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.
Wednesday May 6, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
HAPPY HYPOXIA: DOCTORS WARN OF VERY LOW OXYGEN LEVELS IN PATIENTS WITH COVID-19 SYMPTOMS
You’ve probably seen the ads begin to pop up in your social media feeds – little devices that clip on to your finger and register the levels of oxygen in your blood. If you’ve ever been checked out in a hospital or in some doctor’s offices, you’ll know them from being put on the end of one finger as the professionals measure blood pressure and the like.
So why now?
Well, it’s because doctors are reporting that some Covid-19 patients have extraordinarily low blood-oxygen levels – but are still able to chat to doctors and scroll on their phones when they should be very sick indeed.
It may be one way of checking quickly if you have the virus without showing any other symptoms of the disease – like a dry persistent cough or high temperature.
Doctors have even started to call the phenomenon “happy hypoxia” – but warn the condition could be deadly.
NORMAL LEVELS ARE AT LEAST 95 PER CENT
According to Science Magazine, some Covid-19 patients with extraordinarily low blood-oxygen levels have been able to chat to doctors, scroll on their phones and have generally described themselves as comfortable – when they shouldn’t be.
A normal blood-oxygen saturation is at least 95 per cent and in most lung diseases, such as pneumonia, if those levels drop they have adverse effects, including fluid-filled lungs or rising levels of carbon dioxide, leaving patients feeling short of breath.
But while patients struggle to breathe with damaged lungs in serious cases of Covid-19, early in the disease low blood-oxygen levels is not always coupled with obvious respiratory difficulties, Science Magazine reported.
Covid-19 patients can be breathing comfortably with normal carbon dioxide levels but have oxygen saturation levels in the 70s, 60s, 50s or even lower, the journal said.
Although mountain climbers can have similar readings, some doctors believe it is potentially “ominous” in coronavirus patients, Nicholas Caputo, an emergency doctor in New York, told the publication.
MIGHT CHANGE HOW TO TREAT COVID-19 PATIENTS
Theories are emerging around the cause of “happy hypoxia” in coronavirus patients, with many doctors now recognising clotting as a major feature of severe COVID-19.
Elnara Marcia Negri, a pulmonologist in Sao Paulo, told Science she believes subtle clotting might begin early in the lungs, preventing blood from getting properly oxygenated.
Luciano Gattinoni, a guest professor in intensive care at the University of Guttingen Medical Centre in Germany, has reportedly warned against swooping in to inflate lungs with ventilators or high-pressure oxygen when patients seem comfortable.
Dr Gattononi said those measures could harm lungs that are inflating on their own but may be needed if patients are not helped by non-invasive treatment, Science reported.
Studies are yet to be done on whether early detection of hypoxia might help treat coronavirus patients.
MOST RECOVER PATIENTS PRODUCE COVID-19 ANTIBODIES
I think that a lot of people over the past three months have become a little knowledgeable – yes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing – about coronavirus and the way the body seems to work. Afterall, the subject has changed all of our lives as never before.
And one of the key elements in finding a vaccine or some sort of a remedy for Covid-19 will be figuring out how to best use antibodies from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus.
What’s interesting is that researchers in the UK are finding that most patients who have recovered from coronavirus have been found to produce antibodies. But it’s still too early to say if those antibodies guarantee immunity, England’s deputy chief medical officer has said.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam told the daily Downing Street briefing that “we just haven’t had this disease around on the planet in humans for long enough” to know whether those who had recovered were immune.
‘DON’T PERSIST FOR YEARS AND YEARS’
Prof Van-Tam said antibodies produced in response to other human coronaviruses “don’t persist necessarily for years and years and years", although it is unknown what would happen in the case of Covid-19, adding the overwhelming majority of patients who have had the coronavirus gained antibodies . And that’s a good news thing.
The big question now is whether those antibodies protect from re-infection down the road.
“Like everybody else in the world we just have to be patient and cautious until we get those answers,” Prof Van-Tam said. He added that patients who have recovered are being asked to part in a programme to obtain plasma containing antibodies for potential treatments to be trialled.
WAS CORONAVIRUS AROUND IN DECEMBER?
The general accepted belief is that coronavirus widely spread from a live animal market in Wuhan, China, during early January and the first lockdown restrictions were put in place by Chinese authorities to coincide with Chinese New Year celebrations towards the end of the month.
But now there’s a very intrigue bit of science that suggests that coronavirus was present in France in December . That’s a month before the country's first confirmed cases, according to an intensive care chief who tested old samples.
Yves Cohen said negative tests for flu and other coronavirus on 24 patients in hospital with respiratory problems during December and January had been checked.
And in a development experts say would be of huge significance, one of the revisited samples came back positive for Covid-19.
Dr Cohen, head of resuscitation at a Paris hospital, said the test had been repeated a number of times in case of error.
“Of the 24 patients, we had one positive result for Covid-19 on 27 December when he was in hospital with us,” he said. He told France's BMTV that medical staff had then phoned the man to discuss the new finding.
PATIENT’S WIFE WASN’T INFECTED
“He was sick for 15 days and he infected his two children, but not his wife, who works in a supermarket, at the fish stall,” Dr Cohen said.
“We wondered [she worked with] fish of Chinese origin, but she only works on French products. “Then we learned by chance that she worked alongside sushi sales or people of Chinese origin.”
He suggested that the man’s wife may have had Covid-19 but not shown any symptoms, adding that it was the responsibility of other agencies to investigate further.
Former World Health Organisation director Professor Karol Sikora said the development “could be significant” if the finding turned out not to an error.
“It implies that Wuhan may not be the only source of the virus as at that time there were not people travelling between that region and France and therefore not the potential for transmission,” he said. “It could be that various versions of the virus evolved at different times in different places and that this is just a very similar one. The only way to establish this is to sequence this sample, which I imagine will be happening over the coming days.”
SO WHO IS IMMUNE TO COVID-19?
I read a very interesting piece in the Irish Times a few days ago that asked the question: Who is immune to Covid-19? And as with everything else to do with coronavirus, the answer is not straightforward – and microbiologists, epidemiologists and public health doctors are still searching for crucial information about if and how the immune system will protect those who had the virus into the future.
The Times quotes Dr Fidelma Fitzpatrick, a consultant microbiologist and senior lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, who says the easiest way to understand what is known is to categorise people with Covid-19 into three groups – those with no symptoms; those who get a mild form of the disease; and those who become very ill with Covid-19.
“We don’t know yet if those asymptomatic patients [now considered to be a much larger group than first thought] who carry and spread the disease have immunity to Covid-19 or not,” Fitzpatrick explained.
People who suffer from mild symptoms of Covid-19 such as a cough, headache and aches and pains are most likely to be protected from catching Covid-19 in the near future because their bodies’ immune systems fought the disease (developing antibodies in the process) to the extent that they didn’t develop more severe symptoms.
“As far as we understand, people need to be in good health and possibly have a certain genetic predisposition which allows them to have only mild symptoms of Covid-19 which also allows their immune system to develop antibodies against the disease in the future,” says Fitzpatrick.
People who develop severe respiratory symptoms of Covid-19 – typically older people and those with underlying conditions or weak immune systems – also develop antibodies which should protect them from developing the disease again.
However, it’s more complicated.
“The initial immune system response hasn’t worked for these patients so their immune systems go into overdrive causing lots of inflammation which results in viral pneumonia,” says Fitzpatrick. In spite of these more severe symptoms, it is expected that the patients who recover from these more severe symptoms of Covid-19 will also develop antibodies which will protect them against future infection.
PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS AND HEALTH STATUS
To complicate the situation further, people’s personal health status before they catch Covid-19 plays a part in the development of antibodies – which will provide immunity to the disease.
One widely quoted study of 175 patients with mild symptoms in China found that 70 per cent of patients developed a strong antibody response; 25 per cent developed a low antibody response; and 5 per cent had no antibody response which means that they will not be protected from catching Covid-19 in the future.
The third part of understanding immunity to Covid-19 that scientists don’t know yet is how long the immunity to Covid-19 will last in those who do develop sufficient antibodies.
“We don’t know exactly how long people who have had Covid-19 will be protected from getting it again but we do know from other similar types of coronaviruses – severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or Mers – that immunity can last for up to three years,” says to Prof Mary Horgan, a consultant in infectious diseases at Cork University Hospital.
As the world waits for the development of a vaccine against Covid-19, the widespread availability for antibody tests to find out who has immunity to the disease – and can therefore move freely in society again – is a crucial next step. Some countries such as Germany are investigating how results from antibody tests could provide people with an “immunity passport” meaning that those who had recovered could return to work.
FINDING ANTIBODY TEST WON’T BE EASY
An antibody test from US company Abbot Laboratories is deemed to be specific to Covid-19, with a claimed sensitivity of over 99 per cent, 14 days or more after the last symptoms of Covid-19. Credit Facebook
Like everything else about this disease, finding a reliable antibody test won’t be easy either. “We need antibody tests that are validated specific to Covid-19 – tests which won’t confuse Covid-19 with other earlier coronaviruses – and sensitive enough to pick up antibodies to it,” says Horgan.
In Northern Italy, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna started offering antibody tests to Covid-19 to healthcare workers and other frontline workers on April 23. Italy launched national antibody testing with a sample of 150,000 people on May 4, with the intention to extend it to 4 million people by the end of May.
An antibody test from US company Abbot Laboratories is deemed to be specific to Covid-19, with a claimed sensitivity of over 99 per cent, 14 days or more after the last symptoms of Covid-19.
There are more than 60 antibody test kits in development around the world. They are usually simple blood tests which look for the antibody molecules the immune system makes when someone is infected with a disease. But, how reliable these are is not yet known, and many of them have been developed so quickly that accuracy rates are based on a small number of test cases.
MEME OF THE DAY
This was shared with me on Facebook by a former college friend – another Mick – who is looking forward to retiring from teaching this summer. With the schools out now and not going back until September, he’s already effectively started his retirement!
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
Two days in to a shortened trading week and I’m still on the plus side, showing a small profit of £97.80 on the day.
Anytime that you begin a new trading week on the plus side is a good start. And while I only made a small return after trading on Monday, I am on the plus side.
A reminder, this is all pretend, and I set out at the beginning of my lockdown more than five weeks ago 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.
For the second day in a row, BT continued to move in the right direct – and the 50 shares that I hold were the key in keeping me on the plus side. Both Ocado and Diageo were down..
Friday is a public holiday to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day – Victory in Europe Day towards the end of the Second World War – so I’m hoping to continue the upward trend on Wednesday and Thursday.
This is how things stand:
Net worth £11,568.88
Diageo, 100 shares: £2712.50
Ocado, 100 shares: £1629.00
BT, 50 shares: £5767.50.
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £1,380.20
Cash in hand:£29.88
£ Gain daily: £97.50
% Gain overall: 11.6 per cent
£ Gain overall: £1,568.88
THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MASKS…
French officials are wondering if store chains stashed away masks when there was a national shortage. Credit
This seems like a case that famous French detective Inspector Clouseau is needed to solve the mystery of the missing masks.
For weeks, there has been a shortage of masks for use across France during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
But Since Monday, masks are suddenly available for sale to the public in supermarkets and pharmacies starting on May 4 despite a shortage that lasted for weeks.
And this sudden appearance has now left officials asking where these millions of masks came from when medical professionals said they did not have enough earlier in the crisis.
“How can we explain that our care workers could not access masks when it has been announced, with a great deal of loud communication, staggering numbers of masks to be sold to the public by certain distribution channels,” said the medical orders of pharmacists, midwives, nurses, dentists, and physiotherapist in a joint statement issued last week. “How do we explain to our patients, especially the most fragile,” that what was in shortage yesterday “is now plentiful?” they added.
WERE THERE ‘HIDDEN STOCKS’ OF MASKS?
France’s Federation of Commerce and Distribution called the statement “defamatory”, insisting that there were no “hidden stocks: and that large distribution companies FFP2 masks to health workers at the beginning of the crisis.
Agnes Pannier-Runacher, a state secretary at France’s economic ministry, said there were no hidden stocks, stating that the government worked “hand in hand” with stores and distribution channels, to prepare for the easing of restrictions on May 11.
The president of the southern region of France also accused supermarkets of having a stockpile, questioning where these masks were coming from.
“I give supermarkets three days to prove that they did not have a secret stock of masks during the crisis! Our health workers did not have enough, the French regions and state struggled to get ahold of them: if this is confirmed, I will immediately file a criminal complaint,” said regional president Renaud Muselier in a tweet.
Large supermarket chains have maintained that there is no secret stash of masks and that they only began ordering masks after a government authorisation dating April 24 to prepare for distributing to the public.
French supermarket bosses say they simply ordered large stocks then from foreign manufacturers in the meantime. Mystery solved, they say. Or as Dominique Schelcher, CEO of supermarket chain System U, wryly noted: “Doesn’t France have enough challenges to overcome?”
Not just France, Dominique. Not just France. C’est la vie!
PAYING IT FORWARD AFTER 173 YEARS
Here’s a story that bridges nearly two centuries of history and spans cultural differences on both sides of the Atlantic.
Native American tribes have been badly hit by coronavirus and launched an urgent appeal on GoFundMe. More than 70 deaths from Covid-19 have been reported in the Navajo Nation stretching across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.
Now they have received an unlikely boost after donations poured in from Ireland to repay a favour from 173 years ago.
The campaign has received several donations inspired by the Great Hunger Famine in Ireland when, in 1847, the Native American tribe Choctaw Nation provided $170 (equivalent to $5,000 today) of relief aid to Irish people.
About 60,000 Native Americans had just suffered through the Trail of Tears – a series of compulsory relocations from their ancestral homelands which saw thousands die from hunger, disease, and exhaustion during forced marches – which made them empathetic to Irish people suffering the worst effects of the famine.
“Acts of kindness from indigenous ancestors passed being reciprocated nearly 200 years later through blood memory and interconnectedness,” wrote one Navajo on Twitter. “Thank you Ireland for showing solidarity and being here for us.”
So far $1.7 million of the fund’s $2 million target has been raised and organisers have thanked Irish people for their support.
“Several of our recent donations for our GoFundMe campaign have been inspired by the Great Hunger Famine in Ireland which started in 1845,” said team member Vanessa Tulley. “173 years later to today, the favour is returned through generous donations from the Irish people to the Navajo Nation during our time of crisis. Thank you, Ireland, for showing solidarity and being here for us,” she said.
Irish donor, Pat Hayes, sent a message of support along with his donation.
“From Ireland, 170 years later, the favour is returned! To our Native American brothers and sisters in your moment of hardship,” he wrote.
HOW GOA OPENED ITS HEART TO A STRANDED DANISH ACTOR
Danish actor Dina Rosenmeier and her partner have been stranded in Goa since the lockdown there began almost a month ago. Credit Raman Lamba Productions
I was talking at the weekend to my step-son’s partner, Mette. They’re both coming out of stringent lockdown restrictions in Norway and Mette is looking forward to being able to go home to Denmark to visit her parents. Denmark was very quick to shut its borders down and is now on the right side of the pandemic.
The conversation meandered around several topics and she mentioned that a famous Danish actor had been stranded in Goa when India suddenly shut down. Goa, home to so many former colleagues of mine back in Dubai. So I decided to investigate further.
I came across the details in a Danish newspaper.
Dina Rosenmeier is well known to Copenhagen theatre-goers as the star of many House of International Theatre (HIT) productions. She is also widely respected for her humanitarian work.
It turns out Rosenmeier made her directorial debut in 2011 with the award-winning documentary ‘A Journey in My Mother’s Footsteps’, an intimate portrait of her 75-year-old mother Jessie Rosenmeier and her dedication to improving the lives of thousands of children in India.
Rosenmeier has now been quarantined there for over a month, in stricter conditions than in Denmark, but it could so easily have been avoided had Rosenmeier boarded a Danish-bound plane in March.
Instead she gave up her seat and opted to remain in western India in the company of her fiance, Willi.
‘INTRODUCED TO MOTHER THERESA’
“In the beginning, it was magical, but then the adventure started,” she told CPH News. “It was late February when I first arrived in Mumbai. Vatsalya Foundation, a shelter organisation and skill centre for street children, which my mother and I have been supporting for years, is always my first stop. It is incredible the progress they have made. And then I visited some dear family friends in Kolkata. Back in the day, it was this couple who introduced my mother to Mother Teresa, thus marking the beginning of her philanthropic work for children in need. Following in my mother’s footsteps, I fell in love with this country too.
“Blithely travelling around together with my boyfriend, we found ourselves in Goa in western India on the 9th and planned to stay there for ten days. But then, everything changed.
“The lockdown announcement caught us off-guard. The government of India announced it with very short notice. All international and domestic flights were suspended, and all the hotels closed one by one. People went from one day to another without access to groceries. Suddenly it felt like a post-apocalyptic war-zone. Face masks were obligatory and there were police checkpoints everywhere. It was and still is a surreal experience.”
SPENT TIME IN INDIA AS A YOUNG GIRL
“I have also known India since I was a little girl. It is calming to know there are family friends and contacts we can reach out to all over the country in this time of distress. I just keep telling myself how extremely fortunate we are to be safe here inside the hotel property. Until now we have been able to continue extending and, as we speak, we are still here.
“Last month during the first three-day lockdown, Mumbai filmmaker Raman Lamba asked if we would like to do a Bollywood style photo session by the waterless pool. This was such a fun and creative day… little did we know that the newspaper in the shot, with the headline ‘India inches nearer to total shutdown’, would be the very last printed version we would receive while stranded here indefinitely. Now we treasure the carefree moments from before the world changed.
“We have been treated with respect and incredible generosity.”
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots, serving as a reminder that not every pencil can be sharpened.
3 CHARGED IN KILLING OVER A MASK
This has got to be one of the dumbest covidiot stories so far in the whole coronavirus pandemic. In Flint, Michigan, a woman, her adult son and husband have been charged in the fatal shooting of a security guard who refused to let her daughter enter a Family Dollar in Michigan because she wasn’t wearing a face mask to protect against transmission of the coronavirus.
Calvin Munerlyn was shot Friday at the store just north of downtown Flint a short time after telling Sharmel Teague’s daughter she had to leave because she lacked a mask, according to Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
Teague, 45, argued with Munerlyn, 43, before leaving. Two men later came to the store.
Teague; her husband, Larry Teague, 44; and Ramonyea Bishop, 23; are charged with first-degree premeditated murder and gun charges.
Larry Teague also is charged with violating Michigan’s executive order mandating that custiomers and staff must wear face coverings inside grocery stores, Leyton said.
Witnesses identified Bishop as the man who shot Munerlyn in the back of the head, Leyton said.
Sharmel Teague has been arrested. Police were looking for her husband and son.
SCAMMERS ARE SELLING NON-EXISTENT PETS
As I’ve said here before, scammers would do anything to separate you and your money.
Now comes a report from the UK that hundreds of animal lovers are being conned online into buying puppies and kittens that don’t exist.
Criminals are using the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to persuade locked-down customers to pay up before they are allowed to travel to see their new pets.
In the past two months police say 669 victims have lost more than £282,000 after answering fake advertisements on social media and pet sale websites.
Victims across the UK are being duped by scams that typically start with a deposit, followed by demands for payments to cover insurance, vaccinations and even delivery of a pet, says the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre Action Fraud.
“The fact criminals will even exploit an international crisis, such as the one we find ourselves in now, to take innocent people’s money is especially cruel,” Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said. “But, unfortunately, as we spend more time online, and are forced to adapt to a new way of life, opportunities will arise for criminals to commit fraud. During these unprecedented times, it may seem quite plausible that you should have to pay a deposit for a pet and that you wouldn’t be able to see the animal in real life first. However, we would encourage you to think carefully before you transfer any money – do you know and trust this person?”
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