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 24: Wednesday April 22, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
FAREWELL JACK. TRAVEL LIGHT
I wrote here yesterday about my former father-in-law who was expected to pass on as a result of contracting COVID-19. He has suffered with dementia and he had been in a care home for several years.
He passed away on Tuesday afternoon. He’s at peace.
The funeral service will be limited to just 10 people, and it will be streamed for all else to pay their respects virtually.
It’s a terrible pandemic.
Let’s all hope there won’t be many more who feel the pain of losing loved ones.
SINGING THROUGH THE LOCKDOWN BLUES
We are social beings. And right now, I’m mid-way through my fourth week of not being able to mix and mingle, limiting my trips out, and having to social distance from others.
Sure, social media helps a lot.
But the lockdown process provides an opportunity for us all to learn better coming techniques. We are not meant to be cooped up with little means of managing our stress.
Sure, it’s great time to learn other skills, or break out long-forgotten hobbies that bring us satisfaction.
But there’s a simple way too to help relieve the stress.
Honestly, you’ll feel better for it. Just get out on your balcony or open your door or window. And sing.
Now I am known to be a shower singer, hitting the high notes as I scrub low places. But it’s fun. And it puts you in a good humour.
NO PAVAROTTI OR BUBBLE
You don’t have to a Pavarotti or be able to croon like Michael Buble, but there’s a great feeling to be had by simply singing. Honestly. Try it. I’m sure you’re smiling just at the prospect of letting a few bars rip.
Err, sure, it helps if you’re alone or with others in isolation who won’t toss you off the 34th floor balcony – but it’ll bring a smile to their face.
And don’t say you can’t. We all can make noises – some more in tune than others – but it is a perfect time now to get rid of stress.
Imagine if your stood on your balcony and crooned and someone a few floors away heard you and joined in. Or sang back? How cool would that be. It’s make you feel better instantly. And that’s what we all could do with right now – feeling better or having a smile on our faces.
BELTING OUT A FEW BARS
I like to do long-distance hikes, some of which last for a week or so and I’m doing up to 30 kilometres a day up and down mountains through terrain that can be rough – and the more isolated the better.
It’s as much a mental strain as it is physical, putting one step in front of another for hours and kilometres upon end.
And it does wear me out. And I get glum and blue. Not knowing if I have the energy within to be able to finish that day’s section as the cold and dusk begin to settle in.
But I have found that one of the great coping mechanisms is to simple start singing. Out loud. Like a madman singing to myself in the middle of Galicia in Spain or the Wicklow Way in Ireland, or the Pennine Way up the spine of the UK.
But it lifts my spirits and helps me forget about the tiredness or the cold or the damp.
So if you’re feeling that this lockdown is starting to get to you, try singling. Go one, belt it out!
GOOD NEWS FROM DOWN UNDER
The stepson was on the phone yesterday morning from the top of the North Island of New Zealand.
He’s ready to admit that he has a girlfriend now and, what’s more, the willowy waif was put on the video link too. Now we have a face to the name.
That’s the first bit of good news from down there.
The second bit of good news is that New Zealand is moving from a Level 4 lockdown to a Level 3 lockdown. It means there’s a little more freedom and some shops can re-open.
In Jake’s orbit, it means he can surf again which, I guess if you’re 21 half-a-world away with a girlfriend, that’s a big deal.
THOUSANDS IN DRUG TRIALS
But thirdly, the real bit of good news from both New Zealand and Australia is that dozens of hospitals will trial a HIV treatment and an anti-malarial touted by US President Donald Trump on patients infected with Covid-19.
The AustralaSian Covid-19 Trial has begun treating patients infected with the virus at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, ASCOT leader Stephen Tong from the RMH and Doherty Institute told reporters.
The trial plans to recruit about 2,000 patients from more than 70 Australian hospitals and from 12 hospitals in New Zealand, professor Tong said.
The trial will test Lopinavir/ritonavir, which is currently authorised as an anti-HIV medicine, as well as hydroxychloroquine, also approved l to treat malaria and certain autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Both drugs are being tested elsewhere, including by the World Health Organisation, with Prof Tong saying the ASCOT trial will benefit from a coordinated response between hospitals across two countries.
Some patients will not receive either drug, due to the trial using random allocations of treatments. The phase one trial is expected to run for between 12 and 18 months. But that’s good news indeed. Let’s keep our fingers crossed something works.
A FRENCH LANDMARK LIVING IN ISOLATION
About 18 months ago, I spent a week driving through Normandy, the historic region to the north and west of France.
Its many tidal estuaries and charming old towns provide some of the best seafood and culinary experiences in France, a nation which has, of course, no shortage of those.
And Mont Saint-Michel is stunning.
In normal times, the mount draws more than 2 million visitors a year. Now it lies empty except for 30 local residents whose restaurants, souvenir shops and cafes depend on the influx of tourists.
For Yan Galton, the commune’s outgoing mayor, the coronavirus lockdown has returned the Mont Saint-Michel to a charming bygone era — but with painful consequences.
“It takes me back years, reminds me of how it was when I was a kid,” Galton said. “Armed with my wooden sword, I used to pretend I was an Ivanhoe and would have the run of the fortress.
“Mont Saint-Michel is resting now. But from an economic point of view, it is a little sad.”
GOTHIC SPLENDOUR BEFORE MIDDLE-AGE PLAGUE
The abbey was founded in 966, built on a sanctuary dedicated to the Archangel Michel, but it was in the 13th century that work began on the Gothic centre-piece of its architecture, with towering walls and soaring pinnacles.
Tourists began swarming to the abbey and the village that arose in the shadows of its walls in the 1980s after it was designated a World Heritage Site.
Now with France under virtual lockdown, however, the Mont Saint-Michel is closed to the public and tourism is almost the only source of income.
Eric Bellon, who heads the La Mere Poulard business, said the group’s 250 employees were temporarily unemployed on a government furlough scheme.
“Their jobs ground to a halt over the course of a weekend,” Bellon said, referring to the Saturday and Sunday before a March 17 virtual lockdown was imposed.
Souvenir shop owner Marc Yreux also worries for his 20 staff and his business. He counts April as the month his summer season begins.
There will be no easing of the restrictions on public life until at least May 11 and even then it is unclear when France will re-open its borders, permit festivals and allow the tourism sector to reboot.
As we are all under lockdown or have restrictions placed on our movements, one of the pleases we have now is remembering the wonderful places we have been too and where our future travels may take us.
Certainly, I’m heading back to Normandy for sure – with a half-dozen fresh oysters shucked and ready to be slurped from their briny shells.
STRANDED ON A DESERTED ISLAND – AND SAFE AND SOUND
If you’re going to get stranded during this coronavirus pandemic, then being isolated on a island all to yourself doesn’t seem too bad.
That’s the situation a former British paratrooper finds himself in while he’s in the middle of a 13,000 kilometre hike around the coastline of the UK.
Christian Lewis when his quest to walk every twist and turn of the British coastline to raise money for charity was suddenly derailed by the arrival of the pandemic.
Lewis, from Swansea in South Wales, set off in the summer of 2017, with just Dh50 in his pocket. Picking up a companion – a dog named Jet –along the way, he arrived on the remote Scottish Shetland islands in March just as the UK was placed under restrictions.
With no home to go to and only a flimsy tent for protection in one of the most northerly and windswept parts of the country, he could’ve been in trouble.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
Instead, thanks to the kindness of complete strangers, he’s found himself in arguably one of the best places on the planet to sit out the crisis – a cottage on a tiny island all to himself.
“It is just super. I couldn't be in a better place for a lockdown,” he says. “There’s nothing here but a few sheep and an array of birds.”
Hildasay measures less than a square kilometre and has been largely uninhabited since the late 19th century.
Lewis receives deliveries of water from local fisherman called Victor and forages for food. He makes the occasional boat trip to the Shetland mainland for other supplies.
“To get back to the mainland is only about a half hour by small boat,” he says. “But that stretch of sea is not the nicest, so we really have to pick and choose our days when we get back.”
In the meanwhile, he’s safe and sound and puts a new twist on social isolating.
LIVING IN CLOSE QUARTERS
I read a very interesting piece about people who are not really family but are forced to live together during isolation.
I’ll share a synoposis with you – which will be of use if you’re sharing a confined spice with colleagues.
It’s natural for tempers to fray even among the tightest groups of friends. Those living with strangers may find it more awkward – although it could also be an opportunity to make a shared space more of a home.
The pandemic is affecting people in many ways. Some manage to keep a level head, follow the official advice and make the best of it. Others find their worries spiralling, spending their time glued to 24-hour news feeds and weighing up every cough and hot flush with frantic googling.
Hint – read this blog and read Gulf News and that’s enough.
If you have a housemate who is suffering with anxiety it may feel natural to rush to reassure them or dismiss their fears. But, says Dr Warren Mansell from the University of Manchester, you should try to avoid this. “Ask them what they are really concerned about, and what they are worried might happen. Even then, you don’t need to provide reassurance, because often when people express their worries out loud, they question it themselves. So just help them explore what they are worried about and what they want right now.”
DEALING WITH HYGIENE ISSUES IN A FLAT
Mess is always a problem in house shares, even at the best of times. At one end, there’s the housemate who is prone to leaving passive-aggressive notes for those who aren’t following their high standards. Then there’s the housemate whose bedroom smells vaguely like cheese. But there are things you can do to avoid conflict when avoiding your housemate is impossible.
“You can help these people who are overly concerned by showing that you are following the recommendations of washing your hands at appropriate times,” says Dr Anisha Patel-Dunn at the US healthcare company LifeStance Health. “Putting a sign in the kitchen and bathroom showing what the recommendations are can be helpful for both those who are overly concerned or messy.”
Or you could just have a chat. “Everyone has different standards for hygiene and tidiness, and this will just be made more apparent when living with each other all day in lockdown,” says Mansell. Often it is easy to assume what is behind another person’s messy or fussy behaviour – and easy to get it wrong. So the solution is to talk, ask and listen.
IF YOUR FLATMATE IS FLOUTING RULES
Not everyone is taking the outbreak as seriously as they need to. For every anxious housemate there is one who is still going out and visiting friends. Some of the myths around Covid-19 have endured since the initial outbreak. People are still comparing it to seasonal flu and concluding that the lockdown is an overreaction, while some still think being young and healthy makes you invulnerable. These myths are especially convincing when bouncing around an echo chamber. If one of your housemates is trapped in one, there are ways to bring them out. “Try to understand that some people are reacting to the current situation with denial,” says Patel-Dunn “Be honest and try and use ‘I’ statements so as to not make your housemate feel defensive: ‘I am feeling uncomfortable, as I don’t feel you are following social-distancing rules. This is making me worried that we are all going to get sick.’ It can be helpful to gently direct them to what local and national officials are recommending.”
SHARING HOME AND WORK SPACES
Those of us lucky enough to still have a job are working from our beds, sofas and kitchen tables. But if everyone in your household is having to work from home there could be land grabs for the best spot.
Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and founder of the life-coaching company Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing says communication is key. “It really comes down to scheduling, designating spaces and making it really clear,” he says. “You need to actively listen when people are expressing concerns or difficulties. Try to designate yourselves a workspace – one particular space that is sanitised.”
FINDING A QUIET CORNER TO WORK
Many of us suddenly find ourselves with all the time in the world to twiddle our thumbs or use them to turn the volume up on our sound systems. “Just be mindful of how your flatmates live. The technology is there to make sure that you’re not disturbing each other,” says Chambers. Using headphones is essential. “There is a lot of social communication going on now across video platforms.”
Approaching your housemates about this can be difficult, especially if you don’t know them very well – or at all. “It is important to stay calm and try not to get upset as this won’t be helpful,” says Patel-Dunn. Like cooking and cleaning, devising a plan around work and play could be the way to go. “Asking your housemates to all work on setting up a schedule for everyone to abide by in the house, including quiet time, can be helpful in showing respect for one another’s time and creating a routine,” she adds.
Hopefully, this piece that ran in the Irish Times will be useful to you. We all need to get through this together as best we can.
Oh! And counting to 10 helps.
MEME OF THE DAY
This meme was shared with me from by my first cousin Gus Ingoldsby who lives in Windsor, Ontario. He loves the Canadian outback and regularly goes off with some other retired buddies from the car plants there into the outback for fishing and shooting expeditions. And it’s apt too seeing as Wednesday is Earth Day.
THE STOCK SHOCK
Well, isn’t this an interesting time on the markets.
Never before have any of us witnessed a time where we might be paid to fill up our cars.
But seriously – it is hard to figure out where to put money right now when everything is so volatile.
Up to yesterday’s trading, I had turned my £10,000 – about Dh45,000 – in pretend trading money into a profit of £1,136.68.
A reminder that 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.
And I consider myself to be very lucky that I opted out from investing in oil last week. I felt there was too much around, little demand, and can’t see things improving until well into the summer.
And the experts agree with me, it seems as I smile to myself.
And on Tuesday I bucked what were largely downward trends. Both my 1,800 shares in Morrison’s supermarkets and with my 100 shares in Just Eat Takeaways were up.
This is how my portfolio stands at the end of Tuesday’s trading
Net worth: £1,1229.28
Just East Takeaway, 100 shares: £7848.00
Morrisons, 1800 shares: £3,354.30
Cash in hand £26.98
% Gain + 11.2%
£ Gain +£1,136.68
I was going to revisit this portfolio but given all that’s happening, I’m going to stand pat for now. And even turning a small profit on the day’s trade is pretty impressive I think.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that serves as a reminder that you don’t need a license to be stupid. It occurs naturally.
BORED BOZOS WERE BOUND FOR BRIGHTON BEACH
So there’s nothing like a day out at the sea, right?
Wrong – if you live in London and are supposed to be under coronavirus lockdown.
But if you’re going to be a bozo and break the lockdown rules, at least make sure you have a driving license and that your car is insured.
Police in Kent stopped a family on their way to Brighton for a day out because they were “bored of being in and wanted some fresh air” during the coronavirus lockdown.
Kent Police said the vehicle was stopped at a service station on the M25 highway that surrounds London.
The force’s roads policing unit tweeted that the driver was on the phone and had three children in the car who were not wearing a seatbelt.
The driver also had no insurance, police said, while children weren’t wearing seatbelts.
COVIDIOTS COUGH UP A FORTUNE IN FINES
Police up and down the United Kingdom have doled out more that 3,200 in fines to covidiots who insist on flouting Britian’s lockdown rules.
The laws took effect a little over two weeks ago – and they issued nearly 1,100 fines on the first weekend along as Britain basked in warn Easter weather.
Since then, however, here’s been no fall off in the consistency of covidiots in heading out to flout the laws.
You can’t teach cividiots new tricks it seems – they’re hardwired to put the rest of Briton at risk by their moronic behaviour.
The UK police have, however, scrapped 39 fines given to 16 and 17-year-olds who would not reveal their age . It turns out the police have not powers to target children.
Maybe they don’t. But where are the parents of these miscreants. If they were fined for not keeping proper control of their children’s movements, it’d come to an end pretty quickly.
YOBS TAKE TO THE STREETS OF PARIS
I pity the police in Paris right now who have to contend with gangs of yobs who are taking to the streets , setting bins on fire and letting off fireworks – all in their misguided and reckless attempt to get lockdown conditions lifted.
If anything, with this type of behaviour, the lockdown conditions should be more strictly enforced.
What’s the French for covidiot?
Local television stations in the French capital broadcast images of fireworks being set off in areas such as Villeneuve-La-Garenne, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Asnieres as riot police moved in.
Trouble had first broken out in Villeneuve-La-Garenne, north of the French capital, on Saturday night, after a motorcyclist collided with an unmarked police car during a chase.
The male driver had to go to hospital for treatment, while French police have said they will launch an internal inquiry into the incident.
France’s banlieues are notoriously volatile even in the best of times. But these high-rise neighbourhoods that ring many large cities in French ringing many of its cities, have long been flashpoints of anger over social and economic grievances.
But this type of anti-social behaviour right now is just downright dangerous, meaning French emergency services have to put themselves and others at risk by turning attention to these goons and troublemakers. These yobs need to be locked up pronto.
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