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 25: Thursday April 23, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
SCIENTISTS FIND 33 MUTATIONS OF COVID-19
We are all hoping and praying that medical researchers come up with a viable vaccine for coronavirus as quickly as possible.
It literally is a matter of life and death.
But it may be much more difficult and take longer that we would like. Scientists in China have discovered more than 30 mutations of the new coronavirus, which they say may partly explain why it has been more deadly in certain parts of the world.
Researchers from Zhejiang University said they have “direct evidence” that Covid19 “has acquired mutations capable of substantially changing its pathogenicity”.
The study was written by a team including Professor Li Lanjuan, one of China’s top scientists who was reportedly the first expert to propose a lockdown in Wuhan – where Covid-19 began.
Samples were taken from 11 patients admitted to hospitals in Hangzhou, 700 kilometres east of Wuhan, between 22 January and 4 February during the early phase of the outbreak.
DEADLIEST MUTATIONS IN PATIENTS
Using “ultra-deep sequencing”, researchers identified 33 mutations of the coronavirus – known as SARS-CoV-2 - of which 19 were new.
The deadliest mutations in the patients in the study had also been found in most patients across Europe, the South China Morning Post reported.
Meanwhile, the milder strains were the predominant types found in parts of the United States, such as Washington state, the newspaper said.
One mutation found in five patients involved in the research had previously only been seen in one case in Australia, according to the study.
The researchers said the findings indicate “the true diversity of the viral strains is still largely underappreciated”.
They also warned vaccine developers need to consider the impact of these “accumulating mutations... to avoid potential pitfalls”.
MOST AGGRESSIVE STRAINS
In the study, the researchers assessed the viral load – meaning the amount of the virus – in human cells after one, two, four and eight hours, as well as the following day and 48 hours later.
The most aggressive strains created up to 270 times as much viral load as the least potent type, the scientists found.
Prof Li and her colleagues said their findings also indicated that a “higher viral load leads to a higher cell death ratio”.
Ten of the 11 patients involved in the study – which included eight males and three females aged between four months and 71 years old – had “moderate or worse symptoms” of Covid-19.
The good news is that they all recovered.
But clearly, the bad news is that this virus won’t be easily beaten.
And that’s why we must all do our bit by following social distancing rules or staying under the lockdown conditions placed on us by public health officials and governments.
THE GREAT MASK DEBATE CONTINUES
Scientists and public health officials are divided on whether we should be wearing masks when we’re out. Some nations have made them mandatory – others say they’re not needed or might only have to be worn on public transport.
In the European Union, even nations are divided. Spain, Germany, Italy and Austria say the masks help. There’s no hard and fast rule.
Those in favour say wearers can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others. This is particularly the case when a person is infected – it can also help block transmission from people who have the virus and don’t know it.
But then there’s the danger that if we all wear masks, there might be a shortage for healthcare workers who need them as part of their essential personal protective equipment.
Clearly, surgical masks need to go to medical staff. But other countries the move has mostly been to advise people to make reusable cotton masks from simple items they can find in their house.
WRAP A SCARF AROUND YOUR FACE
Scarfs are useful to wrap it around your face twice and tie it under the chin to ensure it stays in place. Apparently, the thicker the scarf the better. But it needs to cover your nose and mouth. Also when you are removing it don’t touch your face and don’t fiddle with it while wearing it – we should all be trying to put our hands to our face as little as possible. Infection happens when the virus gets into the mouth, nose or eyes.
And then there are people who are making their own masks at home.
One study showed the best were made from a cotton sheet with 80-120 thread count. This was followed by paper towels, canvas and shop towels. Other useful pieces included cotton T-shirts. Natural materials are better so cotton is preferable to polyester for filtering out particles.
But remember – even if you do wear a mask or indeed a scarf, it is no substitute for social distancing.
And wash your hands regularly.
DEBUNKED: YOU WON’T HAVE TO PAY TO USE WHATSAPP
There’s a message doing the rounds on WhatsApp at the moment claiming that the messaging platform will soon no longer be free to use.
The message claims that from “Saturday morning” WhatsApp will begin charging users unless the recipient forwards the message onto 10 other people.
“If you have at least 10 contacts send them this message,” it urges people.
It claims that if this is done, WhatsApp will see that the person is “an avid user” and that their logo will “become blue” and that their account will remain free.
It goes on to claim that WhatsApp will cost “0.01ps” per message.
“Send this message to 10 people. When you do the light will turn blueotherwise [sic] whatsapp will activate billing,” the message claims.
RAISING A RED FLAG
For a start, the language and grammar used in the message raises a red flag.
Officially, the messaging platform is branded as WhatsApp. As can be seen above, the message refers to the service in all lower case letters – “whatsapp”.
Elsewhere in the message, words are grouped together, “When you do the light will turn blueotherwise whatsapp will activate billing”.
It is also claimed that the message will cost “0.01ps”, with no clarification as to what currency that refers to.
Furthermore, the message does not clarify what date the supposed billing will be implemented on, instead vaguely referring to “Saturday morning”.
It’s false. Claptrap. Bunkum.
WhatsApp outlines in its “about” section on its website that “WhatsApp is free and offers simple, secure, reliable messaging and calling, available on phones all over the world”.
In the FAQ section of its website, WhatsApp again states that it is free to send messages on its platform.
“WhatsApp uses your phone’s internet connection (4G/3G/2G/Edge or WiFi, as available) to send and receive messages to your friends and family. You don’t have to pay for every message,” it says.
KEEPING WITHIN YOUR DATA LIMIT
“As long as you haven’t exceeded your data limit or you’re connected to a free WiFi network, your carrier shouldn’t charge you extra for messaging over WhatsApp.”
WhatsApp does clarify, however, that additional mobile data charges may apply if a phone is “roaming”.
Oh, and just to set things even more straight, here’s the part of WhatsApp a lot of people miss.
The messaging platform urges people to “think about messages that you receive, because not everything you are sent about coronavirus may be accurate”.
DEBUNKED: BOGUS IV DRIPS CAN TREAT CORONAVIRUS
The advertising watchdog in the UK has cracked down on three companies for implying they could provide immune-boosting IV drips that could prevent or treat coronavirus.
The Advertising Standards Authority banned the adverts and marketing claims made by the Private Harley Street Clinic, REVIV and Cosmetic Medical Advice UK after fast-tracking its investigations.
A page on the Private Harley Street Clinic’s website promoted its Immunobooster IV infusion, which costs £350 – about Dh1,582 – and contains zinc and common vitamins including C, linking it to preventing infection from the virus. “Maintaining and boosting your immune system is vital as this is your protection against this virus and other pathogens,” the webpage said.
INSTAGRAM BOASTS ON IMMUNITY
In the second case, two posts on Instagram featured an image of Dr Rita Rakus of Cosmetic Medical Advice UK “having her super immune system booster drip at the clinic”.
The booster, with a range of over-the-counter vitamins such as B and C in saline solution, was marketed as a “good way to boost your immune system and protect yourself from viral infections”.
The third case, involving REVIV, featured a blogpost by its in-house doctor, Michael Barnish, on the company’s website. The blogpost described REVIV’s Megaboost IV Therapy as “containing a high dose of vitamin C”. Text claimed that “we are also witnessing clinical trials in hospitals treating coronavirus using high intravenous doses of the powerful antioxidant, vitamin C, with some initial positive results”.
REVIV removed the blogpost after being contacted by the ASA.
The ASA investigated after receiving complaints from the public that the ads were medicinal claims for products not licensed as a medicine by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), a breach of the UK advertising code.
“The MHRA said that any mention of coronavirus/Covid-19 in the promotion of an IV drip product would bring the product under medicines regulations, as would any claim that implied treatment of, or protection from, the virus,” the ASA said. “We considered that consumers would interpret the claims to mean that an IV drip … could help to prevent people from catching coronavirus/Covid-19.”
NOT LICENSED AS MEDICINAL PRODUCTS
The ASA ruled that in each case the products were not licensed as a medicinal product and therefore banned the ads and marketing claims.
“We concluded the ad therefore breached the UK advertising code and must not appear again in the form complained of,” the ASA ruled.
If you want to do your bit, follow the advice being offered by public health officials and the government. That’s how together, we can stop this virus in its tracks.
STRANDED ON SURAT THANI ISLANDS
I spent a couple of weeks exploring the islands of Surat Thani in Thailand last year. I wouldn’t say it was my favourite place – simply because there were too many tourists there all seeking the same thing.
It’s one of those places that I can tick off my list but as to whether I would ever go back, that’s an entirely different question altogether.
So I have a little sympathy – just a little – for the 10,000 or so foreign tourists who have been left stranded there – including about 5,700 on Koh Samui.
Tikamporn Sutti-udomrat, the tourism and sports chief of Surat Thani, says that apart from the 5,700 visitors on Koh Samui, some 3,300 other foreign tourists were on Koh Phangan and about 1,000 on Koh Tao.
“They have accommodation, travel and growing expense problems.,” he says. “I have sought help from the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
Tikamporn has asked local officials and hoteliers to let the foreigners stay until they can leave Surat Thani.
NEED TO PASS HEALTH SCREENINGS
His office arranged for accommodation for the foreigners who had urgent problems but they would have to pass health screenings, he said.
I do, however, find it hard to believe that a lot of these tourists might not have made their best efforts to avoid being stranded.
Having been almost caught with the prospect of being locked down in Bali nearly a month ago, I made every effort to get away – including flying to Jakarta to give me better options to get home under my own steam.
Do too many people rely on others to get them home when they should or could have more of an effort themselves? But I can think of worse places to be stuck.
FLYTIPPERS USE LOCKDOWN TO DO THEIR DIRTY DEEDS
A lot of people who are cooped up during these lockdown restrictions are using the time to renovate their homes of give them a good spring clean.
But local government officials in councils across Britain and Ireland are noticing that the lockdown means that there’s lot more fly-tipping going on.
Fly-tipping is the term used to describe dirty laggards who simply dump their rubbish and discarded items around the countryside – often at night and often at local beauty spots that are secluded and out of the public view.
One company, ClearWaste, estimates that there was a rise of 54 per cent in reported cases after the first week of the lockdown in the UK.
Local authorities in Meath and Louth in the Irish Republic have complained too about the dirty practice.
Household bin collections have continued through the lockdown, though more than a quarter of councils have stopped collecting garden waste.
But that hasn’t prevented dumpers from ditching everything from old furniture, paints, fencing – anything they need to get rid of – down quiet country lanes.
A DANGER TO THE ENVIRONMENT
There’s a danger too that the rubbish will harm wildlife and chemicals can leech into water supplies.
In the UK, local authorities say they are discussing with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) any opportunity to reopen council refuse centres that are normally used by customers to drop off their non-household items.
“With government the LGA is looking at exploring ways in which, on a limited basis, recycling centres can be reopened, but until such times as announcements are made we must insist that people keep their waste on household premises,” Councillor David Renard, environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said.
MADAGASGAR PRESIDENT PEDDLES HEBAL TEA ‘CURE’
I find this hard to swallow.
The president of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina has officially launched a local herbal remedy claimed to prevent and cure the novel coronavirus.
“Tests have been carried out – two people have now been cured by this treatment,” Rajoelina told ministers, diplomats and journalists at the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA), which developed the beverage.
“This herbal tea gives results in seven days,” he said.
The drink, which has been called Covid-Organics, is derived from artemisia – a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment – and other indigenous herbs, according to the IMRA.
NO DATA FROM STUDIES FOR MYSTERY BREW
But the brew’s safety and effectiveness have not been assessed internationally, nor has any data from trials been published in peer-reviewed studies. And mainstream scientists have warned of the potential risk from untested herbal brews.
Rajoelina brushed aside any such reservations and said the concoction would be offered to schoolchildren, as it was his duty was to “protect the Malagasy people”.
The World Health Organization, which has warned people to be vigilant about claimed cures for Covid-19, did not attend the event.
The US Centers for Disease Control, referring to claims for herbal or tea remedies, says: “There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by Covid-19. In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume.”
So I’m skeptical. Very skeptical. Where’s the FAKE NEWS checker when you need it?
MEME OF THE DAY
This meme was shared with me from by my second cousin Rob who lives in Canada.
THE STOCK SHOCK
A rebound in oil prices and hopes of more stimulus lifted European shares on Wednesday, even as investors remained cautious about a swift recovery as more companies issued worrying financial forecasts.
I’m hardly an investor, but I am playing at investing with £10,000 – about Dh45,000 – in play money for almost four weeks now.
Oil prices rose on the prospect of pledges of extra output cuts, and optimism from the recovery spilled in to most other commodity markets.
Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve shunned oil and have instead opted for some stocks that will hopefully thrive as Britons stay at home under lockdown.
And I’m happy to report that both my “investments” were on the positive side. Just Eat Takeaway was up by 1.15 per cent, making my 100 shares worth £7919.76 at the close. And my 1,800 shares in high street supermarket chain Morrisons did well too. They were up 1.55 per cent, making my stake worth £3413.70.
So, again, there’s no need to change. I’m up 13 per cent on less than a month trading, which is a pretty decent return, me thinks. But hopefully I haven’t cursed it with two days left in the trading week.
This is how my portfolio now stands after Wednesday.
Net worth: £1,1360.44
Just East Takeaway, 100 shares: £7919.76
Morrisons, 1800 shares: £3,418.70
Cash in hand £26.98
% Gain +11.3%
£ Gain +£1,360.44
A reminder too 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.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that serves as a reminder that IQ scores do not equate to common sense.
MAYBE BRADY TOOK TOO MANY HEAD BLOWS
A city worker in Tampa Bay, Florida, had to ask American football star quarterback Tom Brady to skidaddle off home after he was caught working out in a local park.
The new Buccaneers quarterback Brady was breaking the lockdown rules by working out in the park.
“A lot of our parks staff, they patrol around just to make sure people aren’t in there with contact sports and things,” mayor Jane Castor said in a virtual news conference. “A worker saw an individual working out in one of our downtown parks. She went over to tell him that it was closed, and it was Tom Brady.
“So, there you go. He has been sighted.”
The city of Tampa later clarified in a tweet that Brady had been “sighted” not “cited” – which in US-speak is getting a fixed fine.
Brady joined the Buccaneers as a free agent after spending the last 20 years with the New England Patriots. He has been living in a 3,000-square-metre waterfront mansion in Tampa belonging to former baseball star Derek Jeter.
ACTOR BROLIN SAYS SORRY FOR BEING A COVIDIOT
Actor Josh Brolin has apologised after visiting his father James and stepmother Barbra Streisand during lockdown in California.
The Hollywood star shared a video on his Instagram account to say sorry after coming under fire over a previous post showing the visit, which he has since deleted.
He faced criticism that he had not followed social distancing guidelines.
In the picture, the star could be seen wearing a mask next to a swimming pool, with his family also wearing masks in the background to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Brolin said his father lived next door and he had intended “not to be near them and that plan was broken”, and acknowledged this was “irresponsible” while restrictions are in place now.
“It’s hard to be honest sometimes, and say, ‘maybe I screwed up’,” he said. “And I knew that that was in the air, not because of the responses, but the responses brought me back to my own truth. And it’s humbling as hell.”
Good. Let that be a lesson to him.
SPITTER STAYS IN THE SLAMMER
A covidiot has been jailed for six months in the UK after claiming he had coronavirus and spitting at two police officers while being arrested for domestic assault.
Brandon Wallace was detained by police after officers were called to a woman’s property in Barking, east London, at about 11.45am on Monday.
The 21-year-old was arrested on suspicion of assaulting the woman and criminal damage to her property, police said.
He told officers that he had Covid-19 and then spat at two officers while being put in a police van, according to the force.
He was also arrested later on in the day for assaulting emergency workers and charged later that day.
While in custody, Wallace confirmed that he did not have coronavirus and had did not have any symptoms, police said.
He was sentenced at Barkingside Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to assaulting the woman, criminal damage and assaulting emergency workers.
Six months in a cell should be long enough time for him to consider what a moron he is.
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