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 April 15, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
THE 5G NUTTERS DEFYING SCIENCE AND MEDICINE
Apophenia is defined in the dictionary as the tendency to perceive connections between unrelated things.
And apophenia came to mind as I listened in to an English woman on a very loud mobile call that I could hear from beyond my social distance of two metres.
The woman was opining that she believed this current coronavirus pandemic was all related to radiation – and a dangerous new kind too that was all related to the roll of the 5G network.
I wanted to jump across that social distance, reach down the phone and find where ever the woman was and tell her in no uncertain terms that she was wrong, wrong, wrong.
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What does a mutated virus that has been linked back most likely to market in Wuhan, China, have to do with 5G?
People, please stop this nonsense!
THE THEORY BEHIND CONSPIRACIES
This is the same type of thinking that gamblers use when they believe that because a roulette wheel has landed on red three times, there is a pattern. There is not. It is just coincidence.
This idiotic thinking has allowed people to believe – just because some kook out there on social media has posted it, it must be true – that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism simply because both were on the rise at the same time.
This conspiracy theory in circulation right now about 5G is a perfect example of how a contagion of thought spreads without foundation – and is causing real damage now.
Across Europe, authorities are reporting that 5G communications masts have been set on fire.
The apophenic theory is that the spread of coronavirus began at the same time as telecommunication companies began rolling out 5G technology. Oh, therefore the two are related.
HOW DO YOU SPELL ‘COINCIDENCE’
For the record, the rollout of 5G technology began about 18 months ago. And I don’t believe that anyone ever heard of COVID-19 then nor dreamt that things would be as they are back then.
How do you spell ‘coincidence’. Apophenia.
The saddest thing about these kooks who propagate these dangerous conspiracy theories is that they don’t look at simple fact. Oh, it’s on the internet, it must be true.
Take Iran. It hardly has a 4G network that functions. 5G? Not as much as one mast. But it has some 5,000 victims.
Tunisia? Almost 30 fatalities.
There is not one scintilla of scientific, health-based, theoretical or indeed anecdotal evidence to support this dumbest of notions.
Some of versions of the theory are so bizarre it is hard to tell if they are jokes. For example, one message spreading around WhatsApp states the public applause for healthcare workers in the UK every Thursday night was scheduled to drown out the buzz of 5G networks being tested.
DIANA AND JFK ASSASSINATION
Sadly, there have always been idiots out there who thrive in spreading misinformation to suit their own twisted agendas or personal illnesses. From the JFK assassination and 9/11, major public traumas and conspiracy theories have always gone hand in hand.
Sadly too, people can’t accept that things happen. They believe that there are darker, more sinister forces at work. Who wanted Princess Diana dead before she died in a car accident in a And even more sadly too is that very often, influencers or misinformed celebrities are to blame for the spread of these conspiracy theories. car driven by a drunk chauffeur.
In both the UK and Ireland celebrities play major a role in spreading misinformation. In the UK, television starlet Amanda Holden tweeted a link to a petition linking 5G and coronavirus
You need to ask a basic question: Who profits from these conspiracy theories?
Increased views brings increased revenue. And if want to increase views, make stuff up.
That’s not apophenia. That’s a fact.
PANNING THE PANDEMIC
OPENING UP SPAIN
Finally, there seems to be the first signs of light emerging in Spain after six weeks of darkness of this pandemic.
I live there for part of the year and I have many friends who have not been out of their street since the beginning of March. They have businesses that have shut down, have laid off staff, have been laid off and, because the economy is so dependent on tourism – some 80 million visited Spain in 2019 – no one knows when or if the economy will recover from COVID-19.
On Monday, Spain took its first tentative steps to going back to work – and the government has issued very strict guidelines on how it is to be done.
With half of the world under some form of lockdown, the Spanish government rules will likely come into effect for the rest of us at some point down the road. Here’s what they’ve told Spaniards in a nation where nearly 20,000 have died.
Don’t go to work if you have symptoms: The first recommendation is for workers to stay at home if they are experiencing any symptoms of the coronavirus – coughing, fever, difficulty breathing. Anyone who has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus must avoid work for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus.
Use private transport if possible: The government recommends that workers use a private form of transport, such as a motorbike, bicycle or walking, to get to and from work. This is to help ensure that people remain two metres apart when traveling to work and so minimise the risk of contagion. A private car is also an option, but the government advises that the utmost care must be taken to clean the vehicle, and that no more than one person should be in the front and back seats.
Use face masks on public transport: The Health Ministry recommends that face masks be worn during journeys on buses, the Metro train or the intercity train service, as well as on company trips. “In the case of public buses, the driver will monitor capacity and that [passengers] respect the interpersonal distance,” it says. “It is recommended that you use hygienic, not medical, face masks if you are traveling on public transport.”
Keep a two-metre distance: The government recommends that work tasks are organised so that staff can remain two metres apart, both when while working and as they are leaving and entering the workplace. The government adds that this distance must be guaranteed in common areas, in particular changing rooms. “The return to activity must be guided by the principle of risk minimization,” it says. “That’s why, those activities that present a risk of large gatherings must be the last to resume normal activity.”
Minimise contact between client and staff: In the case of companies that serve the public, measures must be implemented to minimise the contact between clients and staff. The government recommends controls be placed at business entrances to ensure that the site does not exceed its capacity, which should be set so that the interpersonal distance of two metres can be respected at all times. The government also states that online and card payments should be encouraged, and recommends “the use of partitions and physical elements that assure the protection of the client and salesperson,” and which can easily be cleaned and disinfected.
Set flexible hours: The government recommends companies set more flexible working hours and stagger timetables to avoid large gatherings on public transport, and when workers enter and leave the workplace. This also must be done if the workspace does not allow staff to maintain a safe distance during the normal work schedule. The government also suggests suspending clocking-in systems or those using digital fingerprints.
Use face masks when working around others: The Health Ministry recommends workers use face masks while working with other people. “The use of a barrier face mask, in the case that others cannot be accessed, is recommended when you work with people around you,” it says.
Gloves for more exposed workers: In professions that are more exposed to the coronavirus, the Health Ministry asks that companies provide workers with enough personal protection equipment.
Medical service: The government states that all companies, regardless of size, must clearly identify their medical service “in order to rapidly intervene on the ground in collaboration with the public health system.”
Hygiene recommendations: According to the guide, companies must ventilate their facilities at least once a day for more than five minutes. The guidelines recommend that the temperature of the workplace be set between 23 and 26 degrees Celsius.
Wash uniforms in hot water: The government recommends that workers wash their work clothes or uniform in a “complete cycle in a temperature between 60C and 90C.” These clothes should be taken off at the end of the shift and carried in a closed and sealed bag to their normal laundry.
These are all sobering thoughts. Certainly, it seems as if our workplace will be changed for months to come. But at least we are getting back to work.
AND DOING IT DIFFERENT IN DENMARK
I am anticipating having to go to Denmark in the coming months. It’s a trip that will be necessary to meet the parents of my stepson’s girlfriend, Mette. Yes, things are that serious and they’re at the stage where she wants a puppy. You know the story, first puppy, then a baby….
But right now a lot of nations in Europe are looking at Denmark’s plans to re-open after a very strict lockdown imposed to fight this coronavirus.
Earlier this week, Danish authorities took the first tentative steps in loosening controls, allowing children in nursery and kindergarten and those up to the age of 12 at to return school on April 15.
The aim of this, the Prime Minister said, was for parents to be able to work more effectively from home without caring for small children.
The government is also talking to some private businesses about how employees can start to return to the workplace. Everything else, including Denmark’s borders, will remain closed until May 10 when they’ll be another review.
But there are lot of questions and Danes are watching very carefully indeed. And they have questions – lots of them. Is it too soon? Will they social distance? Will they wash their hands? What is a child becomes sick and the coronavirus spreads? What about being in contact with those with health issues?
It’s fraught with danger.
Right now, the government says the schools can open, but the final decision is being left with local school officials. It’s a very tough call indeed.
Let’s hope they get it right, or a second wave could very well hit.
It’s going to be quite a while before I get to Denmark.
FRENCH BAKERS ARE ROLLING IN DOUGH
One of the great pleasures of being in France is strolling down to the local corner bakery – yes, there are many thousands still across its villages, communities, towns and cities – and picking up a fresh baguette.
As anxious consumers around the world stockpile toilet paper as an essential item during lockdowns, the French thronged bakeries for baguettes, fearing a shortage of their daily bread as they waited out the coronavirus epidemic in confinement.
The country of 67 million people consumes nine billion of the long loaves every year, has an annual competition for the best baguette in Paris, and a special word for the pointy end they chew off on their way home from the baker after work: the crouton.
Bakers are among the few essential-service businesses allowed to stay open in France under strict anti-virus confinement measures. And they are thriving, with long lines in the cities and countryside alike.
The bakeries have changed, however. There are lines on the floor keeping people apart to ensure social distancing, there are Perspex screen protecting the glove-wearing servers.
France’s labour ministry even approved a special waiver allowing bakeries to be open seven days a week instead of the legal limit of six days.
Now that’s emergency planning!
MEME OF THE DAY
This meme was shared with me by my friend and colleague Shyam Krishan, a Senior Associate Editor at Gulf News , and it says a lot about how much society has indeed changes during this pandemic.
THE LOCKDOWN DIET
Day 17 of Dr Joshi’s Holistic Detox: “21 days to a healthier slimmer you – for life.”
Just four days to go. There was an advertisement on television the other night for fresh Hot Cross Buns, which are only sold in the days leading up to Easter. I have been to the local store in search of some. I got some, and they are in my freezer, breakfast on Saturday morning, toasted with butter and a steaming mug of coffee.
And on Saturday morning before breakfast, I will do the great weigh in to see how this 21-day detox worked out.
Right now, as I peck at my keyboard and write this, I am nibbling on carrot and celery sticks and dipping them into fresh hummous that I made with tahini, lemon juice, good Spanish olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper. And I added a sprinkle of sesame seeks just for presentation purposes. Yep, you eat with your eyes.
Did I tell you I miss coffee?
A LANGUAGE BARRIER IN SWEDEN?
On the weekend of June 12, some two months from now, I was supposed to be in Anderstorp, about 90 minutes’ drive from Sweden’s second city of Gothenburg. It was for an 80th birthday celebration which has now been put on hold.
I was looking forward to visiting Stockholm as well and filing some content back to Gulf News from there.
It’s interesting that statistics by Stockholm’s health officials show how the coronavirus appears to be hitting immigrant communities in the city’s suburbs the hardest.
Squares, schools, libraries, community centres and healthcare facilities in several of Stockholm's northern neighborhoods are covered in leaflets from Swedish health authorities, communicating information in a wide variety of languages about how to protect yourself and those around you from the coronavirus.
But despite this large awareness-creating campaign among foreign-born communities in the vulnerable suburbs, many of these areas have been hit disproportionately hard.
One infectious disease expert warned on April 7 the information campaign did not yet appear to have had an effect
But there’s also the sad reality that immigrants and refugees from a non-European background often live more concentrated than other people in Sweden. Many low-income families are living in small affordable apartments – meaning COVID-19, once it has a grip, spreads fast there.
Sadly, that’s the reality in too many places around the world.
THE STOCK SHOCK
The markets opened on Tuesday morning after the four-day Easter break. I began more than two weeks ago pretending that I had £10,000 (about Dh45,000) to invest in the London Stock Market. A quick reminder that there’s no minimum amount of shares I can buy, I have to but at the end of a day’s trading, and I don’t pay brokerage fees. And it’s just play money – like Monopoly but without the Go To Jail card.
I entered trading on Tuesday with a portfolio and come cash in hand was worth £10,753.13.
I had decided not to go into oil-related shares. I still think things are too volatile, and the Opec+ deal reached late last week to reduce output by 10 per cent needs to be balanced off against a severe drop in demand, shut factories, people driving less, fewer planes in the sky, and an overall supply at a time when the northern hemisphere’s weather is getting warmer.
I am, however, investing in Just Eat Takeaway for 250 shares. With people locked down, they’re ordering more takeaway food and fed up of cooking. And I also hold 100 shares of Totally, a healthcare company that provides support services to the National Health Service. Hey, if you’re in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic and run off your feet, then you need support services.
That’s my logic.
Did the market agree on Tuesday?
Yes. Just Eat closed at £78.02. And Totally closed at £11.752. Good news indeed. So this is how my portfolio stands now, heading into Wednesday.
Net worth: £11,198.13
Just East Takeaway, 100 shares: £7,802.00
Totally, 250 shares: £2938.00
Cash in hand £458.13
% Gain + 11.2%
£ Gain +£1,198.13
Tomorrow, if this keeps up, I’ll look at other options. Overall, a good day, and I’m up more than 11 per cent since this little exercise started 16 days ago.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that provides both anecdotal and empirical evidence that Neanderthals are not extinct. But I remain hopeful…
SUCKER PUNCH AT WORK
Japan has been a lot slower than most countries in bringing in some form of restriction of movement.
In Yamagata, Prefectural Governor Emiko Yoshimura asked residents to refrain from travelling outside of the prefecture.
Nevertheless, a 20-year-old employee of a construction company didn’t just refuse to stay home, but went all the way over the border to Sendai, in Miyagi Prefecture, on his day off. Because of that, his manager told him to stay home from work as a precaution against potentially spreading infection to his co-workers and anyone else he could come into contact with along the way.
But when the employee ignored the order and showed up at a job site in Yamagata’s Sakata City, his on-site managed reprimanded hime – and punched hm in the head as well.
The boss is facing charges. The worker has hopefully learnt his lesson.
SELF-MEDICATING FOR COVID-19
A driver stopped by Irish police at a cononavirus checkpoint tested positive for cocaine and cannabis after saying they were “just out for a spin”.
A large number of checkpoints are in place around the country as police enforce COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Current exceptions to leaving home include essential workers travelling to work, and people going to shops for essential items, for vital family healthcare reasons or to take physical exercise within a 2km radius.
After being stopped at a checkpoint recently, a driver informed police they were “out for a spin”.
There was “a strong smell of cannabis from the vehicle”, police said, and the driver subsequently tested positive for taking cocaine and cannabis.
Neither substance is a treatment for COVID-19 – nor anything else!
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 media outlets in today’s blog. And remember to stay safe.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe