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.
Saturday May 9, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
YES, COVID-19 CAN SURVIVE ON YOUR PHONE!
Public health officials in Europe are reminding that yes, it possible to contract Covid-19 from your phone.
Because the virus can survive for up to three days on hard surfaces such as stainless steel, glass and hard plastics, it is theoretical possible to contract the coronavirus from your phone.
And phones are up to your face regularly, making transmission all the easier.
But don’t worry – there is a simple solution. Simply wipe down your phone with a disinfectant handwipe regularly.
To clean your phone, first turn it off and unplug it from cables. Tech companies say you’ll want to avoid getting moisture inside the phone so don’t put it into cleaning solutions or spray it directly.
In the US, phone carrier AT&T recommends wringing out disinfectant wipes before using them on a phone. Paper towels work, too, if you spray them with disinfectant. Google says you can dip a cloth in soap and water to clean off your phone.
As soon as I finish writing this, I’m off to scrub my phones – and you should too.
ANTIVAXXERS ARE A DANGER TO ALL OUR HEALTH
I have nothing but the greatest disdain for antivaxxers – kooks who believe that our essential modern-day vaccines are the cause of other ills.
They are a danger to our health and are responsible for the deaths of several hundred in the US last year from an outbreak of measles.
There’s no excuse for their actions. They are dangerous and undermine decades of public health policy that have made our world a safer and better place.
And now, even while a coronavirus vaccine is still at least months away, antivaxxer groups that peddle misinformation about immunisations are already taking aim, potentially eroding confidence in what could be humanity’s best chance to defeat the virus.
In recent weeks, vaccine opponents have made several unsubstantiated claims, including allegations that vaccine trials will be dangerously rushed or that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’ top infectious diseases expert, is blocking cures to enrich vaccine makers. They’ve also falsely claimed that Microsoft founder Bill Gates wants to use a vaccine to inject microchips into people — or to cull 15 per cent of the world’s population.
Vaccine opponents in the US have been around for a long time. Their claims range from relatively modest safety concerns about specific vaccines or the risk of side effects to conspiracy theories that border on the bizarre.
GAINING RENEWED ATTENTION
The movement is receiving renewed attention, especially as it aligns itself with groups loudly protesting restrictions on daily life aimed at controlling the spread of the virus. Health professionals say vaccine misinformation could have lethal consequences if it leads people to opt for bogus cures instead.
“Only a coronavirus vaccine can truly protect us from future outbreaks,” says Dr. Scott Ratzan, a physician and medical misinformation expert at the City University of New York and Columbia University. “But what if the effort succeeds and large numbers of people decide not to vaccinate themselves or their children?”
While vaccines for diseases such as polio, smallpox and measles have benefited millions, some skeptics reject the science, citing a distrust of modern medicine and government. Others say mandatory vaccine requirements violate their religious freedom.
Rita Palma, the leader of the anti-vaccine group in Long Island called My Kids, My Choice, is among those who say their families won’t get the coronavirus vaccine.
“Many of us are anxiety stricken at the thought of being forced to get a vaccine,” Palma says. “I will never choose to have a Covid-19 vaccine. I don’t want the government forcing it on my community or my family.”
BELIEVE COVID-19 WAS MANUFACTURED
From the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, vaccine skeptics have tailored several long-standing claims about vaccine safety to fit the current outbreak. When the first US case was announced in January, some alleged the coronavirus was manufactured and that patents for it could be found online.
Thousands of deaths later, vaccine opponents are endorsing unapproved treatments, second-guessing medical experts and pushing fears about mandatory vaccinations. They’ve also latched onto protests against stay-at-home orders in the US.
“The coronavirus has created this perfect storm of misinformation,” remarks David A. Broniatowski, an associate professor at George Washington University’s school of engineering and applied science who has published several studies on vaccine misinformation.
Last week, an anti-vaccine activist was arrested in Idaho after repeatedly refusing police orders to leave a playground closed because of the pandemic. The woman, who was there with other families, is affiliated with two groups that protested at the Idaho Statehouse against stay-at-home orders.
PEPPERED WITH VACCINE HOAXES AND MYTHS
Facebook groups formed to organise the protests have been peppered with vaccine hoaxes and myths. Perhaps no one plays a bigger role in the conspiracy theories than Gates, who is funding vaccine research. The online movement has centered concerns around a Covid-19 vaccine on false claims that Gates is planning to microchip people with the vaccine or use it to reduce the world’s population.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a vaccine critic who helped popularise unsubstantiated claims that vaccines can cause autism, said Gates’ work gives him “dictatorial control of global health policy.” Roger Stone, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, went further on a New York City radio show, saying Gates “and other globalists” are using the coronavirus “for mandatory vaccinations and microchipping people.”
Such wild theories can have real-world effects. False rumors that Gates hoped to test an experimental vaccine in South Africa became mainstream after a news site erroneously reported the claim. One of the country’s political parties then sent a letter to President Cyril Rampahosa demanding answers about “deals” struck with Gates.
In fact, Gates and his wife are financing a vaccine trial in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Missouri, not South Africa. He also suggested creating a database of people immune to the virus, not implanting microchips.
NORWAY IS GETTING BACK TO NORMAL
I was on WhatsApp to my stepson Scott and his girlfriend Mette on Thursday. They live in Norway and both lost their jobs when this pandemic struck. But they are looking forward to things gradually getting back to normal and Scott in particular is happy that his little annoying brother, Elliot, is back in the classroom come next Thursday.
As things stand, Norway aims to reopen by mid-June most of the public and private institutions that have been closed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Thursday.
The Nordic country was one of the first in Europe to curb activities to rein in the spread of the novel coronavirus, on March 12, and to relax some restrictions once it got the outbreak under control, in late April.
Kindergartens reopened on April 20, primary schools from first to fourth grade on April 27, but middle schools and high schools have remained closed. They will now resume from Monday.
The government also aims to allow the Norwegian football league to resume on June 16 and planned events with up to 200 participants one day earlier.
Bars and amusement parks could reopen on June 1, while private gatherings of 20 people, rather than five, will be allowed on Thursday.
Foreigners without the right to live or work in the country – tourists, for instance – are still not allowed to enter the country.
But foreigners working in sectors considered crucial, such as agriculture, fisheries or the oil industry, can come in the country though they still have to submit to a 14-day quarantine.
Still, if Norwegians and foreign residents want to go abroad, they will need to undergo a home quarantine upon their return.
DENMARK EASES RESTRICTION FURTHER
Mette, Scott’s girlfriend is from Denmark. This coronavirus pandemic meant that a meeting between ourselves and her parents at my home in Spain had to be postponed. Yes, things are getting that serious where women might be looking at buying hats!
Her father has been furloughed from his marketing job and is not back three days’ a week. But things in Denmark are quickly returning to normal and he’s hopeful that those three days will soon become five.
Danish museums, amusement parks and cinemas will be allowed to reopen from June 8, the government said on Friday, after it struck a deal with parliament on how restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 could be eased further.
In the third phase of its reopening plan, Denmark will also increase the maximum number of people allowed to meet in public to between 30 and 50, up from a 10-person limit, it said.
Danish shopping malls, schools for the oldest students and restaurants will be allowed to reopen in the coming weeks said the government late on Thursday as it enters the second phase of reopening after curbing the spread of the virus.
The third reopening phase would only take place if the number of infected and hospitalisations did not “increase more than expected,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Night clubs, music venues and gyms would remain shut until the fourth phase of the reopening which is expected to start by the beginning of August, it added.
Denmark was among the first countries to restrict public gatherings and close schools, restaurants and bars in a lockdown that quickly helped curb the spread of the virus, meaning it was also one of the first European countries to open up again.
MEME OF THE DAY
There’s another gem shared with me on Facebook Annie O’Brien, my second cousin from Dorking, just to the south of London. And yes, I will never be able to see Covid-19 agai without thinking of that hit from the early 1980s.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
There was no trading in London on Friday because of the VE bank holiday celebrations. Here’s a reminder of how my pretend portfolio stood at the end of trading on Thursday. I may adjust it all this weekend before trading opens on Monday.
Net worth £11,299.38
Diageo, 100 shares: £2778.00
Ocado, 100 shares: £1864.00
BT, 50 shares: £5247.50
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £1,380
Cash in hand: £29.88
£ Gain loss: £372.00
% Gain overall: 11.3 per cent
£ Gain overall: £1,299.38
WILL THE WORKPLACE EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN?
For the past few years since I left the mothership of Gulf News back in Dubai, my office has been my laptop, smartphones and computer bag with its cables, converter plugs for various countries, my hard-cover diary and my tablet. That’s it.
If my wifi system goes down or I can’t log into one, I use my smartphones to create hotspots and off I go. But I am lucky. I can work at any table, balance the laptop on my knees, and pretty much peck out story anywhere.
But coronavirus has now changed the modern office as never before. All those open spaces that are supposed to help people interact also means that contaminated aerosol droplets can also hang in the air. We are heading back to the age of cubicles. Or more and more of us will work from home which, as some back in the office in Dubai term, “doing an O’Reilly”.
Can creative sparks fly through plexiglass? Is the water cooler chat a thing of the past? And what will the new office environment look like for those who have no other alternative but to work centrally?
Hand sanitisers and thermal scanners are just the start. Some firms are considering remodelling their offices to minimise the risk of a second wave of infections. Long rows of desks may be out, work stations sheathed with glass sneeze guards may be in.
MORE SPACE BETWEEN DESKS
As he prepares to return thousands of staff to offices across Italy, Davide Sala, Pirelli’s HR boss, is applying practices already adopted in the tyre company’s operations in China. The changes included temperature tests, face masks and more space between desks that allowed the group to resume at least some office work.
“We’re going to use the China model elsewhere,” Sala told Reuters. “There will be more space for staff, fewer people in rooms and the layout of the offices will have to change. Sala is looking at whether to designate staircases for entry and exit, limit lift use to one person per ride, introduce a shift system for lunch, stagger work times while also having people still work from home and re-imagining desk layouts.
“The real break with the past will be in redesigning the offices,” he says.
China is ahead of most of the world in lifting restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus and Pirelli is one of many multi-national companies to have tested post-lockdown measures there.
How radical and permanent those changes are is not yet known, as scientists struggle to fully understand the virus and drug companies strive to find a vaccine that protects people.
But strategies deployed by companies including WPP, Rentokil Initial and PageGroup show how a typical 9-5 day at a hot desk in a packed building will not be resuming when governments globally give the green light for offices to reopen.
PACKED LUNCHES AND STAGGERED RETURNS
For the world’s biggest advertising company WPP, staff will return gradually and on a voluntary basis, Chief Executive Mark Read told Reuters.
“What we can say with confidence is that more people will be working from home in the future, and I think we can say we’ll still have offices,” he says.
Almost all WPP’s 107,000 staff have been working from home since mid-March. In China, it has slowly introduced its 7,000 staff back to its 50 offices over the past two months after a four-week shutdown.
WPP has also adopted flexible working hours, limited the number of people in elevators and, with the canteen buffet off the menu, staff are bringing in their own food.
PageGroup, the UK-listed recruitment company, has set aside one entrance at offices in China where staff line up each day for a temperature check and to collect a mask, Rupert Forster, managing director of the China business, says.
It’s also encouraging people to bring in their own lunch to avoid busy communal areas and is minimising large group meetings. Those measures will form the blueprint for the management team overseeing the return of some 7,500 staff to other offices.
It’s a similar story elsewhere.
Since reopening its seven main branches in China last month, Rentokil’s 600 staff stay in the office for about 4-5 hours a day, a spokesperson said. It has also rejigged seating plans, making sure there’s an empty seat between each desk.
SANITISING OFFICE LIFE
International real estate company Cushman & Wakefield, which has overseen the return of almost a million people to offices in China, has come up with a visible workplace design to help clients prepare their employees for the ‘six feet rule’ of social distancing.
“It comes down to some basic concepts, things like coloured carpet or, in a less sophisticated or expensive application, taping off what six feet workstations look like. So it’s very visual,” says Bill Knightly, who works on the company’s Covid-19 taskforce.
In some cases, they’re proposing installing plexiglass or some other form of sneeze or cough guards to give additional insurance – a pandemic twist on the old cubicle model.
For workers used to interacting on open plan floors, sanitising office life and boosting remote working could limit their opportunity to swap ideas and weaken company culture. It also makes integrating new staff more difficult.
Others are preparing for a more radical makeover of building design to ensure workplaces can still thrive alongside this virus and any future health threat.
That may mean more flexible layouts with breakout areas, more personal space and ventilation systems that clean the air and kill pathogens, according to Darren Comber, chief executive of British architect firm Scott Brownrigg.
Buildings may have bigger elevators, make staircases more pleasant to promote their use, and use paint, films and materials that kill virus.
For me, the big question is whether I sit at the kitchen table, whether it’s warm enough to work outside in the deck, or do I plonk the laptop on the coffee table in front of the fire.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots, serving as a reminder that restarting the processor doesn’t fix defective chips.
DRUG DEALERS POSE AS JOGGERS AND NURSES
Scum who sell drugs will do anything to try and peddle their poison.
In the UK, police says drug dealers are dressing as joggers and using fake National Health Serivce ID badges to avoid police detection during the coronavirus lockdown.
The druggies are changing their tactics to avoid infection by doing letterbox drops or “drive-by sales” and throwing drugs from car windows after arranging deals by phone, Professor Simon Harding claims.
Money is also being tossed on the back seat during the deals to keep items clean, said the director of the National Centre for Gang Research at the University of West London.
“On one hand they really are heeding government advice on social distancing,” Prof Harding says. “But at the same time it is business as usual and as people were panic-buying food, dealers were running bulk deals and selling lockdown party packs.”
Vehicles are being used more often to carry out deals arranged by phone, with products thrown from windows and money chucked on the back seat to keep items clean.
The new tactics have also led to a reduction in “cuckooing” – where gang members take over the home of a vulnerable person to cut, sort and deal drugs.
BOY-RACING COVIDIOTS ON THE LOOSE
Police in Ireland’s second-largest city, Cork, have issued a warning that ‘boy racers’ are taking advantage of coronavirus restrictions and are staging drag races at night.
Some reports have said up to 20 cars meeting up in and racing around quiet areas.
The police are warning they will throw the book at any they catch, calling the racing irresponsible and antisocial.
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