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.
Sunday April 26, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
LIKE A CONVEYOR BELT
So, as regular readers of this Going Viral blog know, I have lost my former father-in-law, Jack, to Covid-19 last Tuesday afternoon.
The Irish love a good funeral – a time to get together, tell stories, meet relatives, remember and share takes about the life and times of the dearly departed family member who has passed on. They are also a source of comfort.
But this pandemic has brought all of those traditions to a very abrupt end.
My daughter, Emma, described the funeral service – he was cremated – as a conveyor belt. It took ten minutes. It followed two others on Friday morning, and there were another six to come.
As one grieving family left, another waited to enter.
Just 10 people could gather for the service. And all had to keep apart.
There was no hugging. No touching. No human person-to-person contact to tell others how heartbroken you were, how comforting they were. Nothing to convey empathy or sympathy, sharing pain or grief.
Like a conveyor belt.
SPECIAL ELEMENTS TO ADD HUMANITY
As with most families these days, there are family members spread around Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States and further afield. In normal times, people make great efforts to return home between the day of death and the funeral services that normally take place three days afterwards.
But these are not normal times. And it’s sometimes hard to know now if they ever will be again.
Jack’s son could not travel from Ohio. Jack’s sister could not travel from the English Midlands. Family could not travel from across Ireland.
But there were video calls on Zoom to help all come together and remember the life of this one victim – there are 200,000 others, all with families whose hearts are broken and lives pained by their passing in this pandemic.
Please, please follow the guidelines and keep apart. As few families as possible need to bear the pains of this virus.
THE PASSING OF IDENTICAL TWINS WITHIN DAYS
I find this story heart-breaking. And it also serves as a reminder that this virus can kill people who are young. It is not a virus that only targets the elderly. And if you have an underlying medical condition, it can be deadly.
It was for identical twin sisters in the United Kingdom, who died within three days of each other after both tested positive for Covid-19.
Emma and Katy Davis, aged 37, had both worked as nurses and both had the same underlying health condition.
Children’s nurse Katy David died at Southampton General Hospital in the south of England on Tuesday while Emma, a former surgery nurse, died early on Friday.
Katy had worked as risk and patient safety lead in child health, a spokesman for University Hospital Southampton said.
She had been unwell for a period before being admitted to hospital when she tested positive for Covid-19.
Emma, he said, had worked as a nurse in surgery in the colorectal unit from 2004 until 2013.
“She had the same underlying health condition as Katy and had been unwell prior to her admission when she tested positive for Covid-19,” the spokesman said.
BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS TO SHARE AS WELL
Gosh, it’s about time I lightened up this blog with some good news. And this is a very uplifting story indeed, a reminder that there is joy out there too during this unprecedented time of pandemic.
A little 18-month-old girl has been able to hear for the first time after medics became the first in the UK to switch on a cochlear implant remotely.
Audiologists at the University of Southampton set up a link-up over tot in order to allow the device to be turned on for youngster Margarida Cibrao-Roque, despite their clinic being closed to patients.
Professor Helen Cullington, of the university’s auditory implant service, conducted the switch-on from her home linking remotely with Margarida’s parents at their home in Camberley, Surrey, after the coronavirus pandemic prevented them from going to the hospital.
“Usually we do the switch-on of a cochlear implant at our clinic at the university but, with some technical creativity and some advice from colleagues in Australia, we were able to do everything necessary over the internet,” she said.
“The session went really well and everyone was thrilled with the outcome.”
MICROPHONES AND ELECTRICAL SIGNALS
A cochlear implant is an electronic device which uses microphones on an external speech processor to pick up sound, which is then transmitted as electrical signals to an internal device placed inside the inner ear during an operation. The brain interprets these signals as sound.
When an implant is switched on, levels of electrical stimulation are set by starting very slowly and gradually building up, monitoring the child or adult’s reactions all the time.
The response of the hearing nerve is also measured to help set levels – especially for young children who cannot tell audiologists how loud a sound is.
“At switch-on, a child begins wearing their processors for the first time, and they are able to hear what is around them,” Prof Cullington said. “However, it takes a long time to get used to this and – especially in babies and children who have never heard before – the brain has to learn to understand these sounds.”
Margarida has been deaf since birth due to Ushers syndrome type one – a condition that leads to hearing loss because of abnormalities of the inner ear – as well as by a cleft palate which can affect hearing.
“The possibility of Margarida calling me Mummy one day would mean the world,” Joana Cibrao said. “We will be able to speak with our daughter, to play with her, she will be able to watch TV, things that you take for granted she doesn’t have, so you know, this is a victory really.”
Marvelous what technology can do nowadays and it’s a reminder that there is always hope. That’s a commodity need to safeguard now while we’re unsure of things are going to work out. A positive outlook goes a long way.
TIME TO GET HITCHED IBN SLOVENIA
There’s been a lot written here and elsewhere about funerals. How about looking forward to some weddings for a change?
Well, in Slovenia, from Tuesday, couples can get married again – a sign that coronavirus lockdowns work and that life does indeed slowly return to normal.
Yes there are limits – but that is to be expected.
Only bride, groom, registrar and in some cases two witnesses will be allowed to attend, the Public Administration Minister Bostjan Koritnik said on Friday.
“I have very positive news that we will allow weddings from Tuesday, April 28 ... although with a limited attendance,” Koritnik said.
A government spokesman told the same new conference that fathers will once more be able to attend childbirths from next week. This had also been prohibited under the lockdown rules.
Slovenia is gradually loosening its restrictions on certain sectors of the economy and on public life. Last Monday, car service centres as well as certain shops reopened, and outdoor sports, such as tennis or golf, were allowed to resume. On May 4, hairdressers and beauty parlours can reopen for business.
However, people still need to wear face masks whenever entering an indoor public space. For now it has not been decided when schools, hotels, bars and restaurants could reopen.
But at least life is taking the first tentative steps there back to normalcy.
DANES LET THEIR HAIR DOWN
One of the first things I will do when I can is go to the barbers and get a haircut. I’ve spoken to several people on social media and they too crave being able to get their tresses touched up. Roots are going 50 shades of gray.
Last week Denmark’s hairdressers flung open their doors on Monday after a month-long lockdown, fixing a horror show of home haircuts and giving hope to other Europeans that their bad hair days will soon end as well.
“Basically for the next two weeks we are super packed,” hairdresser Erik Bjornsson said as he worked in the spacious Street Cut salon in downtown Copenhagen, shaking his head at the early procession of amateur attempts at a chop.
“I want to take this opportunity to say to people who actually didn’t cut their hair at home – thank you very much.”
Across Europe, people under lockdown are nursing a burning desire to visit a hair salon or barber shop. In Greece, a third of people surveyed by MRB pollsters put this at the top of the list of things they want to do when the health crisis ends.
ONE MORE WEEK FOR THE SWISS
Greeks still don’t know when their hairdressers will reopen, but the Swiss only have to wait one more week. Germany, Austria and perhaps Portugal follow. Everywhere, though, the thrill of a professional shampoo and cut is tinged with anxiety.
In Copenhagen’s Street Cut salon, hairdressers drape clients in disposable plastic gowns, clean their scissors and combs and the surfaces of chairs and benches between sittings. They don’t serve coffee as normal or leave magazines in piles to be read.
But neither they nor their clients wear masks.
Denmark, which locked down early in Europe, has relatively few coronavirus infections and deaths, and masks are not mandatory. But in harder-hit countries, they may be required.
‘STRICT HYGIENE PLAN’
“We need a strict hygiene plan. If safety is not good enough, they should not open,” said Melanie Chatfield, 26, a hairdresser in Berlin where salons are set to reopen on May 4.
“I don’t think anyone’s life depends on getting their hair cut or dyed.”
For tech executive Martin Boston, a regular at the Street Cut salon, it was a relief to have his hair professionally cut again. He can’t wait for his colleagues to do the same.
“To be honest I have a lot of video conferences and to look at people who have cut – it looks like they’ve been through a wood chipper,” he said.
COMING UP SHORT IN THE KITCHEN
And speaking – or writing – about things coming up short, the pandemic has shown just how poor many people are when it comes to being able to prepare meals at home.
Many have forgotten their basic cooking skills from relying too heavily on eating out or from takeaway meals.
“We’ve known for years that cooking competence has drastically declined in Germany,” Christoph Minhoff from the German Food and Beverage Industry group has said.
But with social distancing closing restaurants and keeping residents off the streets, Germans have flocked to grocery stores and gotten back in the kitchen.
Not just in Germany, Christoph, but all over Europe and North America to.
We simply hadn’t time before to spend hours labouring in the kitchen to dish up home-cooked meals.
“People are rather dramatically forced to rely on their own culinary skills now that the offerings of fast-food restaurants, French fries stands and the Italian restaurant around the corner are not an option,” he said. “Now people stand in supermarkets and ask themselves, ‘OK how do I make a burger myself?’ “ he said.
THE FROZEN FOOD SECTIONS ARE EMPTY
But across Europe, the frozen food sections are coming up empty as people still opt for convenience over complexity.
Minhoff said this phenomenon helped explain the shortage of certain products in supermarkets in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis.
Milers too are upping their output of flour and baking products as locked-down would be cooks try their hands at home baking.
Odlums millers in Portarlington, Ireland, has seen demand for their flour increase 300 per cent during the lockdown.
And across Europe, it’s a similar story when it comes to cooking and bakery websites.
Popular online cooking platforms are seeing an increase in registrations and traffic as people get into the kitchen and rattle their pots and pans.
BLOWING HER TRUMPET FOR THE NHS
I was speaking to my sister-in-law Julie in Derbyshire on Thursday night. It was just before 8pm, a time every week when Britons turn out on their doorsteps and make as much noise as possible to show support for the tens of thousands of National Health Service workers who are putting their lives on the line to treat coronavirus patients.
Her son, Declan, has just graduated from nursing and is now treating Covid-19 patients in Leeds.
A few weeks ago Julie – who doesn’t do things by half measures – gave a neighbour an earful because she was making noise and he told her to shush – he wanted to hear the ovation.
Now, she’s calling out the big guns, the bad boys, the reserves from under the stairs.
The old household trumpet has come out. Somehow, I think the neighbour is in for a proper earful every Thursday at 8pm from now on.
NO, GETTING COVID 19 DOESN’T GIVE YOU IMMUNITY
We all want to believe that there’s going to be a quick end to this pandemic. More than 60 per cent of the world’s population is under some form of lockdown or restrictions on movement, and many of us have been living with strict or severe limits on how we move or go about our daily living.
One hope was that those who have contracted Covid-19 and recovered – more than 95 0er cent of those do – would have immunity from the virus.
Sadly, the World Health Organisation has just announced that there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected against a second infection.
And that means that the idea of “immunity passports” is pointless. No one can be said to be risk-free. That’s a concept that had been floated by some to allow air travel or easing of restrictions to begin.
But the Geneva-based UN health agency said in a scientific brief published on Saturday that more research is needed.
NO RISK FREE CERTIFICATES
It said that “at this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate’.”
It argued that people who assume they are immune to reinfection may ignore public health advice, and that such certificates could raise the risks of continued virus transmission.
The WHO added that tests for antibodies of the new coronavirus also “need further validation to determine their accuracy and reliability”.
A recent study from China that has not gone through peer review reported on rhesus monkeys that recovered from Sars-Cov-2 and did not get reinfected when exposed once again to the virus.
“But that doesn’t really reveal anything,” said Pasteur Institute researcher Frederic Tangy, noting that the experiment unfolded over only a month.
RECOVERED PATIENTS LATER TEST POSITIVE
Indeed, several cases from South Korea — one of the first countries hit by the new coronavirus — found that patients who recovered from Covid-19 later tested positive for the virus.
But there are several ways to explain that outcome, scientists cautioned.
While it is not impossible that these individuals became infected a second time, there is little evidence this is what happened.
More likely is that the virus never completely disappeared in the first place and remains — dormant and asymptomatic — as a “chronic infection”, like herpes, according to Francois Balloux ,director of the Genetics Institute at University College London
As tests for live virus and antibodies have not yet been perfected, it is also possible that these patients at some point tested “false negative” when in fact they had not rid themselves of the pathogen.
For now, the best course of action is to follow the advice of our respective public health authorities and governmental officials who are managing this difficult situation to keep us safe.
I’ve said it here before and no doubt I’ll keep saying it: Stay apart and stay safe, wash your hands regularly, follow the guidelines and keep your hands away from your face.
MEME OF THE DAY
This isn’t a meme per se but is an important reminder of how terrifying it must be for those suspected of having coronavirus when they face medical staff fully kitted out in personal protective equipment. I think having those normal photographs really brings an added touch of humanity when it’s needed most. Thanks to Sandi in Whitby, Ontario for sharing on Facebook.
THE STOCK SHOCK
After week four of trading, I’ve cashed in all of my shares and now hold £1,113.38 in pretend cash.
I will invest this in shares on the London Stock Exchange before trading begins again on Monday morning. 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.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that serves as a reminder age and IQ are not interchangeable numbers.
SHOCKING RISE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
I find a report that incidents of domestic violence in London have risen by a third in the last six weeks of coronavirus lockdown.
While in Canada, I spent some time volunteering for a women’s shelter, and I have nothing but the greatest empathy and support for women who find themselves in such desperate situations.
And men who abuse women are pure scum.
London police have urged victims to speak out and promised they will not be punished if they need to break social distancing guidelines.
Britain is enduring its fifth week of a national lockdown, with businesses shuttered and citizens ordered to stay at home as the government tries to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and stop health services becoming overwhelmed.
However, London’s Metropolitan Police service said that while the lockdown was vital to the national effort it has also left “current and potential victims of domestic abuse even more vulnerable and isolated.”
CALLS UP BY ONE THIRD IN LOCKDOWN
The force said calls about domestic abuse had gone up by around a third in the last six weeks and that its officers were making around 100 arrests a day for such offences. There was a 9 per cent rise in recorded incidents compared to a year ago.
“No-one who is experiencing domestic abuse should feel that they have to suffer in silence,” said senior police office Sue Williams.
“Victims should be assured that they can leave their homes to escape harm or seek help, and they will not be penalised in any way for not maintaining social distancing, or otherwise breaching Covid-19 restrictions.”
Remember too that if physical violence happens once, it will happen again. No, he doesn’t love you. It’s not love. It’s abuse.
Get out and stay out.
It is truly a case where distancing saves lives. Run, seek help. Don’t go back. Don’t look back.
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