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 33: Friday May 1, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
MAY DAY! MAY DAY! HELP – I’VE BEEN STRANDED FOR MORE THAN A MONTH!
Hard to believe that it’s May 1 – May Day – what was traditionally a holiday in the Communist world but one that has transcended the fall of the Berlin Wall and is now marked by many European nations.
The public holiday actually falls on Monday, May 4, making it a long weekend for most Europeans. Not that it matters. It’s been a long month – and more – for most Europeans.
For the record, the long weekend will take place in the United Kingdom next weekend – yes, they do have to be different and couldn’t possibly fall in line with the rest of the EU either – when the public holiday falls on Friday, May 8. It’s been moved so as to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War in Europe – VE Day – and the liberation of Europe.
How apt. Here we are, 75 years on, and it’s only now that some nations in Europe are taking the first tentative steps to liberate themselves from the coronavirus pandemic.
‘COLONEL’ TOM TURNS 100
A belated 100th Happy Birthday to ‘Colonel’ Tom Moore.
I’ve written here before about this most remarkable of men, who turned 100 years of age yesterday.
Captain Tom, a veteran of the Second World War, set out to raise £1,000 (Dh4,500) for the National Health Service by that milestone birthday by walking around his garden. He recently broke his hip and has to use a walking frame.
The gutsy old soldier’s efforts touched something in Britons, who responded very generously to his efforts. So far, he’s raised more than £30 million.
The veteran’s big day has been marked by an RAF fly-past by two helicopters and two vintage Second World War fighter planes – a Spitfire and a Hurricane.
He was given a promotion to the rank of honorary colonel.
In recognition of his achievements, Chief of the General Staff General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith has promoted him to the rank of honorary colonel of the Army Foundation College, a promotion approved by Queen Elizabeth.
140,000 BIRTHDAY CARDS
Captain Tom has been inundated with more than 140,000 which are on display at his grandson’s school.
Among the well-wishers are the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who have both written to congratulate him on his achievements.
UK prime Minister Boris Johnson has also sent a birthday message to him, saying: “Captain Tom, I know I speak for the whole country when I say, ‘We wish you a very happy 100th birthday’. Your heroic efforts have lifted the spirits of the entire nation. You’ve created a channel to enable millions to say a heartfelt thank you to the remarkable men and women in our NHS who are doing the most astounding job.”
Johnson added that there’s a tradition going back some years now where the prime minister takes a moment each day to thank someone for their service to others – by recognising them as a point of light.
“Captain Tom, that is exactly what you are – a point of light in all our lives,” the PM wrote.
The centenarian has also been honoured with a Royal Mail postmark, with all stamped post until Friday marked “Happy 100th Birthday Captain Thomas Moore NHS fundraising hero 30th April 2020”.
There aren’t many of us who will get to see 100. And then there’s far fewer who will have his guts and spark.
So next time you want to whine about restrictions of lockdowns or social distancing, give yourself a good kick and think of Captain Tom!
GERMAN IFTAR IN A JIFFY!
I know that lockdowns and restrictions on movements are bad enough, but I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for my many Muslim friends and colleagues who are now fasting during Ramadan under these trying conditions.
Several years back when I lived in Dubai, I too fasted for a month and wrote a blog for Gulf News about the experience. Yes, it was difficult. But yes, it was rewarding too.
This story out of Wuppertal, Germany fell on my radar about a local mosque that is delivering meals to elderly Muslims unable to break the fast with their families due to lockdown as well as to non-Muslims struggling to make ends meet.
Volunteers at the mosque, run by one of Germany’s largest associations of mosques (DITIB), provide meals to anyone who places an order.
“People can’t go to the mosque so it’s really nice that they deliver it to my home,” says Nazmiye Odabasi, leaning over her windowsill to pick up a sealed meal box, her hair covered with a small blue scarf.
DELIVERING TO IMPOVERISH RESIDENTS
Mustafa Temizer, a member of DITIB in Wuppertal, said the mosque had originally planned to deliver 1,000 meals a day to impoverished residents of the city who rely on food banks that were forced to close by the pandemic.
But as food banks reopened this month and Ramadan started last week, the mosque decided to deliver meals financed by donations to both Muslims breaking their daily fast at sunset and non-Muslims in need. Some 300 meals are delivered each day.
“We are not just serving members of our community, but we are working with the city of Wuppertal,” says Temizer, standing near his silver car emblazoned with a sticker reading ‘Iftar delivery.’
“We added a lot of people in need to our list and we deliver to them too. They really appreciate it of course and the more people are hearing about this, the more sign up.”
Mosques, churches and other houses of worship will be allowed to open their doors to the faithful starting on May 4 under hygiene rules that include limiting the number of people to 50.
WHEN IT HITS THE FAN IN SWEDEN…
Swedish authorities have taken quite a bit of it for the way they’ve handled the coronavirus pandemic.
But I just love their thinking when it comes to stopping students for breaking social distancing rules and coming together for an unauthorised gathering.
The town of Lund will spread foul-smelling chicken fertiliser in its main park this week to deter revellers holding spring celebrations as part of efforts to curb Covid-19.
City officials have asked residents to skip the traditional Walpurgis Eve celebrations today, known in Sweden as Valborg, and plan to fence off the Lund city park.
But they said they would also go a step further and take the opportunity to spread one tonne of chicken droppings in the park.
While giving the lawns a welcome dose of nutrition, they also hope it will keep at bay those who would otherwise be tempted to defy the coronavirus restrictions.
“Well, chicken manure simply smells awful,” Gustav Lundblad, chairman of the city’s environment board, says. “It’s not very pleasant to sit around drinking beer in that smell.” Lundblad added.
The park is a popular gathering spot for afternoon and early evening picnics on 30 April before the traditional bonfires later in the evening.
Since the festivities — which can attract up to 30,000 visitors — are “spontaneous”, the city cannot outright ban them but given the coronavirus outbreak, Lundblad says the city strongly wanted to avoid them.
IF YOU REALLY DO MISS WORKING IN THE OFFICE…
A lot more people are working from home that ever before. Someone I know at Gulf News has termed it “doing an O’Reilly” after me because I’m fortunate to work from home for a few years now.
Remember, you only have to dress from the waist up to take Zoom calls. That’s officially called doing a Donald Duck.
But if you really do feel like you miss the office, then you can always download office noise.
If you’re missing the hum of people coming and going, then visit imisstheoffice.eu. It’s an interactive website and you can adjust the number of people to those you’re normally used to working with.
But why bother? Just make the most of it while you can.
PLACES WHERE THE PANDEMIC HASN’T REACHED
So, as things stand now on May 1, there are some three million people worldwide who have contracted coronavirus.
Sadly, the daily death toll is still rising in many nations, and it won’t be too long before the death toll touches a quarter of a million people.
But there are still 33 countries and territories across the world that have not yet reported a single case of the novel coronavirus.
Many are small, hard-to-reach island nations in the Pacific such as Nauru, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.
Others include Comoros, Lesotho, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Several of these nations are some of the least-populated places in the world.
Just because a nation has not reported any infections, it does not necessarily mean there have been no cases.
North Korea has not reported any coronavirus cases, but it borders China, Russia and South Korea, which have all reported high levels of infection.
The secretive state relies heavily on propaganda and reveals little to the outside world.
But if I had to go somewhere where there was no case yet, I’d take the Solomon Islands over Pyongyang!
MEMES OF THE DAY
Thanks to my friend Sandy in Whitby, Ontario, for sharing this meme from Twitter with me through Facebook. And yes, there is more than an element of truth to it.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
Well that was disappointing. Four days into the trading week and my investment has given back about one-third of my weekly gains, with a loss of £264.50 from where I stood at the end of trading on Wednesday.
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 a trading day. All play money.
Since last Sunday, I bought into drinks manufacturers Diageo, high-street food delivery company Ocado, British Telecom and a green energy company.
And on Thursday, they were all in red territory.
PowerHouse ended back at 115p a share, where it stood on trading on Tuesday. It had reached 120p but considering I bought 1,200 shares on Sunday for 87p each, it’s still up roughly a shade over 20 per cent after four days.
Delivery company Ocado dropped back to 1604.5p (£16.045) on Thursday, but again still up around 9p from when I bought 100 at 1595.5p (£15.955).
I bought 50 British Telecom shares on Sunday at £115.16 each. Earlier in the week they got past the £120 mark but slipped on Thursday back to £116.05. They’re still more than 85p each, so not a bad showing on the week.
This is my net worth after Thursday’s trading:
Net worth £11,589.38
Diageo, 100 shares: £2750.0
Ocado, 100 shares: £1604.50
BT, 50 shares: £5825.00.
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £380.00
Cash in hand: £29.88
% Gain: 15.9 per cent
£ Gain: £1,589.38
With just Friday’s trading left I would like to crack the £12,000 mark. Fingers crossed. Overall, I’m still up more than £450 from when trading began on Monday morning.
CORONAVIRUS WASTE HURTING THE ENVIRONMENT
When we look back on 2020, one of the over-riding images will likely be people wearing masks. And when the word of the year gets to be picked, take your choice between ‘pandemic’, ‘coronavirus’, ‘social-distancing’ or ‘cocooning’.
I don’t think in almost four decades of daily journalism that I’ve ever before used any of these phrases as often as I have in these past four months.
Remarkable, really, when you think back on the year – even New Year’s Eve feels like a decade ago.
And never before have we had so much contact with masks, gloves and bottles of sanitizer – all shielding us from the spread of Covid-19.
Hopefully, when a vaccine is found and this pandemic has run its course, we can forget about the Year of the Mask.
But there will be other long-term effects that we do need to worry about. Those discarded masks, gloves and empty plastic bottles of hand sanitiser are ending up on the streets, in the seas and among wildlife.
When this period of lockdowns began in earnest, I was on a long-planned holiday for three weeks in Bali. That too seems like so long ago. But while there, I was quite saddened to see many of the beaches on the island polluted with large amounts of washed-up plastics.
A WORLDWIDE PROBLEM OF DISCARDED MASKS
As I walked a local park for my daily exercise permitted here in Ireland close to my home, I came across discarded gloves and several masks. Maybe, I thought, it’s because the local municipality is not emptying the public litter bins as often as it should – benefit of the doubt and all that.
Then I read on DW news that similar waste is causing problems in bigger metropolises such as New York and London. And it has even hit the uninhabited Soko Islands. A few nautical miles from Hong Kong, Gary Stokes from the conservation group OceansAsia found some 100 masks washed up over the course of three visits to the beach.
“We hadn’t noticed this many masks before in such a remote location,” said Stokes, who suspects they came from nearby China or Hong Kong. “When we found them, it only had been six to eight weeks since people had started using these masks.”
Gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are critical for those fighting the pandemic but are also widely used by the public. Still, because they’re not always disposed of properly, environmentalists fear negative consequences for wildlife and the fight against plastic pollution.
ENDING UP IN THE SEA
And discarded masks and gloves is a worldwide problem.
“If they’re thrown on the streets, when it rains the gloves and masks will eventually end up in the sea,” said Anastasia Miliou, a marine biologist and research director with the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation based in Greece.
And because waste management problems are systemic in Greece, even gloves and face masks that are put in the trash could ultimately end up in nature.
Even in Hong Kong, where littering is rare, Stokes said there are dozens of other ways masks can reach the sea.
“People are walking, they pull their wallets out and from their pockets a mask accidentally falls,” he explained, adding that even if they are put in the garbage, they are light enough to blow away.
Environmentalists such as Stokes fear discarded masks and gloves will add to the ongoing fight against plastic pollution in the sea
And once they get into the water, they pose a threat to marine life.
"[In Hong Kong waters,] we’ve got pink dolphins and green turtles coming through this place,” Stokes said. “When plastic is left in the water long enough and algae and bacteria grow on it, it actually smells like food to turtles.”
HOW DO YOU PROPERLY RECYCLE MASKS?
With all of these marks and gloves floating around now, how do you get rid of them properly?
PPE items not left to float about in the environment and the sea are not necessarily easy to deal with either, Joan Marc Simon, executive director of Zero Waste Europe, a Brussels-based NGO, told DW.
He points to the European recycling scheme under which retailers and producers pay for the collection and treatment of plastic packaging. As gloves aren’t considered packaging, they cannot be put into household recycling bins, explained Simon.
Even gloves made of latex rubber, a natural product, aren’t always an eco-friendly choice, Simon added. It depends on the chemical additives used to produce them, he said, some of which can harm the environment when they decompose.
THINKING ABOUT THE LIFE CYCLE
While it’s understandable that sustainability practices backtrack in a crisis, said Richard Thompson, professor and director of the Marine Institute at the University of Plymouth, tackling the plastic waste crisis means not losing sight of the whole life cycle of a product — from design until end of life.
“This should be the same thing whether it’s a bottle of lemonade or a mask that’s used in a hospital,” said Thompson. “Of course, it doesn’t help that we’re in this time of crisis, particularly when everybody is wanting a mask.”
The World Health Organisation says that regular hand-washing offers more protection against catching Covid-19 than wearing rubber gloves while out in public areas. And as far as the US Centers for Disease Control is concerns, washable cloth masks will offer the necessary protection.
The question then seems to be do we really need disposable gloves and masks? And if we do, we need to think very carefully about how we dispose of them too.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that serves as a reminder the theory of evolution is just that. A theory. The practice has been different…
LIFEBOAT, NAVY, HELICOPTERS HAVE TO SAVE TWO PLATINUM-LEVEL PRATS
There two covidiots deserve to enter the platinum club for their combined covidiocy.
They drove a combined 900 kilometres together and sparked a rescue operation that involved TWO helicopters, the UK Coastguard, RNLI lifeboats, fishing boats and even the Royal Navy!
All because they wanted to dive for fresh scallops!
The men had driven from Edinburgh and Cornwall to meet up in Bridport, Dorset.
They launched their boat from West Bay and 47-year-old from Cornwall went diving eight kilometres out. He became detached from his marker buoy and a major search was launched.
Exmouth’s lifeboat was alerted by the UK. Coastguard around 3.45pm on Saturday to reports of the missing diver off the coast of Seatown, Dorset.
MAJOR SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATION
A major search and rescue operation involving two helicopters, the coastguard, RNLI lifeboats, several fishing boats and a Royal Navy ship swung into action.
According to the Daily Mail, the missing diver had surfaced safely but lost sight of the vessel after his line was detached. He was luckily spotted by an eagle-eyed sailor onboard HMS Tyne.
The boat was on routine maritime security patrols when it responded to the Mayday call.
The man had been adrift for two hours when he was found 5 kilometres from his last reported location.
He was picked up by the Exmouth lifeboat and didn’t need medical attention.
Both men were met by police once on shore and fined £60 each from breaching coronavirus restrictions.
Somehow, that doesn’t seem like justice given the huge waste of resources needed to save these two covidiots.
£60 each? I guess walking the plank isn’t legal anymore…
FLOUTING LOUTS POSE FOR PHOTOS
Where there’s one covidiot, there’s likely many more. And a recent outbreak of covidiocy proved that to be the case in Scotland.
Dozens – yes, dozens of the doozies – of covidiots posed for a drinking session selfie after flouting coronavirus lockdown rules to meet with pals.
Around 30 people gathered for the outdoor party over the weekend in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.
The group broke lockdown rules for a party despite social distancing rules, and a Sun source said the group were “heavily intoxicated” during the illicit bash.
Pictures shared on social media show the lockdown breakers smiling and waving at the camera while sitting on grassland.
Bottles of alcohol are raised high in the air as the gang celebrate in the sun – with others making rude gestures.
It is thought they gathered following the funeral of a friend – which they could not attend due to current restrictions.
One member of the group posted a snap online of herself drinking at home, ready to go and meet her pals.
A spokesperson for Police Scotland told The Sun said: “We are aware of numerous incidents of non-compliance across the country with officers attending these calls. Officers will engage, explain, encourage to prevent ongoing and future non-compliance.”
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