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.
Thursday May 7, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
A LUXURY LOCKDOWN FOR MILLIONAIRES, BUT MY LOCKDOWN IS PRICELESS
I am blessed. I live in a house with a stunning view of the sea. It changes with every cloud, every wind, every hour. I can leave now and exercise within 5 kilometres of my home and there is a 12-kilometre long beach at my doorstep. It is mostly deserted or you can count those walking it with the fingers of one hand.
And once a week I am allowed to travel to the nearest bigger town to shop and stock up on supplies for the week.
Mercifully I and my family are well. All are staying safe. And we are getting through this by keeping in touch. We have not lost our sense of perspective, family and friends.
So I had a proper shake of my head when I read about life for some of Thailand’s wealthiest people.
With gourmet take-out delivered by a butler in a black sedan – the super-rich have not forgone luxury during a pandemic which has locked the country down, crushed the economy and left millions unemployed.
Thailand is one of the most unequal nations in the world and the chasm between rich and poor is widening as the coronavirus eviscerates jobs, leaving 22 million registering for a government cash hand-out. Hundreds line up daily for food donations across Bangkok, a grim sign of an economic contraction forecast at more than 6 per cent this year – the worst since the Asian financial crisis in 1997.
LIFESTYLE OF THE PLENTY
For rich Bangkokians the pandemic has brought the inconvenience of restricted movement – with an overnight curfew still in place despite some businesses reopening -– but no end to the lifestyle of plenty.
Concierge company the Silver Voyage Club has retooled its services to meet the cravings of the elite, delivering high-end meals from the top-tier restaurants..
”Our top clients are... high-net-worth individuals who are VIP from the banks,” said founder Jakkapun Rattanapet.
His company launched White Glove Delivery after their concierge business took a nose dive as global business travel staggered to a halt. Wagyu beef, seafood and dim sum are on offer from 20 restaurants, some housed in luxury hotels or listed on the Michelin Guide.
Clients include corporate diners and celebrities, their meals delivered in carefully packaged boxes to their housekeepers in upscale Bangkok neighbourhoods or to company headquarters.
A butler wearing white gloves can also come along to set the table and present the food.
Hmmmm. That all seems very nice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be able to live that way.
But for me, the view, the simplicity, family – that’s simply priceless. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
5 WAYS FLYING WILL BE DIFFERENT AFTER COVID-19
I am into my sixth week of living under restrictions on my movements. I look forward to my once-weekly shopping expedition in the car, have adjusted very well to exercising close to home, and find joy in the little things.
Before this pandemic hit, travel was a constant in my life. I spend time between my homes in Spain and Ireland, travel for work, to visit family, for pleasure. Air travel had become routine. Indeed, I think I’ve been on plane more often these past two decades that I’ve been on buses or trains combined.
But that will be different now. And it will be a long time before we are all able to travel so freely and with such ease when this pandemic has passed.
Heathrow on Wednesday said is to trial temperature screening passengers, a move aimed at reducing the risk of passengers contracting or transmitting Covid-19 while travelling.
The measure was deployed by many other major airports around the world several weeks ago and Heathrow has been criticised for not introducing screening earlier.
The first trial will be launched in the next two weeks and will involve using cameras which are capable of monitoring the temperatures of people.
Cameras will initially be used in the airport’s immigration halls, but could be deployed in areas for departures, connections and airport staff searches. Temperature screening aside, here are five key reasons why flying will be different after Covid-19
1: THERE WILL BE FEWER AIRLINES
When the health emergency phase eventually lifts and life begins to get back to “normal”, it is a virtual certainty that there will be fewer airlines in the market.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis hit, there had been a string of high profile failures, such as WOW Air, Thomas Cook and most recently Flybe, Air Italy and Atlas Global.
But industry experts say this is a catastrophe for aviation like never before – worse than 9/11. The CEO of Airbus described it in recent days as the gravest crisis the aerospace industry has ever known.
European carriers alone could lose €70 billion (Dh29 billion) revenue this year, according to the industry organisation, the International Air Travel Association.
There will, therefore, be more casualties.
Norwegian Air warned it could run out of cash by mid-May, unless it got its proposed rescue plan approved, which it did today.
Others, including Lufthansa and Air France/KLM, have been lined up for multi-billion euro bailouts from their respective home governments.
Many struggling companies will be saved or find a way to carry on, but not all.
So when fliers next feel confident enough to book a trip abroad, they shouldn’t be surprised if there are fewer options.
2: THERE WILL BE FEWER ROUTES
The carriers that do survive will be smaller, with reduced staff numbers and possibly a lower number of aircraft on their books or on order.
Many will pare back the number of bases they have in airports around the world. They also won’t have the same volume of spare cash to invest in expanding their networks for some time.
Fewer airlines, fewer bases, fewer staff, fewer aircraft, less cash and less demand all equates to a lower number of destinations.
So if you are the type who likes to flit frequently abroad for long weekends in small and unpronounceable eastern European cities, then you are likely to have fewer destination choices in the future.
3: IT WILL BE MORE EXPENSIVE TO FLY
The basic rule of economics is supply and demand. Fewer airlines and fewer routes means higher prices.
There won’t be as many seats on the routes that do survive, either. According to an analysis by the Official Aviation Guide, airlines have cut seat capacity by 70 per cent since the start of this year.
Even as restrictions are lifted and airlines find a new way to operate, that capacity will only come back slowly.
Yes, as Ryanair and others have flagged already, those airlines still flying will heavily discount fares initially in order to get bums on seats, fill aircraft and try to re-establish the habit.
But when the marketing sprees wear off, the substantial new debt that many carriers, leasing companies and airports will be carrying will have to be paid for.
If some airlines choose to remove the use of middle seats for social distancing, as Easyjet for example is proposing, that will reduce the load factor well below the golden 75 per cent required to make airlines profitable.
Remaining passengers will likely therefore have to pay more to make up the difference.
There will be extra running costs for airlines too, like for personal protective equipment, cleaning and hygiene, and slower turnaround times, affecting route frequency.
And there may also be new, extra charges for things that heretofore had been included in the ticket price, such as hand luggage, or inclusive snacks, etc.
The one possibly saving grace could be that the cost of aviation fuel has hit the floor after oil prices tumbled in recent weeks.
That should help some carriers with their overall cost base, although many will have hedged their fuel for the next year at much higher prices.
4 FLYING WILL BE A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE
The big question facing many airlines though, is not only when will people want to travel again, but what measures to stop the spread of the virus will be acceptable to them during those journeys.
Some aviation and public health experts have talked about passengers having to wear masks on board.
Acceptable for a short haul trip from here to London or Spain, but how comfortable and indeed effective would that be for medium or long-haul trip?
Cabin and air crew will also likely have to wear masks, as well as other personal protective equipment.
There will probably be temperature checks for people entering and traversing airports, as well as social distancing measures in queues.
Will that mean longer waiting times at security and boarding, for example, requiring people to be at the airport earlier for their flights? How comfortable will the airport experience be?
The boss of Heathrow Airport said it would be physically impossible to socially distance with any volume of passengers in an airport, so how will that work?
Will in-flight food, drink and shopping services have to be curtailed and on board magazines removed?
And when they get to where they are going, will passengers have to self-isolate for a period?
It could all make for a fairly difficult, and possibly miserable travel experience, not to mention worrying when the person sitting near you is coughing or sneezing through the flight.
Will people want to travel in such circumstances?
5 THERE’S LESS NEED TO FLY
But aviation and travel aren’t the only aspects of life that have been transformed by Covid-19.
The way we work has been catapulted into a new reality, with video conferencing and working from home thrust into the mainstream.
What was previously not acceptable business practice has, over a matter of weeks, become the norm.
So once the dust settles, many people who had spent much of their working lives on a plane will be left wondering, do they actually need to go to another country for a three-hour meeting?
The answer will increasingly be no.
And when it comes to holidays and short breaks, will growing numbers of people rediscover the hidden joys of staying at home?
Far away hills may be greener and the lure of the sun is strong, but when hassle, risk and increased
expense are part of the equation, we might just find people are more willing than ever to stay at home.
IS THERE A MUTANT STRAIN EMERGING?
I have nothing but the greatest of respect to those microbiologists, epidemiologists, researchers, scientists and doctors who are working around the clock to try and come up with an effective vaccine for Covid-19.
While it appears to be a time off yet, I have no doubt that they will succeed. If not, what are our options.
Whatever chances we have of returning to a normal life, if there’s no vaccine or prospect of one on the horizon, then our lives will truly never be the same again. And that’s a scary prospect – more so I think for older people. And yes, with the sixth decade about to tick over on my biological clock, then I have to put reasonably put myself in that genealogical segment of the population.
Now, however, comes news that is worrying and may make those efforts to find a vaccine all the more challenging.
Scientists say they have identified a mutation in coronavirus which they believe means a more contagious strain has been sweeping Europe and the US – and could even re-infect those who already have antibodies.
Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US detected 14 mutations in Covid-19 spike proteins, one of which – known as Spike D614G – they said was of “urgent concern”.
DOMINANT STRAIN IS DIFFERENT TO INITIAL STRAIN
Their research paper suggests the mutated strain of coronavirus that has become dominant across the world was first indentified in Europe and is different to those which spread early on in the pandemic.
So urgent is the issue that the research paper describing their findings has been made available before being peer-reviewed, although this has caused concern among some observers.
By analysing more than 6,000 genetic sequences of coronavirus samples taken from patients globally, the researchers found the mutated strain was persistently becoming the most dominant version of the virus in every region it was detected in.
While first discovered in Europe in early February, the researchers believe the mutation has now become the most prevalent strain across the whole of the world.
The study indicates it has been consistently out-competing the original strain detected in Wuhan, which spread through that region of China and some other Asian countries before March.
‘THEY ARE MORE TRANSMISSABLE’
“The story is worrying, as we see a mutated form of the virus very rapidly emerging, and over the month of March becoming the dominant pandemic form,” said Dr Bette Korber, the study’s lead author. “When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible.”
The mutation to the spike protein has caused concern because this is one of the most effective parts of the virus, and the aspect which most treatments and vaccines are targeting. Most antibodies work by binding to this spike protein instead of allowing it to bind to cells and replicate.
The hypotheses – my words – is that if the spikes are mutating, then it’s much more difficult to find an antibody that would stick to it and disable it.
Obviously, the study hasn’t been peer reviewed – that’s a process that takes time – but it is a significant observation. If indeed they are right, then there’s an awful lot more work to be done. And that’s not a good thing.
EMERGENCE OF A RARE INFLAMMATORY DISEASE IN CHILDREN
Any parent knows that the worst feeling in the world is having a sick child and knowing that you can’t look after them. That’s why it must be really terrible for the parents of some 15 children in New York who have been hospitalised with a rare inflammatory disease possibly linked to coronavirus.
It’s just the latest report of the worrying syndrome.
Kawasaki disease is a mysterious illness that primarily affects children up to the age of five and causes the walls of arteries to become inflamed, resulting in fever, skin peeling and joint pain.
The National Health Service in the UK first sounded the alarm last month, warning about a small rise in children infected with the coronavirus that have “overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease.”
France has also reported several cases.
RThe good news is although it is frightening, most recover from the disease without serious issues.
New York’s government health department said it had identified 15 cases of children aged between two and 15 who had symptoms of Kawasaki disease.
TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID-19
Four of the patients tested positive for Covid-19, the health department said in a statement.
Six of the ten who tested negative were found to have antibodies, suggesting they had previously been infected with Covid-19.
More than half of the patients required blood pressure support and five needed mechanical ventilation, but no fatalities were reported among the cases, the department said.
Respiratory symptoms were reported in less than half the patients, it said. All experienced a fever and more than half reported rash, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea.
New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said a few cases had also been identified in Boston and Philadelphia.
“We’re not sure what to make of this yet. We’re still learning everyday about how Covid-19 behaves,” she said.
Normal treatment for Kawasaki disease involves intravenous immunoglobulin and aspirin.
MEME OF THE DAY
This was shared with me on Facebook by a former colleague, Vanaja Rao. How true indeed. Now we don’t need to keep our brain packed-full of useful and useless information – we just type in the question.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
With one day left in to a shortened trading week. I’m pleased to report that for the third day in a row, I’ve managed to increase the value of my portfolio. Yes, a baby step forward, but still on the positive side, up £102.50 from where I was on Tuesday.
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.
Both Ocado, the high-street food delivery company and drinks brewer and distiller Diageo were gainers, more than offsetting a slight downturn in 50 shares that I hold in BT.
Green energy company PowerHouse was unchanged at 115p, which is pretty good considering I bought 1,200 shares for 87p each
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 shortened week again on the plus side. This is how things stand:
Net worth £11,671.38
Diageo, 100 shares: £2764.00
Ocado, 100 shares: £1772.50
BT, 50 shares: £5725.00
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £1,380
Cash in hand: £29.88
£ Gain daily: £102.50
% Gain overall: 11.7 per cent
£ Gain overall: £1,671.38
THE FORCE WASN’T WITH HER
The coronavirus pandemic has driven a lot of businesses to the wall. So one restaurant owner in the southern Alberta town of Lethbridge in Canada decided he needed a bit of publicity to drum up business for his pizza joint reopening after Covid-19.
So he organised a Star Wars promotion, getting a restaurant worker to dress up in a Star Wars stormtrooper costume who carrying a plastic gun.
“All the signs say Star Wars. The music that was playing in the parking lot was Star Wars,” said Brad Whalen, owner of the Coco Vanilla Galactic Cantina in Lethbridge. “If a duck’s a duck, it’s a duck, right. It should have been common sense and it should have stopped there.”
Whalen said the 19-year-old employee of the Star Wars-themed restaurant had agreed to carry a toy blaster and wear the elaborate white uniform of the soldier of the Galactic Empire to get the attention of people celebrating May 4. The day is popular among fans of the movie franchise because of the famous line, “may the force be with you.”
The restaurant, which serves Jabba the Gut pizza and Yoda soda, opened at the end of January and has been struggling due to restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently open again, Whalen was hoping to get some attention by having a stormtrooper walking out front of the business.
BUT THEN THE REAL STORM TROOPERS ARRIVED…
Someone called the police because they thought the costumed employee was carrying a real gun – not a blaster from the movies.
The Lethbridge Police Service said officers were called to the restaurant Monday morning for reports of a person in a stormtrooper costume carrying a firearm. A news release Tuesday said when officers arrived, the person dropped the weapon but didn’t initially comply with directions to get down on the ground.
Whalen disputes the account that his employee didn’t obey police commands. When officers arrived, she immediately dropped the weapon and put her hands up, he said.
But Whalen said that the stormtrooper helmet makes it hard to hear and to be heard. It also makes it difficult to move, let alone to kneel or get down on your stomach. Whalen said this may have caused a delay in the employee getting on the ground.
“It’s not the easiest thing to kneel down in. You can’t even sit down in it. It takes 20 minutes to put on.”
The police are being investigated for using excess force after the employee ended up with a bloody nose.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots, serving as a reminder that you don’t need a license to be stupid.
MANDATORY WEAR FOR COVIDIOTS
TOP UK SCIENTIST QUITS OVER LOCKDOWN BREACH
Here’s a platinum-class covidiot who deserves one of those T-shirts. Make it extra, extra extra large as well.
You would image that being an epidemiologist would mean that you’re a pretty smart bloke. I mean, even having to write down what you do as an occupation means you have to be able to spell, right?
But no, not Professor Neil Ferguson.
He’s one of the top scientists in the United Kingdom – a man so on top of epidemiological game and whatnot with working at Imperial College in London – that he’s on the top level committee telling the cabinet there how to manage the coronavirus pandemic.
Lockdowns. Social distancing and what not. All that important stuff that’s supposed to save lives and the like.
But no, those rules are meant for everybody – just not Prof Ferguson. He had to go and meet a secret lover – several times – breaking all of those rules on social distancing and keeping apart. He couldn’t keep apart from his 38-year-old lover.
STEPPING ASIDE FOR LAPSE IN JUDGEMENT
“I accept I made an error of judgement and took the wrong course of action. I have therefore stepped back from my involvement in SAGE,” Ferguson said in a statement.
Ferguson’s academic team produced modelling on the likely spread of the virus which has been repeatedly cited by ministers, and is seen as a turning point in their response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The model showed that under a reasonable worst-case scenario as many as 500,000 people could die. It contributed to the decision to impose the most far-reaching restrictions on daily life in Britain’s peacetime history to stop the spread of the virus.
“I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms,” Ferguson’s statement said.
“I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic. The government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us.”
HOW NOT TO USE A FACEMASK
Honestly, I can’t make this stuff up, folks. There’s absolutely no need to!
When authorities and healthcare professionals are at the frontline in the war against Covid-19, the number of covidiots keeps on increasing.
Here’s one from the US – but don’t worry, they are everywhere too!
A woman was captured at a gas station in Kentucky with a facemask. The cover was conveniently cut at the front. When asked the reason, the woman said it was to help her breathe better.
The mind-boggling video of the covidiot is going viral on several social media platforms. Originally shot by the store clerk Joe Samman, the clip has garnered more than 4.7 million views on TikTok.
Joe was working at a food mart outside Lexington, Kentucky when a woman came in to pay for gas. Joe greeted the lady and asked, “Where did you get that mask from?”
To this, the woman can be heard saying, “Well since we have to wear them and it makes it hard to breathe, this [cutting it to open the nose and mouth] makes it a lot easier to breathe”.
To confirm, Joe said, “Cutting it?” To this, the woman nods before heading out.
Like I said, there’s no need to make it up…
INDIAN POLICE TEACH TOURISTS THEIR LINES
There’s a lot can be said about policing in India. But right now, I love the way police in Uttarakhand dealt with foreign covidiots – making them “I didn’t follow lockdown. I am sorry” at least 500 times, according to a report in the Hindustan Times.
Uttarakhand Police’s Vinod Kumar said his officers gave the unusual punishment to 10 tourists from Israel, Australia and Mexico who were caught heading to a popular spot by the Ganga River to “chill.”
He got his men to bring “50 to 60 blank pages” — and warned the tourists that if they did not write the apology “they will be blacklisted, which will bar them from entering India again.”
“They then agreed to the punishment and wrote the apology out 500 times at the spot,” Kumar told the paper.
“They were then let off with a stern warning and told not to venture out without any reason,” the police official said.
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