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 31: Wednesday April 29, 9am
Is there anybody out there?
UFOs, ALIENS AND THE CORONAVIRUS
So, on Monday the Pentagon released three videos taken by pilots in the US Navy of three separate incidents where they supposedly came in contact with UFOs – unidentified flying objects.
The grainy videos, which the Pentagon says depict “unexplained aerial phenomena”, were previously leaked, with some believing they show UFOs.
The Pentagon said it released the footage to “clear up any misconceptions” by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real or whether or not there is more to the videos,” a statement on the Department of Defense website said.
“After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorised release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems, and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena,” the statement said.
WHY NOW, IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC?
The videos had been “circulating in the public domain after unauthorised releases in 2007 and 2017”, the statement said, adding that “the aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified’.”
The three videos show what the pilots saw during training flights in 2004 and 2015.
The 2004 video shows an incident that happened 160 kilometres out over the Pacific, according to the New York Times. Two Navy fighter pilots found an oblong object hovering above the water. It then flew quickly away. “It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” one of pilots, Commander David Fravor told the New York Times.
The 2015 videos show objects moving quickly through the sky, one of them seeming to spin in the air. “Look at that thing, dude!” a pilot says. “It’s rotating!”
No sooner had then been released officially – the videos had actually been leaked over the previous few years – than they set the world of the internet on fire.
But the big question is why now? If they’re been out in the public domain, why release them now? Could the coronavirus pandemic have anything to do it.
CHANGING THE AGENDA FOR KOOKS
Look, let’s get real here. If you believe in conspiracy theories, that UFOs and aliens are also on your radar.
What better time to fire up new conspiracy theories? Hey, if there are nutters out there who believe that the rollout of 5G is responsible for the spread of coronavirus, they these nutters will be jumping up and down with barmy theories that aliens and UFOs are responsible for the pandemic.
If you’re crazy enough to believe that Covid-19 was created in a laboratory and then released into an unsuspecting world to cover the rollout of 5G, then you might as well blame contact with aliens.
And burn some telecommunication masts while you’re at it.
Just mark my words, this nutty theory will take wings – and it has already started.
MEXICO CITY AND ALIENS IN A VOLCANO
Shock. Horror. See, aliens are real. The Daily Express in the UK reported on Tuesday morning that an alien UFO has supposedly been seen flying into one of Mexico’s largest volcanos – leading to theories aliens are using it as a base.
Eagle-eyed conspiracy theorists were quick to spot a white object, which some have claimed was a UFO , falling into the mouth of Popocatepetl, near Mexico City, the London-based paper says.
The sighting was made on webcams which constantly monitor the 5,426 metre tall volcano, colloquially named El Popo.
In the video, which was originally uploaded to YouTube by Esmeralda Martinez, a white object looks as if it is heading into the mouth of El Popo.
Alien hunters were quick to spot the object, with some now claiming extraterrestrials are using the volcano as a base.
Prominent conspiracy theorist Scott C. Waring wrote on his blog ET Database: “This is a great discovery of several UFO around the famous Mexican volcano Popocatepetl.”
‘ABSOLUTE PROOF OF ALIEN BASE’
As if this story wasn’t bad enough, “One of the UFOs is seen leaving the mouth of the volcano and shooting straight up into space,” Waring blogged. “Another comes down and enters the mouth of the volcano. Absolute proof of what we UFO researchers already knew, there is an alien base 5-6km below this volcano.”
Yeah right. I’m packing my bags right now and heading there with my shovel to dig up this story as a scoop for Gulf News.
If you think this drivel is just the work of a few cranks, then consider that the Daily Telegraph breathlessly reported two weeks ago that Belgians are under coronavirus lockdown and reporting more UFOs than ever.
There were 87 reports of potential alien spaceships in March in Belgium, most of them in Dutch-speaking Flanders, and 188 in the first three months of the year,” the Telegraph said.
From March 28 to April 1, more than 50 Belgians in Flanders reported a row of moving lights flying from west to east.
Frederick Delaere, the coordinator of the Belgian UFO Reporting Centre, said Belgium’s imposition of lockdown measures to fight the coronavirus was likely to be responsible.
“We suspect that the clear weather of the past few days and the Covid-19 measures have caused this strong increase,” he said.
I think that the sooner the better this lockdown ends, the better for all.
NO SILVER LINING IN MEXICO’S SMOG
Given that the aliens are living in the volcano near Mexico City, then they’re obviously happy that there’s still smog lingering over Mexico City now – allowing them to come and go without too many earthlings seeing them!
While city dwellers around the world take some consolation in improved air quality thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, festering garbage dumps, dirty diesel-fueled generators and frequent forest fires have ensured Mexico City remains smog-filled.
Traffic in the normally congested megacity of more than 20 million people has thinned dramatically as residents heed the government’s call to stay at home to contain the spread of the virus that has killed more than 200,000 people worldwide.
Yet as cities such as Delhi, Los Angeles and Seoul register sharp falls in pollution, the Mexican capital continues to report “poor” air quality on its official website, warning that exercising at certain times of day poses a “high” to “very high” health risk.
EMISSIONS SHROUD THE SKIES
Even as millions stay indoors, increased domestic use of gas and other fossil fuels, methane seeping from open-air waste dumps and continuing emissions from the surrounding industrial sprawl have mostly nullified the clean air benefits of an economy on hold.
“We’re seeing that it’s come down from the peaks but it’s not enough to bring air quality below the norm,” said Sergio Hernandez, the capital’s general director of air quality.
Traffic is officially down by about 60 per cent and is likely to fall sharply again once the city implements a one-week driving ban on passenger vehicles from April 30.
I wonder if that will apply to UFOs?
The local mix of pollutants in the skies includes emissions from state oil firm Pemex’s refinery in Tula, north of the capital, and ash from the Popocatepetl volcano – yep, home to that secret alien base – visible on clear days to the southeast.
See, the aliens are controlling the weather too during the coronavirus pandemic! You read it here first, folks. You read it here first.
CHILDREN DIE FROM COVID-LINKED SYNDROME?
Getting the conspiracy theorists and nutters riled up about aliens and coronavirus is fun, there’s also something very troubling now emerging in the United Kingdom with some corresponding incidents in Europe too.
Some children in Britain with no underlying health conditions have died from a rare inflammatory syndrome which researchers believe to be linked to Covid-19, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday.
Italian and British medical experts are investigating a possible link between the coronavirus pandemic and clusters of severe inflammatory disease among infants who are arriving in hospital with high fevers and swollen arteries.
Doctors in northern Italy, one of the world’s hardest-hit areas during the pandemic, have reported extraordinarily large numbers of children under age 9 with severe cases of what appears to be Kawasaki disease, more common in parts of Asia.
A NEW DISEASE LINKED TO CORONAVIRUS
“There are some children who have died who didn’t have underlying health conditions,” Hancock told LBC Radio on Tuesday morning.
“It’s a new disease that we think may be caused by coronavirus and the COVID-19 virus, we’re not 100 per cent sure because some of the people who got it hadn’t tested positive, so we’re doing a lot of research now but it is something that we’re worried about.”
“It is rare, although it is very significant for those children who do get it, the number of cases is small,” Hancock said.
Clearly, if this indeed is confirmed, then it’s a very worrying development. Throughout these past weeks, we’ve been assured that children are least at risk. And that’s one of the reasons why they are being allowed back in the classrooms in places like Denmark and Norway – but social distancing rules still apply. Since Monday, children in Spain have been allowed out to play for the first time since early March.
If this Reuters story has legs, then public health officials and others will need to rethink this policy of letting the children go first to pave the way for the lifting of lockdowns.
Not good. I think we need to know and hear more about this – and the sooner the better.
DEAR BOSS, PLEASE TAKE NOTE…
Good morning boss. Sorry for disturbing you. But I’d like to bring this to your attention.
A new survey of workers finds that, ahem, more than four in ten employees working from home are working longer hours than they would in a standard working day.
Some 90 per cent of workers are now based at their homes since the coronavirus restrictions came into place to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, across Britain and Ireland.
According to the research carried out by a recruitment platform of those working longer hours, 21 per cent say they cannot switch off from work, 12 per cent feel that they are working less efficiently and 11 per cent claim to have a heavier workload than usual.
That’s right, boss.
You see, despite working longer hours, more than half of employees try to maintain a regular routine when working from home.
Over half of those surveyed say that they still wake up at the same time as they would if they were going to the office, while more than four in 10 workers admit to sleeping in slightly longer but say that despite this, they continue to start work at their usual time.
OK, I DO TAKE BREAKS…
The survey says that nine in 10 employees take a regular break every day when working from home, with 35 per taking their break at the same time as they would on a normal working day in the office.
Of those who take a break, 70 per cent spend it making food, almost half get outside for fresh air and over three in 10 use it to spend time with others in their household.
While the majority of employees say they try to maintain a regular working routine, many are juggling various personal priorities, particularly those with young families or vulnerable dependents.
Over half of employees surveyed are interrupted during their working day by family members and 22 per cent are dividing their time between a job and home-schooling children.
Daily chores are also proving disruptive, with 21 per cent surveyed finding the washing machine to be a distraction during the working day.
WORKING FROM THE KITCHEN TABLE
Just like in my home office, the kitchen table is the most popular choice of workspace for employees, with 42 per cent of people using it to do their work.
Two in 10 employees surveyed have a dedicated home office space or a spare room to work from.
Almost 80 per cent of people say they miss their usual working environment, and socialising with work colleagues was ranked as the main reason for this.
“The measures that have been put in place to contain the spread of Covid-19 have undoubtedly changed our normal way of living,” Orla Moran, general manager at IrishJobs.ie said. “When we look at the workplace, there has been significant levels of change in recent weeks.”
She adds that While remote working may be a relatively new concept for some, the adaptability of both employees and employers has been remarkable.
“However, it is inevitable that we will all experience dips in morale, motivation and productivity,” she says. “Employers should look to take reasonable steps to manage this.”
Thanks for listening, boss… but
BRINGING BACK THE SCARECROWS
I love that some people are going back their history and traditions during this time when we all have to limit our movements.
And that’s the case in the village of Capel, about 50 kilometres south of London. There, locals are putting big scarecrows in their gardens to cheer people up during isolation.
The community is honouring many of the unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic in the quirky tribute, including police officers, postmen, farmers, rubbish collectors, as well as doctors and nurses, SkyNews reports.
The scarecrows are dressed up in a range of uniforms, complete with accessories including wigs, face masks, stethoscopes and surgical gloves.
“We needed to cheer up the village and get people to have a laugh as they went around on their daily exercise,” said Sally Wyborn, who came up with the idea.
The concept of giant dolls is not new to the village of Capel, with locals making them every summer to advertise a fete and open gardens.
However the village had not made them for nine years following the death of Wyborn’s husband.
It was only when Britain went into lockdown on 23 March, putting a stop to social interactions with people, that Wyborn had the idea to reintroduce the scarecrows to community life.
“In one of my mad moments, I suddenly thought why don’t we resurrect the scarecrows, everybody’s got time to make them,” the 78-year-old said.
Word of the suggestion was put out on email and social media, and scarecrows soon lined the main street and side roads.
Hey, anything that lifts spirits is a good thing.
A DEAD-END STREET FOR DRIVING SCHOOLS
This lockdown has certainly changed the way we live. All of the things we’ve taken for granted have been removed – our restrictions are limited, we can only drive short distances to buy essential shopping, and many of us are working from home for the first time.
And the longer this lockdown goes on, the harder it may very well be for things to return to ‘normal’ – whatever that new ‘normal’ may be.
Many businesses may not be able to recover or may have to find completely new ways of working given that social distancing measures may be in place for months to come.
But some industries are attempting to start back up again. Volkswagen, Europe’s largest car manufacturer, has brought some 15 per cent of its workers back to its German assembly lines. And more will return in the weeks to come.
But I was fascinated to learn that almost one-third of all driving schools in Germany may go to the wall if coronavirus-caused restrictions on schooling continue for much longer.
In-car lessons present particular health challenges. You can’t social distance when there’s a student driver at the wheel and a driving instructor in the passenger’s seat keeping eyes on the road and the learner.
ERASED FROM THE MAP
Moving, an international road safety umbrella group, has just released the results of a Germany-wide poll among driving schools about their plight.
The survey found that almost a third of the roughly 10,000 driving schools in the country would be erased from the map should the coronavirus-necessitated lockdown continue for much longer, DW reports.
Moving president Jorg-Michael Satz said all of the existing driving schools are needed, though.
“We really have such a high demand for driving schools across Germany,” he says. “Based on what we learnt from recent polls and surveys, there had been a considerable lack of instructors even before the coronavirus hit the country.
The group also says that about 200,000 student drivers can’t complete their training. This includes 100,000 people in need of a truck driver’s license. These badly needed in the logistics sector as well as for fire-fighting units and technical relief services.
In most of Europe, truck drivers in the food and energy sector are considered to be essential services.
When I learnt to drive back in the last century, it was on open beach when the tide was out. That way there was little danger of hitting anything or anybody or doing damage to the car.
DRIVING SCHOOLS A THING OF THE PAST
But there is a reality too that with advanced computer technology and artificial intelligence, how long will it be before all driving courses – and tests for that matter – are conducted in a simulator. As it is right now, you can go to a mall in Abu Dhabi or Dubai and sit in a simulator that teaches you how to fly the world’s most advanced passenger jets on any route you like – all while your partner shops for makeup and cupcakes.
And before coronavirus came to dominate the news and every aspect of our lives, there were daily headlines about how the logistics industry was shifting to long lorry trains where a single controller was in charge from a remote operation, or that self-driving cars were going to be the new normal.
So how long before needing to know becomes a thing of the past? And has coronavirus sped up that process?
CORONAVIRUS LINGERS IN CROWDED PLACES
There’s a lot of people working on trying to figure out just how this coronavirus spreads. Clearly, given that more than 60 per cent of the world’s population are under lockdown – Ireland is talking about extending the six weeks here for another two more weeks – the virus is very sneaky.
Now researchers say it appears to linger in the air in crowded spaces or rooms that lack ventilation, spreading through tiny airborne particles known as aerosols.
At two hospitals in Wuhan , China, researchers found bits of the virus’s genetic material floating in the air of hospital toilets, an indoor space housing large crowds, and rooms where medical staff take off protective gear.
The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Research, didn’t seek to establish whether the airborne particles could cause infections.
The question of how readily the new virus can spread through the air has been a matter of debate. The World Health Organisation has said the risk is limited to specific circumstances, pointing to an analysis of more than 75,000 cases in China in which no airborne transmission was reported.
COVID-19 FANNING ACROSS THE GLOBE
But as the virus fans across the globe and infections nearly 3 million, scientists are trying to understand exactly how contamination occurs.
People produce two types of droplets when they breathe, cough or talk. Larger ones drop to the ground before they evaporate, causing contamination mostly via the objects on which they settle. Smaller ones – those that make up aerosols – can hang in the air for hours.
The researchers, led by Ke Lan of Wuhan University, set up so-called aerosol traps in and around two hospitals in the city that was home to the pandemic’s first steps.
They found few aerosols in patient wards, supermarkets and residential buildings. Many more were detected in toilets and two areas that had large crowds passing through, including an indoor space near one of the hospitals.
Especially high concentrations appeared in the rooms where medical staff doff protective equipment, which may suggest that particles contaminating their gear became airborne again when masks, gloves and gowns are removed.
MEME OF THE DAY
Thanks to my former neighbour Dougie for sharing this with me on Facebook. These antivaxxers had a lot to answer for before this current coronavirus pandemic struck. Maybe it’ll change their thinking once and for all.
THE STOCK SHOCK
After two days of my re-vamped pretend portfolio, I again made gains, pocketing some £97.50 on Monday’s finish. My profit so far is now above 18 per cent – which is pretty good I think given that I started out trading a little more than four weeks ago – at a time when markets around the world were very, very volatile and oil was just beginning its downward slump.
A reminder, this is all pretend, and I set out at the beginning of my lockdown with £10,000 – about Dh45,000 – to invest on the London Stock Market. I don’t pay for trades and I can any amount but only at the end of the a trading day. All play money.
Over the first four weeks, I turned that £10,000 seed money into £11,113.38
I then liquidated my holdings and looked at everything, and then opted to buy into drinks manufacturers Diageo, high-street food delivery company Ocado, British Telecom and a green energy company.
This is my net worth after Tuesday’s trading:
Net worth £11,843.38
Diageo, 100 shares: £2763.50
Ocado, 100 shares: £1651.50
BT, 50 shares: £6017.50
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £1380.00
Cash in hand:£29.88
% Gain: 18.4 per cent
£ Gain: £1,843.38
British Telecom has jumped from my initial buy-in price of just over £115 to close Tuesday at £120.35. Drinks manufacturer Diageo also performed well, up 1.41 per cent on the day, closing at 2763.60p. Ocado, the food delivery service dropped very marginally, with my 100 shares losing just one penny each, closing at 1651.50p.
PowerHouse Energy, a green energy company, gave back some of the big gains in made on Monday, dropping from 120p to 115p but, hey, I bought in at 87p each for 1,200 shares.
So another good day.
Hopefully by Friday, I can take my portfolio’s overall growth mark through the 20 per cent barrier in what will be less than five weeks of trading given that there were two closed days over the Easter holidays in the UK.
So, overall, another positive day. And day that I’m making money – even if it’s just all pretend – isn’t bad, right?
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that serves as a reminder that finding a worm in your apple is better than finding half a worm.
COVIDIOT COUPLE HAVE THEIR CAR SEIZED
Here’s justice for a British covidiot couple who drove some 500 kilometres from Kent to Cornwall for a “mini break”.
They had their car seized by a police officer unimpressed with their stupidity when they broke lockdown rules.
They were found sleeping in their car before they confessed they had driven to the coast – flouting the strict restrictions protecting the country.
Adding insult to injury, the pair were also found to have driven all that way without insurance or a driving licence.
Devon and Cornwall Police’s Supt Adrian Leisk, slammed the pair as he said he “struggles to comprehend the selfishness” of people like this.
“Important message for those still thinking it’s a good idea to ignore the Government guidance,” he tweeted. “You will be fined, you will be turned around (and in this case we’ll seize your car).”
I’m glad that justice has been done.
JAILED FOR PUNCHING HOSPITAL STAFF
This goon has a couple of years to reflect on his actions during this pandemic.
Daniel Shevlin has been jailed for two years for punching an National Health Service worker after being told there was not any juice available to drink in the emergency waiting room.
He threw one punch at the NHS worker while in the waiting area of Salford Royal Infirmary in Manchester on 29 March.
The victim, a man in his 50s, was left with a fractured cheekbone.
Shevlin visited the hospital after claiming to have had a drug overdose and became agitated when told there was no juice available, and instead only water, Manchester Crown Court heard.
He then assaulted the man before shouting abuse at another hospital worker who challenged his behaviour.
Shevlin, of no fixed address, had to be detained by security staff.
He later pleaded guilty to assault and intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress.
Thankfully, the victim has already returned to the frontline to continue helping patients during the pandemic.
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