa Kramer explained that these "COVID fees" are designed to help cover the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE), increased sanitation measures and income lost from reduced customer capacity due to physical distancing.
"Many businesses are facing increased costs associated with maintaining a sanitary environment or paying employees higher wages to offset some of the increased risks," Kramer told CTV News.
Kramer said the added surcharge may be necessary for some private health services because their sanitation procedures have increased from what they were before the pandemic.
"In some cases we're seeing that the sanitary practices actually extend beyond what they would have previously been regulated to maintain. For example, some clinics are disinfecting waiting room areas multiple times a day, which wouldn't have previously been required," Kramer said.
"That costs the business money... by having to actually spend time doing that activity and getting the additional equipment to carry it out."
INCREASING COSTS FOR HAIR SALONS
Hair salons and restaurants were among the first to embrace the surcharge where they have been allowed to reopen.
“They're having to spend a great deal of time in between clients sanitising the chair that the client was sitting in, sanitizing all of the equipment that they might have come into contact with, so it's quite a bit more time consuming and this is going to reduce their take home pay," Kramer said.
Ottawa resident Stephanie Plater told CTV News that she received an email from her dental office on June 12 notifying her that the office would be charging clients an C$18 (Dh48) COVID fee.
Plater said she was shocked when she received the email because it did not explain what that charge covers or how the added fee would be used to maintain public health regulations.
"They're a dental office so for me, PPE is kind of part of what they already do as part of their routine. I understand that they have an increase because of COVID but with no explanation of where that $18 per client is going... That charge is just too high," Plater said.
"I feel slightly taken advantage of. I am very grateful to have a job and to be in a position where I technically could pay that but it seems too high to me without being given any kind of background," Plater said. "If that's a cost that I'm going to have to incur I want to know where it’s going."
DENTAL CLINICS AT HIGH RISK
The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario says dental clinics are at "high risk" of spreading COVID-19 without careful planning and appropriate guidance.
Canadian Dental Association (CDA) spokesperson Zelda Burt told CTV News that some dental offices may charge a fee or increase the price of some procedures to help offset the costs for the additional safety measures.
"An aspect of the cost increase comes as a result of additional enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements by health authorities and other regulators. The cost factor is compounded by rising prices of PPE due to worldwide shortages," Burt said.
"The Canadian Dental Association understands the need to balance the increased costs of delivering dental care with accessibility. The CDA continues to work with the profession, insurers and governments to minimize costs related to barriers of accessing oral health care," she added.
Plater said the situation with her dental office has encouraged her to search for other dentists in the area to inquire about what they are charging amid the pandemic.
BUSINESSES TAKING ADVANTAGE OF CUSTOMERS?
"The biggest thing with COVID is that we say we're all in this together, and yet there's certain businesses that I feel are taking advantage of some people," Plater said.
"As a client of theirs, I am considering moving to another dentist that is more reasonable in its response to reopening," Plater added.
Kramer warned that adding a COVID surcharge is a delicate balance for businesses to strike at a time when consumers are already concerned about their finances.
"Many businesses are facing increased costs associated with maintaining a sanitary environment or paying employees higher wages to offset some of the increased risks," Kramer said. "But they have to keep in mind that consumers are also struggling financially."
PROFESSIONAL GROUPS DON'T SET PRICES
In addition to dental practices, chiropractors and physiotherapists are among health practitioners that may consider adding a COVID surcharge.
In a statement, the Canadian Chiropractic Association said it does not set or offer guidelines on how individual practitioners set their fees.
"We support chiropractors to make the best decisions in the interest of their clinical practice while being open and transparent with their patients," the statement read.
Viivi Riis, President of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA), said that her organisation also does not regulate individual practices’ pricing. However, she said practices should add a fee with caution as it may deter some clients.
"We really want Canadians have access to physiotherapy services, and we can save costs to the healthcare system in the long-term. But in the short-term right now, members with private practices are struggling to stay afloat. If the bulk of them have to go under, then Canadians will have less access to necessary care," Riis said.
"But at the same time we also don't want Canadians to say, 'I can't afford that extra charge'… We're not in favour of putting barriers in front of patients who need treatment," she added.
TRYING TO OPERATE NORMALLY
While some physiotherapy clinics may have to increase costs right now, Riis said she hopes businesses will quickly find ways to operate as normally as possible amid the pandemic without applying any extra fee.
"There are going to be a lot of things that will shift and adjust in the future, but I can't be critical of those members who are trying to keep their practices alive right now," Riis said.
She explained that private health care is a competitive market and many of the CPA's members are smaller clinics that have had to incur additional costs by purchasing PPE after losing revenue from being closed for months. To make matters tougher, those businesses are now having to reduce their patient volumes to comply with physical distancing.
"All through COVID people have still been breaking limbs, having car accidents, having strokes, heart attacks, chronic conditions have persisted, so there are many people who continue to need treatment and are in fact waiting to start treatments, so we don't want these businesses to go under," Riis said.
TRANSPARENCY AND CREDIBILITY
Kramer said businesses will have to be transparent with customers in choosing to adopt a COVID-19 surcharge.
Surcharges are typically a temporary measure introduced to cover a sudden rise in cost, and Kramer said businesses should be clear not only with how much the fee will cost customers, but also how long it will be in place.
She said COVID fees will likely be in place "as long as the virus remains a problem."
"Until we have a vaccine, or very effective treatments, these businesses are going to be facing increased costs so the surcharge will likely be necessary for the duration," Kramer said.
However, she said if the business specifically calls the additional fee a COVID-19 surcharge, then it is expected that that fee will be removed once the pandemic ends.
DISCLOSE ADDED COVID FEES UPFRONT
Any business that tacks on a surcharge must disclose the added fees upfront and clearly communicate those changes to customers, Kramer said. She added that customers should also be able to visually confirm what that charge is being put towards upon arriving at the business.
"If you walk into a waiting room, and you don't see any hand sanitiser or the environment doesn't appear to have been recently cleaned, that wouldn't be a good signal and it wouldn't be consistent with the business' claim that they're actually churning out additional cleaning," Kramer said.
Kramer said the surcharge should be used to cover additional costs incurred by a business amid the pandemic, as opposed to raking in extra profits.
"It's really important for businesses to be completely transparent about the purpose of these surcharges and be honest in carrying that out. Trust with their clients is of paramount importance, and so honest disclosure is really essential," she said.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
Ouch! And double ouch! That hurt. My portfolio lost almost £800 in value on my worst day of trading since I started this exercise a little under three months ago.
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 shares I can buy.
And thankfully, it is pretend. Everything was a loser for me. Ryanair, the largest budget airline in Europe, tumbled by 5.84 per cent. J.D. Wetherspoon, the budget pub and restaurant business also tumbled by more than 7 per cent, while Vodafone was only marginally down.
I understand that markets all across Europe and North America had it rough on fears for a second wave. Thankfully, I intend to wrap this blog up on Saturday, so with two more days to go, I’ll consider it a good project if I can break the 25 per cent growth mark over the three months I’ve been doing this in lockdown.
I am keeping my fingers crossed that things will improve Thursday and Friday. Well, I mean, they can’t get much worse – can they?
This is how my portfolio stands now:
Net worth £12105.68
Ryanair, 500 shares: £5365.00
JD Wetherspoon, 500 shares: £5230.00
Vodaphone, 970 shares: £1508.35
Cash in hand: £2.33
£ loss on last trading day: £787.23
% gain overall: 21.0 per cent
£ Gain overall: £2,105.68
BRAZIL TESTS COVID SHOT, WITHOUT DEAL TO USE IT IF IT WORKS
Brazil is testing an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, but interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello acknowledged on Tuesday that his government has yet to strike a deal to get it if it works. Other nations have already secured hundreds of millions of doses of the shot created by Oxford University.
The country's coronavirus response has faced criticism since March, when President Jair Bolsonaro started defying social distancing recommendations. Hours before Brazil's health minister spoke at congress, a judge ordered Bolsonaro to wear a face mask whenever he is outdoors in the capital of Brasilia.
Pazuello, an army general who made his career in logistics, discussed Brazil's efforts to buy a vaccine for COVID-19 or acquire the technology to make it. The country's health regulator Anvisa approved human clinical trials for the potential vaccine this month.
Pazuello said a decision on a deal for Brazil to acquire the planned vaccine is expected by the end of the week, but will depend on the government's chief of staff.
EARLY STAGES OF TESTING
British researchers started testing the experimental shot in May aiming to immunise more than 10,000 people, including older people and children. The vaccine created at Oxford is one of about a dozen in early stages of human testing.
Brazil, where the pandemic is still on the rise, is the only country other than the United Kingdom testing that vaccine. The country counts more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and almost 52,000 fatalities.
Clinical trials began in Sao Paulo on Monday and will start in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday. The British embassy in Brazil says 5,000 health professionals are being vaccinated.
"We are working directly with the three most promising vaccines," Pazuello said, naming the Oxford shot, the vaccine under development by American company Moderna and one of the Chinese experiments, which he did not disclose.
On May 21, the United States announced a deal for at least 300 million doses of the Oxford shot, and committed up to $1.2 billion to the effort. On June 13, pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca agreed to supply up to 400 million doses of the experimental vaccine to European Union nations. Other negotiations are ongoing with Russia and Japan, among other countries, the company's CEO said this month.
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