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.
DAY 23: Tuesday April 21, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE? A CRUEL AND INCIDIOUS VIRUS
I write this with a heavy heart. I have just had a phone call from my daughter, Emma. My former father-in-law, Jack Brannigan, has but hours to live.
Indeed, by the time this reaches the Gulf News platform, he may very well have passed onto through that great divide.
Emma is heartbroken, so too are all her family.
Jack is a good age – well into his 80s – but has had dementia for the past number of years. Helena, his devoted and loving wife of more than five decades and herself not in the fullest of health, had no option to be left him spend out the rest of his days in a care home.
Over the past few days, Jack developed a cough. His family are only able to have one video call with him a week, and Emma shared a clip with me of him in reasonable fettle on Friday.
On Monday morning the care home called. He has taken a turn for the worst, and he is on morphine to keep him comfortable. It’s a matter of hours they said.
Coronavirus. It is the most insidious of diseases. As Emma so sadly but so painfully pointed out, none of the family can gather to prepare for his passing.
NO LAST EMBRACE
Helena, thanks to a recent change in rules by authorities in Ireland and because she was a midwife for many years, can stand in his room for a short while – no physical contact – but in full personal protective equipment.
Sadly, it is the old and infirm who are paying the heaviest toll in this pandemic. It is the elderly who are most vulnerable. And it is their families who are deprived of a chance to mourn properly, to say farewell, to find solace in common community.
Jack – his chances of pulling through are not likely at all – is the second victim of COVID-19 in my circle, and I lost a first cousin, Frank Clarke, three weeks ago.
I have written here too in these past few days of how coronavirus is ravaging our nursing and care homes. Little did I know then that these events would unfold.
There is a reality too that this is a scenario that has played out countless tens of thousands of times around the world. No last embraces. No time to say goodbye. A lonely passing from the darkest of nights to the brightest of dawns for so many.
A RECOVERY AGAINST ALL ODDS
After writing above about Jack, the story of Ben McCafferty is uplifting and serves as a reminder to us all that there is always hope.
Miracles do happen.
The 34-year-old person with ability was given just 24 hours to live after contracting coronavirus.
Ben, however, made it – and walked out of Bradford Royal Infirmary in northern England at the weekend, giving nurses, staff and his family, a big reason to smile.
Speaking to nurses before leaving the hospital, Ben’s stepfather Neil, who had stayed by his stepson’s side throughout the ordeal, said the family initially “didn't expect him to survive”.
“Ben came in a fortnight ago really poorly and we didn’t expect him to... we didn’t expect him to survive,” he said.
“We were told the survival rate was going to be very low. But with the staff and the help and the support that he has had, he has come through.”
In fact, Ben was – at one point – not expected to survive another 24 hours and was being looked after in palliative care, according to Karen Dawber, head of nursing at Bradford Teaching Hospitals.
“We just made him comfortable on a camp bed with his stepdad,” she told the Yorkshire Evening Post, adding: “We saw him start to get better. He was being looked after on our end-of-life ward.”
But Ben is a fighter.
After two weeks of treatment, he was able to leave the hospital virus free.
That’s the type of story we all need right now. A real lift in these dark times.
THE UPSIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
I can’t stand influencers – leeches who peddle information and goods on social media like hawkers in a souk.
They’re the parasites of social media.
But now I’ll admit that this pandemic has allowed the real benefits of keeping in touch to come to the fire.
Obliged to stay inside, we’re keeping busy at home. And thanks to social media, much of that activity is being shared with others. Suddenly, your living room and mine has been transformed into TV studios or sports arenas — allowing people to have fun and keep each other company virtually.
There’s a profession darts league running on social media.
People are hosting quizzes. Stars are hosting concerts from inside their homes, raising missions for healthcare workers and finding a vaccine for this horrible virus.
These home activities are often linked to hashtags, like #stayathomechallenge or #toiletpaperchallenge.
They feature people — including world-famous football players like Lionel Messi, Franck Ribery and Jerome Boateng — doing things like showcasing their ability to mesmerise with toilet paper dribbling skills.
Others don’t require things like athletic ability or toilet paper, that most valuable of commodities. In the #pillowchallenge, participants fashion an outfit by cinching a pillow to their waist with a belt, take a picture and share it online.
Even Hollywood actress Halle Berry got in on the action.
These campaigns inspire people to get creative, to get active and get them to do something different. And that’s a positive thing now with some 60 per cent of the world’s population living in some form of lockdown.
So for all of the hate and nastiness that’s all too often spewed and shared on social media, it is a force for good too.
We should all remember that when this is past. Share the positive, swipe left with the negative.
WHAT A WAY TO MARK EARTH DAY!
Wednesday is Earth Day. And that’s why I just love the story out of Thailand about how the beaches there are now so quite – Thais are in lockdown too – that rare leatherback sea turtles are back on tourist beaches for the first time in two decades.
In Thailand travel curbs ranging from a ban on international flights to an appeal to citizens to stay home have brought a collapse in tourist numbers, but freed up the beaches for wildlife.
The 11 turtle nests authorities have found since last November were the highest number in 20 years, said Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre.
“This is a very good sign for us because many areas for spawning have been destroyed by humans,” he told Reuters. No such nests had been found for the previous five years.
“If we compare to the year before, we didn’t have this many spawn, because turtles have a high risk of getting killed by fishing gear and humans disturbing the beach.”
LARGEST TURTLES IN THE WORLD
Leatherbacks are the world’s largest sea turtles. They are considered endangered in Thailand, and listed as a vulnerable species globally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
They lay their eggs in dark and quiet areas, scarce when tourists thronged the beaches. People have also been known to dig into their nests and steal eggs.
Late in March, staff at a national park in the southern province of Phanga Nga bordering the Andaman Sea found 84 hatchlings after monitoring eggs for two months.
How wonderful. And we’re not there to interfere.
All around the world there are marvelous stories of nature rebounding quickly from all of our activities. Tomorrow, during Earth Day, there’s plenty of food for thought for us all and how we must make things better.
A BLOOMING WINDERFUL TIME
And since it is Earth Day on Wednesday, there is another positive in this pandemic: A lot of people are rediscovering the joy of growing things.
Spring is a wonderful time of the year, a time of renewal, a time for new life to grow.
Too many people – Jaime Calder is one– had given up growing things. She gave up gardening after moving from Chicago to Texas.
Now, under coronavirus restrictions than means she must work from home, she and her family of five planted collard greens, chard, onions, blackberries, watermelons and peppers –expanding their garden while buckling down at home during the pandemic.
People around the world are turning to gardening as a soothing, family friendly hobby that also eases concerns over food security as lockdowns slow the harvesting and distribution of some crops. Fruit and vegetable seed sales are jumping worldwide.
RUSSIANS HEAD BACK TO THE LAND
Russians are isolating in out-of-town cottages with plots of land, a traditional source of vegetables during tough times since the Soviet era, and rooftop farms are planned in Singapore, which relies heavily on food imports.
Furloughed workers and people working from home are also looking for activities to occupy their free time, after the cancellations of major sporting events and the closure of restaurants, bars and theaters. Parents too are turning to gardening as an outdoor activity to do with children stuck at home after schools shut.
“Planting a few potatoes can be quite a revelation to a child,” said Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society, which has seen a five-fold rise in queries for advice on its website during the lockdown.
TURNING BAGS INTO GARDENS
Gardeners without yards are even planting potatoes in large black plastic bags, Barter said.
Gardening could trim retail demand for produce but trips to the grocery store will still be necessary. Bert Hambleton, retail consultant for Hambleton Resources, said supermarkets will continue to see an overall increase in produce demand as would-be restaurant-goers eat at home instead of dining out.
When they cannot find seeds in stores, would-be gardeners in Britain are seeking advice on how to extract them from tomatoes and squash purchased in supermarkets, Barter said.
‘I GROW TOMATOES, YOU GROW CARROTS’
With so many digging into gardening for the first time, there has also been a push to pool resources and collective knowledge on home food production.
Nathan Kleinman, co-director of Philadelphia-based Experimental Farm Network, said more than 2,000 people signed up and attended weekly calls to discuss gardening best practices as they begin putting seeds in the ground.
“The reaction was overwhelming,” Kleinman said. “It struck a nerve with a lot of people.”
How wonderful is this. Maybe, when we’re though the other side of this pandemic, we all should keep up the good habits we’ve picked up during this lockdown. It was good enough for our parents and grandparents too. Besides, there’s nothing as satisfying as eating when you’ve grown. Long may it last.
MEME OF THE DAY
This meme was shared with me from a friend of a friend in Australia on Facebook. Sadly, there’s an irony in it. How many of us have spent hours at meetings when now we’re finding that an email would have sufficed? Will work ever be the same again? Do we all need to be in offices?
THE STOCK SHOCK
After three weeks of pretend trading, my portfolio stood at a net worth: £11,124.42, a gain of £1,1124.42 heading into the first day or trading in the new week.
A reminder that I started out with £10,000 in play money – about Dh45,000. It’s all pretend, I don’t pay for trades and I can any amount but only at the end of the a trading day.
Monday was a mixed day, with my 1,800 shares in Morrison’s supermarkets slipping slightly, and with my 100 shares in Just Eat Takeaways up very modestly.
This is how my portfolio stands at the end of Monday’s trading
Net worth: £1,1136.68
Just East Takeaway, 100 shares: £7784.00
Morrisons, 1800 shares: £3,323.70
Cash in hand £26.98
% Gain + 11.1%
£ Gain +£1,136.68
If I’m still standing still at the end of trading on Tuesday, I will shake things up – and there are few stocks that are fizzing along nicely and might be worth an investment. My Morrison holdings would be the ones to go, but Just Eat will need to gain a couple of per cent tomorrow lest I cash them in.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that serves as a reminder that cockroaches survive most things.
DEBUNKED: MOUTHWASH CAN’T SANITISE AGAINST COVID-19
Let’s get real, people! A post shared widely in Facebook has claimed anti-bacterial mouthwash can be watered down and used as a hand sanitiser.
The message suggests that a nurse advised them to use this solution if they were struggling to find hand sanitiser.
It says healthcare workers are using this combination in some emergency departments in nameless hospitals.
The post includes a picture of a cool mint mouthwash, and a number of smaller bottles that appear to contain this recommended mixture.
Mouthwash manufacturers have stepped forward to debunk this nonsense, explaining that mouthwash has not been tested on any strains of the coronavirus and does not claim to kill germs that cause COVID-19.
It’s dangerous stuff like this that is causing confusion. Enough!
BUSTED: FAKE VIDEO OF iPHONE SETTING STEEL WOOL ON FIRE
I’ve railed on here before about the covidiots who think – no, let me rephrase that – who don’t think.
They wrongly believe COVID-19 is somehow linked to the rollout of 5G.
Wrong, wrong – and wrong.
Now there’s a video in circulation on social media that claims to show a 5G Apple iPhone setting steel wool on fire.
The flames captured in the video were added through a digital effect. Oh – and Apple has not yet launched 5G capable phones yet.
In the video, an iPhone is surrounded by steel wool. When the phone receives an incoming call, the wool appears to catch fire.
The video has been manipulated.
When viewed frame by frame, a quick transition can be seen just before the steel wool begins to sparkle with what appears to be flames. The video showed up in January on social media, and it reemerged recently as conspiracy theories began circulating around 5G wireless service and the coronavirus pandemic.
While Apple has not launched 5G capable phones, experts say a ringing cellphone would not set steel wool — which is highly flammable — on fire.
“The phone itself doesn’t emanate some massive power,” Muriel Medard, professor of electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the AP in a telephone interview. “It couldn’t even if it wanted to.”
She also emphasised that 5G wireless is relying on fairly conventional systems.
COVID-19 CURBS THE SCOURGE OF DRUG BARONS
There’s no doubt coronavirus has dealt a hammer blow to many jobs, shuttering businesses and putting the world’s economy into hibernation mode.
But one positive sign is that drug barons and those who peddle their narcotics poison around the world are being hard hit too.
And that’s a good day’s work in the war on drugs.
COVID-19 has also meant that with borders closed and illegal supply chains unable to hide under the blanket of opportunities normally afforded by legitimate trade, these gangsters and hoodlums can’t get the product they need to make their dirty street drugs.
And there’s an irony too because many of the chemicals needed to bake highly profitable and addictive drugs such as methamphetamine and fentanyl, actually originated in Wuhan – the original epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lockdowns have also turned cities into ghost towns – meaning there’s no market for the drugs and no way to get them to the vulnerable on whom these goons prey.
Bars, nightclubs and motels are also shut across America. These normally are fertile ground for pushers to sell their poison. Now, there’s no market. And that’s a welcome day indeed.
Let’s just hope that when things open up again, these scum don’t slither out from under their rocks then too.
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