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.
Monday May 4, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
KEEPING SENIORS LOCKED AWAY FERMENTS A REVOLT
Separate lockdown restrictions apply for those over 70 years’ of age. Credit SkyNews
In the UK and Ireland, lockdown rules brought into force mean that those over 7- are treated differently.
They’ve been told to stay home, not to go out, and limit their contact with other people.
The restrictions are based on the fact that coronavirus does indeed kill more elderly people, and the restrictions are an attempt to mitigate that risk.
But many seniors find the advice insulting – mollycoddling is one word that’s often used here – and they feel as if they’re being treated like children rather than as a generation of people, many of whom have fought for their country or cause.
I recently lost my former father-in-law, Jack to Covid-19. He was advanced in years, had dementia and was in a care home. But his wife, Helena, is as bright as a button.
She couldn’t grieve, Couldn’t be hugged. Couldn’t be visited in her own home. Couldn’t go out for a walk because of the restrictions placed on her. At least in Ireland, come Tuesday, she’s allowed out, must social distance and must avoid physical contact with even family members.
But it’s a start.
SENIORS WILL ‘REBEL AND RISK PRISON’
On Sunday morning, Baroness Altmann appeared on SkyNews Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme and warned that older people will “rebel and risk prison” if they are forced to remain in lockdown longer while restrictions are eased.
The former Tory pensions minister has warned that such a requirement would be “age discrimination” and could cost lives as well as threaten social unrest. Her comments come amid growing concern the over-70s could be told to isolate for longer than the rest of the population when the rules to cope with Covid-19 start to be relaxed.
“I certainly hope as we move out of the current emergency phase of lockdown there won’t be some kind of blanket policy to forbid people of any particular age from leaving their own homes or from being part of the community,” she said. “Using an age-based criteria would be fundamentally wrong and actually would potentially cost the lives of many people, and risks social unrest.”
She added that there are many over-70s who can’t bear the thought of having to stay in lockdown a moment longer and have accepted it because everyone else has got to do it.
“But if they are fit and healthy and they need to get out for their own sanity and physical health, then the idea that the government will tell them you are under house arrest while everyone else is free... then I think they wouldn’t accept it. Certainly lots of them have told me they would rebel and they would risk going to prison rather than being forced to isolate at home,” she said.
“Of course it’s age discrimination, there’s no other way to look at it.”
BUT THESE TOURISTS ARE STANDED IN PARADISE
I chat occasionally with a family friend, Tania, who lives in Spain. Mark, her husband and their eldest son and his girlfriend are stuck on an island off Bali for the next month or so – and they’ve been there since the end of March.
They’re all surfers, so it’s not exactly a hardship. Their biggest concern is trying to organise flights back home when this all settles.
Then there’s the 500 or so tourists who have been stock on the Maldives. I’ve never been. It’s on the list.
According to Ali Waheed, the country’s tourism minister, there are about 500 tourists on the islands, with 100 of them stranded at the airport. The government is helping people who cannot afford to continue staying in resorts.
“We believe they are like locals, they are the people who have brought this country to where it is now,” Waheed said.
Interesting philosophy. You can’t but like that.
SEEKING SOLITUDE ON A DISNEY ISLAND
A man has been arrested for trying to self-quarantine on a private Disney island in Florida. Credit Disney
This coronavirus is driving desperate people to do desperate things. And yes, we do all need a bit of magic on our lives once in a while. For that reason, I kinda get where this guy was coming from.
Florida police arrested him for living out his quarantine on a shuttered Disney World island, telling authorities it felt like a “tropical paradise.”
Errr, I’m not sure about that. I’ve been there about 15 years ago. I’m not sure that description is quite accurate.
Anyways, Orange County Sheriff’s deputies found Richard McGuire on Disney’s Discovery Island last Thursday. He said he’d been there since Monday or Tuesday and had planned to camp there for a week, according to an arrest report.
The 42-year-old said he didn’t hear numerous deputies searching the private island for him on foot, by boat and by air because he was asleep in a building. He told the deputy he didn’t know it was a restricted area, despite there being numerous “no trespassing” signs.
“Richard stated that he was unaware of that and that it looked like a tropical paradise,” according to the arrest report.
Orange County Marine deputies on Bay Lake used a public address system to tell McGuire he was not allowed to be on the property, but he remained on the island, anyway, according to the arrest report.
A security representative for Disney said she saw McGuire using a company boat Thursday, noting that the area had several “no trespassing” signs and two closed gates. She asked the agency to press charges.
McGuire was arrested on a trespassing charge and taken to jail without incident.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL….
Yes, isolation makes like you’re entire world is your home – apart from those we chat too on social media. I’ve probably spent more time taking to friends and family all over the world recently. than I have in years.
These devices and applications have made the world very small indeed. And two neighbouring families in California know just how true that is.
Kjetil and Zoe Njoten live four houses away from Erik and Jen Strom in the Los Angeles area, but the couples had never talked beyond the occasional “Hi” or a friendly wave.
They bonded – from a safe distance – at an impromptu neighbourhood get-together this month over their shared Norwegian heritage.
Kjetil Njoten grew up on Njoten Island in Norway. Both Erik Strom’s and Jen Strom’s families are from the country.
Jen Strom's family came from a town a couple hours away from where Kjetil Njoten grew up – a coincidence on its own.
Erik Strom told Kjetil Njoten that his family came from a small island that they’d never been able to find, Njoten said.
“They thought it was named Newton, which to us clearly wasn’t a Norwegian name,” Njoten explains.
HOME TO A COUPLE OF DOZEN PEOPLE
They joked that maybe the family came from Njoten Island, which can be pronounced like “Newton.” The island is only home to a couple dozen people.
“Wouldn't it be even crazier if we were actually related, somehow,” Erik Strom said. Strom said he called his mom to check their family history book, which traces her lineage back to the 1700s.
She texted a picture of his great-great-grandfather. His last name was also Njoten.
They sent that information to Kjetil Njoten’s mom, who was able to confirm the family connection.
It turns out that Kjetil Njoten and Erik Strom have the same great-great grandfather. And their great-great grandfather lived in same house where Kjetil Njoten grew up 100 years later.
“So a crazy coincidence,” Njoten said.
Yes, a small world after all.
HOW HAKIKOMORI CAN HELP WITH ISOLATION
Susumu is the protagonist for the hikikomori-themed game Pull Stay, modelled after its developer Nito Souji, who has been a hikikomori for more than 10 years. Credit Nito Souji
Lockdown is set to last for several more weeks at least. And while it’s not prison, it can be difficult for some people. Everyone has their own ways of dealing with things.
In Japan, however, there has been a tradition of social isolation – where people have purposely shunned person-to-person contact. The term ‘hakikomori’ is used for social recluses. But they may indeed offer some help when it comes to staying sane during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Japan Times, the nation’s health ministry defines hikikomori as people who have remained isolated at home for at least six consecutive months, are not going to school or working and are not interacting with people outside their family. According to government studies, there are an estimated 1 million or more hikikomori nationwide.
Although people have started to use the term more loosely to describe themselves hunkering down at home to help stop the spread of Covid-19, most social recluses spend years, sometimes decades, in isolation.
Nito Souji, who has been a hikikomori for more than 10 years, stresses the importance of keeping focused on the big picture and taking each day as it comes.
“I became a hikikomori with the objective of living every day doing only things that are worthwhile, so for me the past 10 years have been far more pleasant than working outside,” he told the publication.
CREATOR OF SELF-PUBLISHED COMICS
Unable to land a good job after graduating from university in Tokyo or realise his dream of becoming a novelist, Nito returned to his hometown to practice drawing in the hopes of becoming a creator of dojinishi –self-published comics – and other works. He had initially only planned to remain a hikikomori for three years, or until he could support himself.
“I had no friends in my hometown and felt rushed to become financially independent as soon as possible, feeling ashamed to go outside. So I became a hikikomori,” he said.
He now lives alone in his aunt’s apartment in Kobe.
Nito’s dream of becoming self-sufficient through his own creations eventually spurred him to learn English and game development from 2015, where he has devoted his efforts for the past five years. Now with fluent English skills and his first original game set to launch on Steam, a video game digital distribution service, his hard work appears to have paid off.
“In the last 10 years, I was able to create whatever I wanted to create, so even if there were struggles, I enjoyed it,” he said.
Pull Stay, which is a literal English translation of hikikomori, is a game inspired by Nito’s experiences as a shut-in and features a protagonist modeled after himself.
Nito said he hopes sales of the game will generate enough revenue to enable him to finally emerge from seclusion and become a nomad worker once the COVID-19 pandemic blows over.
“Having hope and making a little progress every day — that worked for me,” he said.
STAYING HOME ‘IS A BREEZE’
For Nito the government’s request to stay at home has been a breeze.
“I’ve used a weekly grocery delivery service for a while now, so I don’t even need to go to the supermarket. So I really don’t leave the house. I come out maybe once or twice a week to take out the trash,” Nito said.
He said haircuts — usually the only reason he ventures out into the city — are the only thing that has been directly affected by the pandemic. He elected to find one in his neighbourhood instead last time due to fears over the virus.
“I don’t really want to go for my next haircut. I’ve always been prone to colds and my body has further weakened due to the hikikomori life. So I’m thinking of cutting my own hair next time,” he said.
I’m certainly not sure that I could stay at home and self-isolate for a decade. Having said that, I am mostly comfortable in my own company. But I – and many, many, more people – will be happy when the lockdown restrictions are lifted.
MEME OF THE DAY
Thanks to my second cousin Annie O’Brien who lives in Dorking, just outside London. It was supplied over Facebook. She’s also being posting some interesting things, like the 10 music albums that influenced her most. And she’s been using the lockdown to go through boxes of old photographs. I don’t know many of the people, but it’s interesting to see how fashions have changed down the decades.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
I managed to finish the trading week on the plus side – up some £300 altogether, but up 11.4 per cent since I started this at the end of March.
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.
Last Sunday, I bought into drinks manufacturers Diageo, high-street food delivery company Ocado, British Telecom and a green energy company, PowerHouse.
If I am to look at this coldly, then British Telecom would be the stock to get rid of if I shake up my portfolio for the coming shortened trading week in London. Next Friday is a public holiday, to mark the 75th anniversary of VE – Victory in Europe Day towards the end of the Second World War.
That’s the cold reality. But – and there always seems to be a but – on Friday it emerged that Spain’s Telefonica is in talks with billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Global to explore a merger of its British mobile operator O2 with Liberty’s Virgin Media cable network company.
Telefonica has been weighing options for the mobile business since 2016 when a previous £10.3 billion pound deal takeover of O2 by Three UK, controlled by CK Hutchison Holdings, was blocked by European antitrust regulators.
RESHAPING THE BRITISH TELECOMS MARKET
A combination of O2 and Virgin Media would reshape Britain’s telecoms industry, leaving Hutchison and Vodafone stranded without their own fixed-line consumer networks.
If successful, the deal would end uncertainty around the fate of one Britain’s biggest mobile operators after it was repeatedly touted as a possible candidate for a sale or a stock listing in recent years.
It would also offer Telefonica a way to partially cash out from O2 while retaining a presence in Britain, which the company sees as one of its “core markets” along with Spain, Germany and Brazil.
Malone, who transformed the pay-TV sector in the United States, combined Liberty’s Dutch operations with Vodafone’s in 2016 in a joint venture deal which could offer the blueprint for a merger of O2 and Virgin Media, one of the sources said.
Why is this important to me and my 50 shares?
Here’s the thing. Virgin piggybacks on BT’s network. That either means that there’s going to be excess capacity that BT can utilise to develop its services. And that means potential.
Or losing a customer needing your services is a bad thing.
On Friday, BT shares did drop, but only by less and £3. I bought in last week at £115 each and, given the above news, they dropped to just above £112 each. I’m no expert, but am inclined to believe that those who do know, if the news was all that bad, would have pushed the price lower.
Certainly, I think I’ll hold them for now.
AND THEN THERE’S TESLA ENTERING THE UK GREEN ENERGY MARKET
Last week, I bought into a green energy company, PowerHouse. It was cheap, at 87p a share. At one stage, it was up to 120p, but closed at 115p.
On Saturday, the Daily Telegraph reported that electric carmaker Tesla Inc has applied for a licence to supply electricity in the United Kingdom.
The purpose of the licence from the energy regulator may be to introduce the company’s Autobidder platform, the report said, citing a company source. The application did not make clear why Tesla has applied for the licence. Autobidder is a platform for automated energy trading and is currently being operated at Tesla’s Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia.
Having built a significant battery business in recent years, the carmaker is now preparing to enter the British market with its technology, the paper said, citing industry sources. The company did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
In 2017, the carmaker built world’s largest lithium ion battery to help keep the lights on in South Australia.
So what does this mean for my 1,200 shares in PowerHouse?
Well, one thing this lockdown has shown is that the UK has set a modern record for the most consecutive days of non-coal electricity powering the nation. And that shows the effectiveness of the systems in place.
Besides, why else would Tesla want in? So I’m sticking with PowerHouse until next week.
NOT WEDDED TO MY CURRENT PORTFOLIO
Both Ocado and Diageo has been positive for me over the past trading week. So I don’t see any reason to do anything with them just now.
I’s going to watch Monday’s trading very closely, and may change. But right now, I’m staying with my four picks. They were positive together last week. Hopefully, they’ll do the same in the shortened week to come. But I’m not wedded to any of them.
This is how I enter the new trading week:
Net worth £11,434.88
Diageo, 100 shares: £2765.00
Ocado, 100 shares: £1615.00
BT, 50 shares: £5645.00.
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £1,380.00
Cash in hand:£29.88
% Gain: 11.4 per cent
£ Gain: £1,434.38
A STITCH IN TIME SAVE LIVES
Brooke Dennis, originally from New Zealand, now volunteers making scrubs for health care workers in Britain. Credit AP
You know that saying that a stitch in time saves nine. Well, in the UK, there’s group of seamstresses who are proving that a stitch in time save lives.
Four women from London’s Hackney Wick neighborhood responded to the coronavirus pandemic by organising volunteers who so far have churned out more than 3,800 sets of scrubs for health care workers after Britain’s National Health Service was unable to provide enough of the pajama-like garments.
More importantly, they helped organise a nation, putting together a template for making basic personal protection equipment, or PPE, with organisational ideas and a pattern for the scrubs so others could do the same. Now some 70 “Scrub Hubs″ with more than 2,200 volunteers are busily sewing away from Scotland to Wales.
“Very quickly, we discovered that Hackney was not just the only place where PPE was needed,” said one organiser, Brooke Dennis, 33. “It was needed all across the land.’’
The story of how four women used social media to create and deliver desperately needed medical supplies around the U.K. began with a request from a single doctor: I need scrubs to do my job. Can anyone help?
That surprised charity worker Maya Ilany, 29. The idea that the NHS might not have enough of something so basic startled her. She googled the doctor. “I thought: It’s a joke,″ she recalled.
STRUGGLED TO GET VITAL PPE
Medical staff across the world have struggled to obtain enough personal protective equipment, including face shields, gloves and masks, to protect themselves from the virus as they work to save lives. As the crisis deepened, the situation only got worse, even as the British government insisted it had done all it could amid international shortages and disrupted supply lines.
Simple cotton scrubs are in short supply as Covid-19 patients stretch hospital resources and doctors who don’t normally wear scrubs don the baggy garments because it’s easier to toss them into laundry bags before heading home on public transport to their families.
Scrub Hub responded. A decade of government austerity following the global financial crisis led to cutbacks at Britain’s NHS, hurting its ability to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. In addition, when warnings about the pending pandemic hit Britain early this year, the government’s top policy planners were focused on preparations for the country’s historic Jan. 31 exit from the European Union.
“I think they had their blinkers on,” said Mark Johnson, an expert on the NHS and supply chains at Warwick Business School.
Scrub Hub, on the other hand, could focus on a single thing: making scrubs.
“Small is beautiful because you don’t have to coordinate a bunch of different departments and a bunch of different trusts and a bunch of different people,″ Johnson said. “And it’s far, far easier to coordinate on that scale locally.”
ALL MET THROUGH WHATSAPP
Scrub Hub’s founders, none of whom knew each other five weeks ago, made contact during the early days of the crisis by using WhatsApp message groups to see if anyone in Hackney Wick needed help.
Many of the requests were random. Can anyone deliver groceries? Does anyone have a skateboard? And then there was the request for scrubs.
Ilany, who knew how to organise campaigns, teamed up with Annabel Maguire, 31, who had expertise in buying fabric in bulk. The group soon included Rebecca Zehr, 47, a creative pattern cutter, and Dennis, who runs Make Town, a textiles and craft studio in east London that has morphed into the beating heart of Scrub Hub.
Designers, costume assistants and other creative types with time on their hands after the government ordered non-essential workers to stay home stepped forward to help. Crowdfunding paid for the materials.
Scrub Hub went a step further, putting all this organization into an easy-to-follow open source document that showed others how to do what they had done. Word spread. Scrub Hub figured the government would step in and take responsibility.
They are still waiting.
“The one little group spawned into many, many, many others, and it’s created a fantastic little community,” Maguire said. “But it’s really, really bad news that we were ever in a situation where the NHS ... didn’t have the supplies it needed at such a critical time. ‘’
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots that serves as a reminder some were out of the room when brains were being handed out…
12 YEARS A SLAVE TO FOX NATION
It was only going to be a matter of time before some dumb covidiot ventured into slavery territory.
And that’s exactly what Tomi Lahren did. She’s a host on Fox Nation and tweeted last week that social distancing looks a lot like “willful slavery.”
Slavery? Does she have any idea of what that entailed in the colonies and the United States of America that followed.
Social distancing and slavery in the same sentence is simply dumb.
She tried to killed the tweet but the sharp folks at the Daily Beast snagged it.
“Compliance starting to look a whole lot like willful slavery,” she dumbly thumbed, guaranteeing her place in the coven of covidiocy.
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, AP, SkyNews, 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