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.
Saturday April 25, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
UK MUSLIMS FEAR MOSQUES WILL BE LOST
The Green Lane mosque in Birmingham in the UK Midlands stands empty on the first day of Ramadan because of coronavirus restrictions. Credit SkyNews
Ramadan Kareem from Ireland. It is a strange month indeed, but certainly a time for ample reflection on the true meaning of the month.
I was surprised by a story carried on Thursday by SkyNews reporting that there are fears that some mosques in the UK may close permanently after the coronavirus lockdown.
The Muslim Council of Britain has suggested mosques, which are publicly funded when people visit, will be hit hard as they have been closed during the current lockdown period.
Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told Sky News: “Mosques will be hit very substantially. Majority of the mosques are run as charitable organisations. They rely heavily on the support they get from visitors and worshippers.
“That’s almost disappeared overnight. They are institutions that need to maintain themselves with staff that need to be paid. It’s a really, really challenging time. It will be a Ramadan like never before.”
UK MOSQUES MOVE INTO A VIRTUAL WORLD
Now many of the almost 2,000 mosques across the UK, which serve nearly three million Muslims, will be moving Ramadan into a virtual world.
As they adapt to the lockdown measures, they’re turning to social media and apps to keep in touch with worshippers by livestreaming motivational lectures, courses and prayers.
Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham is usually packed with around 3,000 worshippers a day during the holy month.
It has been left deserted.
The head of welfare services at the mosque, Salim Ahmed, said: “It’s very strange. Coming to the mosque is part of our social life as well as worship life. But we have to follow the rules.
“Normally outside of the lockdown you’d have classes going on, women's classes, educational classes and the congregation coming in five times a day, now there’s none of that in here.”
Haniya Adam, social media manager who also works at Green Lane Mosque, said she’s never seen the building so quiet.
SOUTH ASIANS PRAISED BY PRINCE CHARLES
Here’s a story that everyone in South East Asia who has relatives or friends working in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service should take pride.
Prince Charles, the heir to the UK throne, has thanked British Asians for playing a “vital role” in responding to the coronavirus crisis.
The Prince of Wales, who tested positive for coronavirus in March, in a recorded message for the British Asian Trust.
Prince Charles is the royal founding patron of the trust, which supports British Asians and the poorest people in the South Asian region.
“The current public health crisis is a challenge which confronts us all,” he said. “In every community and in every part of the world.
“In the United Kingdom, I know that the British Asian community is playing a vital role in response to this crisis.
“Whether in the NHS or as key workers in other roles, or through the wonderful work done by volunteers and local initiatives in temples, mosques and gurdwaras to support all members of all communities.”
MANY BRITISH ASIANS HAVE DIED WORKING FOR THE NHS
British Asians make up around 10 per cent of the whole NHS workforce, with many frontline staff having died after testing positive for Covid-19.
Prince Charles also launched the British Asian Trust's COVID-19 emergency appeal in his video message.
The fundraiser aims to support those suffering from the virus in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
“I wanted to lend my support to the launch of an emergency appeal to help those who are suffering most across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” the prince said. “To play its part in responding to this pandemic, the British Asian Trust, in partnership with local organisations and government, is ramping up its work to support the daily basic needs of the poorest and the most vulnerable.”
In response to the prince’s message, Mohammad Nafees Zakaria, the high commissioner for Pakistan to the UK, said “we are very grateful for this message and appeal from His Royal Highness.
“There are hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Pakistan. During this crisis, if they don’t die of COVID-19, they’ll die of starvation and hunger. These are people that rely on their daily wages.”
He also urged British Asians to donate to the appeal.
WHY DID ATLETICO GAME GO AHEAD IN LIVERPOOL?
About a month ago I was told that my first cousin, Frank, had died from coronavirus. He lived in Cheltenham in the southwest UK, a place famous for its big festival of racing there every March.
Frank loved the horses and attended.
And he immediate family are convinced he contracted Covid-19 there.
Some 60,000 gathered at the festival, and at least one cluster of coronavirus has been linked to the gathering.
Elsewhere across Europe, mass gatherings had been banned but the UK government was about two to three weeks behind in implementing the same lockdown rules and bans on crowds.
During the same week, some 52,000 crowded in Liverpool FC’s Anfield Stadium to see the Reds take on Atletico Madrid in the second leg of a Champions League clash.
Some 3,000 fans travelled from Madrid.
Now, one the mayors for Liverpool has called for an investigation into why the game was allowed go ahead last month.
La Liga games in Spain were already postponed at that stage.
DAYS LATER ALL GATHERINGS WERE BANNED
Days later Spain was forced into a nationwide lockdown and mass gatherings. All major sporting events in Britain were cancelled some time later.
Madrid has been one of the European cities worst-hit by coronavirus and the Spanish capital’s mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida said it had been a “mistake” to play the game.
“If people have contracted coronavirus as a direct result of a sporting event that we believe shouldn’t have taken place, well that is scandalous,” Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region, told the BBC.
“That needs to be investigated to find out whether some of those infections are due directly to the Atletico fans. There were coronavirus hot cities, and Madrid was one of those.
“They weren’t allowed to congregate in their own country, but 3,000 of those fans came over to ours, and potentially may well have spread coronavirus. So it does need looking at, and it does need the government to take some responsibility for not locking down sooner.”
The UK government has insisted it was following scientific advice when it allowed the match and the Cheltenham horse racing festival to go ahead in the same week.
However, the British government’s deputy chief scientific adviser, Angela McLean, said on Monday that infections in Liverpool due to the Atletico match was an “interesting hypothesis”.
Athletic won the game 3-2 after extra-time to knock out the defending champions 4-2 on aggregate and progress to the quarter-finals.
Being an Evertonian, I can take some comfort in that score line. But certainly it seems as if someone needs to provided concrete answers and show the science in letting these big events go ahead.
GAMBLING WITH THE SAFETY OF MANY IN JAPAN
Japan is high on my list of countries I still have to visit.
But I am beginning to have second thoughts when I read that even as stores have closed across Japan during a state of emergency, some pachinko parlours remain defiantly open.
These pachinko parlours are noisy and popular gambling halls that are undermining the government’s fight against coronavirus.
The halls, where players sit back-to-back at long rows of machines amid the jangle of bouncing steel balls and garish flashing lights, are a fixture on many Japanese streets and are popular with young people, the underemployed and hardcore gamblers.
“I think this is actually more crowded than usual,” Kensuke Takao, a 22-year-old restaurant worker, said in one pachinko parlour in Tokyo’s Hatagaya district. “I suppose everybody doesn’t have jobs or places to go other than these pachinko parlours, which are still open.”
Even as Japan imposed a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other areas on April 7, then extended it to the nation last week, some parlours have jangled away as usual.
The parlours are found all over Japan, creating a headache for officials trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We would like to consider a next step against pachinko parlours that do not comply, such as a public announcement,” Japanese Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said this week.
Japan’s two major pachinko chains, Maruhan and Dynam, told Reuters that more than a half of their hundreds of branches are already closed, or will be shut down by the weekend. Others remain open with precautionary measures in place.
“Places that are touched a lot, such as the pachinko machines, slot machines and lockers, are wiped down with alcohol,” a Dynam spokesman said. “The conditions at each location vary, so social distancing measures are left to the individual parlours.”
Though gambling is strictly controlled in Japan, - a vertical, pinball-like game that pays out in ball bearings – skirts the rules. Players exchange the balls for prize tokens, which can be redeemed for cash.
BUSINESSES FEAR NOT BEING ABLE TO RE-OPEN
Although some pachinko customers said the coronavirus crisis could warrant a shutdown, parlour owners warned that they might not be able to reopen.
“There’s pressure from officials and society, but some owners cannot easily shut down, because our businesses might face risks of bankruptcy if the situation drags on,” one owner of a few parlours outside Tokyo said, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Personally, I think the evidence has been overwhelming that if countries lock down, they have a much better chance of flattening the curve of infections – and keeping a lid on the rate of infections.
It just doesn’t make sense to have these places open. Shut them down, please, for the sake of many elderly or others who have underlying health conditions and are seriously at risk from Covid-19.
HITTING THE RIGHT NOTES IN THE PANDEMIC
As I wrote here three days ago, I find that simply singing out loudly can relieve stress or defuse a tense situation. And let’s face it, this coronavirus pandemic is about as tense a situation as many of us are every likely to endure.
No sooner had I written that blog for Thursday, than I read about a growing trend in New York city.
That’s a city that has been devastated by the pandemic and I fear greatly for the safety of my first cousin, Paul, who is living in the Bronx.
He had liver cancer and was fortunate enough to be given a new liver last year. Yes, his immune system is seriously compromised so he is holed up in his apartment under very strict quarantine conditions.
Stay safe, Paul.
Regular community singing and impromptu concerts begin with people leaning out of windows and standing on balconies clapping, cheering and banging pots and pans to honor essential workers still operating during the coronavirus pandemic.
And then a rousing collective rendition of the Bill Withers 1972 song ‘Lean on Me’ begins.
CONCERTS FROM THE APARTMENT WINDOW
“It’s amazing,” said Robert Hornsby, director of fundraising at the Peace of Heart Choir non-profit in New York City, after he had finished playing the song from his window in Manhattan’s Upper West Side the other night.
“The amount of energy that we’ve received, and the amount of energy that we’re giving, has really lifted the spirits of New Yorkers, and we hope people across the nation, too.”
Organisers of the New York Sings Along event said the goal was to boost morale and honour all workers on the front lines battling the coronavirus pandemic, and to share the healing power of music while obeying social distancing rules.
Every week, the nonprofit picks one song, and plays it after the applause for essential workers on Thursday nights.
Last week, it was Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York’ and next week, it will be the Ben E. King classic ‘Stand by Me.’
IN WASHINGTON, IT’S ARIAS IN THE PARK
In the US capital, Lori Sen teaches voice at local colleges, but she and roommate Erica Marie Ferguson, a music student at the University of Maryland and a member of Maryland Opera Studio, had important performances cancelled after the pandemic hit the area.
The pair then decided to make music together. Rave reviews from their neighbours prompted the women to take their singing outside.
On a recent afternoon at Buddy Attick Lake Park in Greenbelt, Maryland, the two wandered the paths singing to clusters of walkers and park visitors from a safe distance.
For Ferguson, bringing joy to other people has helped her weather the lockdown, which is in its fifth week in the Washington D.C. area, which includes Maryland and Virgina.
“As we were singing and walking it wasn’t intentionally for anyone else at first, but then people would stop us and say, ‘Thank you so much for singing. It brightened up our day’.”
“The look on people’s faces when they hear classical voices in such a mundane place is very exciting,” Ferguson added.
It’s nice to see that at least six weeks into lockdowns and where more than 60 per cent of the world’s population is under some form of restricted movement or social distancing regulations, we still haven’t lost our spirit.
So sing, people. Sing!
ST GEORGE AND SLAYING THE CORONAVIRUS
As I’ve said here before, I live in Spain for part of the year. And Barcelona is one of my favourite places there.
It’s football team isn’t bad either. The food and culture is unique – but that doesn’t necessarily mean is should be an independent country.
One of the unique things about Catalonia is that along with Georgia, Armenia and England, they all celebrate St. George’s Day.
In Spain, of course, he’s known as San Jordi.
That’s why on Thursday, residents in spain’s second-largest city kept up an annual tradition of placing red roses on their balconies.
The legendary dragon-slayer is the proud northeastern region’s patron saint.
Catalans generally crowd the streets with loved ones, exchanging books and roses in representation of the flower that came from the dragon’s spilt blood.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, streets including Barcelona’s famous La Rambla boulevard were virtually deserted.
LOOKS LIKE AN ATOMIC EXPLOSION
“It looks like there had been an atomic explosion,” Rafel Dalmau told Catalan public channel TV3 from La Rambla, where flower shops were closed and very few people were out.
“It’s so strange”.
Not to be deterred, however, some Catalans had flowers delivered online and placed them on their balconies, together with drawings of roses and other aspects of the legend. Regional flags abounded too.
Activity, though, was nothing compared to a normal Sant Jordi day.
“When I think of Sant Jordi, I think about the emotion and joy it has given me and that is why it hurts me so much to be in my house,” instead of signing books on the streets, writer Almudena Grandes told TV3.
The region’s flower vendors, who ususally sell around 2 million roses during the day, saw demand fall to just 10 per cent of that, said Joan Guillen, head of the Catalan florists guild.
Still, he said an initiative that saw more than 200 florists deliver roses to homes was a success given the circumstances.
POSTPONED CELEBRATION IN LATE JULY
Catalans will have a second chance to enjoy St. George’s Day, probably with less restrictions, as book and flower businesses plan to hold a postponed celebration on July 23.
Roses were handed to health staff at Barcelona Hospital Clinic, one of the city’s largest hospitals dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 22,000 people in Spain.
That is the third worst death toll in the world, and Spain has imposed one of the toughest shutdowns.
The ironic thing is that before the lockdowns and deserted streets, many Catalans were complaining that their city was being overrun by tourists.
With one job in three in the city dependent on some form of tourism, I bet those who whined are eating their words about now.
MEME OF THE DAY
Yes, healthcare workers are superheroes, and sadly too many have died trying to help others. That’s why this meme from my second cousin, Rob, is poignant.
THE STOCK SHOCK
After week four of trading, This is how portfolio now stands:
Net worth: £1,1113.38
Just East Takeaway, 100 shares: £7704.00
Morrisons, 1800 shares: £3,380.40
Cash in hand £26.98
% Gain + 11.1%
£ Gain +£1,113.38.
A reminder that this is all pretend, I started out with £10,000 – about Dh45,000 – I don’t pay for trades and I can any amount but only at the end of the a trading day.
As things stand right now, I’m up £1,113.48, and think it’s time I did a full makeover of it. So right now, I’m going to liquidate all of my stocks and sit on the full amount in cash.
Tomorrow and Sunday, when the market is closed, I’ll do some research and see how I can get some upward movement going. Oil is starting to pick up but I do believe that there’s some traction to be gained in the health-related sector. Time for research, and I’ll make a decision on Sunday evening in time for the markets opening in London on Monday morning. So I have £11,113.48 to invest.
DEBUNKED: TRMP’S CLAIMS DISENFECTANT OR LIGHT HAVE MEDICAL BENEFITS AGAINST COVID-19
In his nightly evening address on the coronavirus pandemic, on Thursday US President Donald Trump dangerously suggested that ingesting disinfectant could possibly be used to treat people who have the virus.
President Trump also suggested sunlight might be a treatment alternative and issued a false denial when asked why he has stopped promoting the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment, incorrectly saying, “I haven’t at all.”
After Bill Bryan, the acting undersecretary of science and technology for the Department of Homeland Security, explained during the briefing that new experiments show the coronavirus does not fare well under sunlight or heat, the President suggested that Americans who have the virus could treat it by going out into the sunlight on a hot day.
SUNLIGHT AND HEAT RUMOUR
“There’s been a rumour that – you know, a very nice rumour – that you go outside in the sun or you have heat and it does have an effect on other viruses,” Trump said, before asking coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx “to speak to the medical doctors to see if there's any way that you can apply light and heat to cure, you know, if you could.”
HE then asked Birx if she “ever heard of the heat and the light” having an impact on viruses. She responded, “Not as a treatment,” before HE asked her again to look into it.
Later, Trump again directed Birx to look into the potential for sunlight to be a cure.
“I would like you to speak to the medical doctors to see if there’s any way that you can apply light and heat to cure, you know, if you could. And maybe you can, maybe you can’t.”
After Bryan talked about experiments in which, he said, disinfectants like bleach and isopropyl alcohol quickly killed the virus, Presidnet Trump mused about whether disinfectants could be used to treat the virus in humans – asking whether there is “a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning.”
NOT POTENTIAL TREATMENTS
As Dr Birx told President Trump directly, and as medical experts said after the briefing, sunlight isn’t a potential treatment for coronavirus. Neither are disinfectants that are used to clean non-human surfaces.
Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. Stephen Hahn told CNN’s Anderson Cooper later Thursday, “I certainly wouldn’t recommend the internal ingestion of a disinfectant.”
The Reckitt Benckiser Group, which produces Lysol, flatly said on its website that “under no circumstance” should disinfectant be administered into the human body. Washington state’s emergency management agency warned against eating Tide pods or injecting disinfectant, tweeting, “don't make a bad situation worse.”
Immediately after the briefing, two doctors told CNN’s Erin Burnett that President Trump’s comments did not make medical sense and warned against taking his suggestions seriously.
“Very little of what the President said as it pertains to disinfection or phototherapy makes any sense,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a cardiologist at The George Washington University Hospital who advised the White House during President George W. Bush’s tenure.
“Look, everyone wants a quick fix. And the President clearly wants a quick fix; we all do. But there are no quick fixes. We have to do this the right way; we have to do this with science,” he said.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that serves as a reminder you have to be careful of what you read and hear.
DEBUNKED: A VACCINE FOR CORONAVIRUS EXISTED 19 YEARS AGO
I’ve unfortunately had to say it here before and no doubt I will have to say it again, but you really do need to be very careful of what you read and what you share on social media platforms.
And some of it is just very dangerous.
There are many posts doing the rounds on social media about Covid-19 that has too sadly are wrong. Dangerously so.
One recent post being shared thousands of times on Facebook follows a similar pattern – it’s a screenshot of a Facebook post, purporting to show a bottle of vaccine for coronavirus.
The caption on the post says: “Now this was 2001 tell me why 19 years later they say there is no vaccine share before they take it down again.”
Clearly, there’s a few problems.
Firstly a coronavirus is a term for – as the World Health Organisation describes – “a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans”.
‘19’ REFERS TO THE YEAR THE STRAIN EMERGED
Covid-19 is the new coronavirus that has been inflicted upon the world – with the ‘19’ referring to the year of its emergence, 2019.
So there’s no way this supposed vaccine could have existed in 2001 before the virus was even discovered.
Secondly, it says “canine coronavirus vaccine” on the label here and “for use in dogs only”. It is entirely possible that this is in fact a vaccine for a specific kind of coronavirus that affects dogs.
It most certainly isn’t a vaccine for Covid-19.
In fact, scientists around the world are scrambling to discover a vaccine as fast as they can. The expectations are that it will be unlikely that a vaccine can progress through clinical trials, be approved and then mass produced before the end of the year.
So, that’s another widely shared piece of misinformation shared on Facebook that is untrue.
I know we all wish there was a vaccine. There isn’t. And that’s why we need to listen to the advice from public health organisations and the regulations put in place by governments.
But please. Let’s be responsible is sharing such drivel.
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