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Like millions of others around the world, Gulf News Foreign Correspondent Mick O’Reilly is currently under Covid-19 lockdown. This is what life is like in social isolation in Ireland, where there are strict rules about who is allowed out, where, and under limited circumstances.

DAY 45: Wednesday May 13, 9am



From this morning, the 50 million odd people – yes, some are very odd indeed – living in England will have a little bit more room to flex their elbows as coronavirus restrictions are eased for the first time in more than two months.

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s “conditional plan” for easing the lockdown in England sets out three phases – all based on scientific advice and keeping the reproduction rate below one.

So, from this morning, the good folk of England can travel to work if they cannot work from home, while avoiding public transport if possible. People using buses or trains are advised to wear a face covering, and they can also spend time outdoors picnicking or sunbathing, for example. That’s for the good people, the bad people – covidiots – have been ignoring rules anyway, but I digress.

They can travel to an outdoor open space irrespective of distance, but not with someone from outside their household unless you can practise social distancing. Or they can take day trips to an outdoor open space in a private vehicle. They are also allowed to meet one other person from a different household outdoors, while following social distancing guidelines. And they can exercise outdoors as often as they would like – again keeping at least two metres apart.

The limited lifting allows them to use a tennis or a basketball court, or play golf with members of their household. or one other person

From now on, they can go to a garden centre and students are allowed return home if it is a permanent move. Many parents might not want that, but they are allowed to if they can put up with the video games, sloppy rooms and mood swings and tantrums!


While the restrictions are being eased, there’s still a lot of things you won’t be able to do in England. Visiting friends and family in their homes if forbidden, so too exercise in an indoor sports court, gym or leisure centre, or go swimming in a public pool.

You can’t use an outdoor gym or playground nor visit a private or ticketed attraction.

The government rules also mean you can’t gather in a group of more than two – excluding members of your own household – except for a few specific exceptions set out in law, such as work, funerals, house moves, supporting the vulnerable, in emergencies and to fulfil legal obligations.

You’re not allowed to leave your home to stay at another home, share a private vehicle with someone from another household or leave your home to stay at another home for a holiday or other purpose – including visiting second homes.

You also can’t invite anyone other than close family or friends, and someone from the deceased’s household, to a funeral.

And from Wednesday morning, the government is increasing fines for those who do break the lockdown laws.

Fines for breaking lockdown rules increase from £60 to £100, and repeat offenders will see the fine double for each subsequent breach to a maximum of £3,200.


Some classes could resume in June, starting with primary reception pupils, Year 1 and Year 6. The prime minister said the earliest return would be June 1, but teaching unions have reservations about this date,

Secondary pupils with exams next year will hopefully get some time with teachers before the summer, the PM said

Shops will begin a phased reopening by June 1, the PM hopes, and the government says it is its intention to enable small wedding ceremonies from that date too.

By July, it’s hoped that restaurants and hotels will open, but out only if “they are safe and enforce social distancing”, Johnson says.


Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make their own decisions on health, so Johnson’s plan only applies to England.

Wales announced a slight easing on Friday so that people can exercise more than once a day. It also said garden centres could reopen and local authorities will start planning how to safely open libraries and recycling centres.

The cap on exercise was also scrapped by Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Sunday. However, she warned that it was not an excuse to meet in groups at parks or beaches, to sunbathe or have picnics and barbecues.

On Tuesday, Northern Ireland laid out its own roadmap and the difficulty there is striking a balance with the way authorities in the Republic of Ireland to the south – across an open and porous border – plan to open up their nation.

In Northern Ireland, groups of four to six people who do not share a household will be allowed to meet outdoors while maintaining social distancing in one of the first steps in Northern Ireland’s road map out of lockdown.

Those unable to work from home will be encouraged to return to work on a phased basis in another early shift if the reproductive rate at which the virus is spread continues to decline below one.

Large outdoor-based retailers such as garden centres will also be permitted to reopen in the first step as life edges its way back towards normality.


The decision on when to make changes will be guided primarily by the medical and scientific evidence and the NHS’s capacity to cope.

There is flexibility for different parts of the Northern Irish economy such as return to schooling and increased use of public transport to move at different paces. Drive-through church services will be available and churches will open for private prayer at an early stage.

Outdoor spaces and public sport amenities will also be included in the first step of reopening.

Large indoor gatherings, nightclubs, concerts, close physical contact sports, restaurants, cafes, pubs and early years education will be included in the final, step five, relaxation, and the devolved administration in Belfast says it will review the regulations at the end of May.

While all of the easing across the four parts of the UK are naturally to be welcomed by those emerging from the two-month lockdown, the difference in policies shows just how the regions are gradually pulling apart.


Ringmaster Tommy Courtney says he was born into life on the road.
Ringmaster Tommy Courtney says he was born into life on the road. Image Credit: Courtesy of RTE

Ringmaster Tommy Courtney says he was born into life on the road. Credit RTE

One of my favourite childhood memories is being taken to the circus, the magic of the big tent, watching the performers and clowns, the animals and the sheer wondrous excitement of it all.

It was a seaside resort called Rush, in a field on the outskirts of the town and it all seemed so truly exotic and exciting with the posters coming up first, then the caravans rolling into town and the big top tent going up. Popcorn, candy floss and deep-fried treats.

I was reminded of those magical days when I heard a recent interview on Ireland’s RTE by the ringmaster of one of the country’s remaining family circuses who said they are determined that the coronavirus pandemic will not force the business to close.

Circus Vegas, which is run by the Courtney family, has been cocooning in Tralee in southwest for the past eight weeks.

Tralee was the last stop Circus Vegas made and the final performance took place in a car park on the outskirts of the town on 12 March.

Since then, the car park has been home to members of the Courtney family and the other performers who make up the circus.


Tommy Courtney says he was born into life on the road. When he was younger, he was a trapeze artist. For the past 25 years he has been ring master.

“I love the circus. Everyone here loves the circus,” he told RTE. “There is no better life than being on the road – it’s just a fantastic way of life.”

Tommy and the other performers find life in lockdown strange. Since it started, they have spent their days practising, waiting for the day when they will be able to perform again.

Tommy has no doubt that that day will come and, notwithstanding rules on social distancing introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus, he’s convinced that there will be a place for the circus in post-pandemic life.

“We are all in the same boat. We are all going to get out of this and we will be back entertaining you again very, very soon,” Tommy says. “Circus has been around for hundreds of years, and it will be around for hundreds of years more. As long as there are people like the people we have and ourselves, we love doing what we do and we will always keep doing it, no matter what.”


Kourtney Victoria
Kourtney Victoria has been performing since she was just old enough to walk. Image Credit: Courtesy of RTE

Kourtney Victoria is a hula hoop and trapeze artist. She’s the third generation of the Courtney family to perform in the circus, and she has been performing since she was old enough to walk.

But, like the other performers in Circus Vegas, Kourtney’s last show was in Tralee on 12 March and she has been cocooning ever since.

“Obviously, it has been harder on all of us because we are so used to working all the time,” Kourtney says. “Of course, there are some horrible things happening in the world, and my heart goes out to anyone who is going through it, but we do try and keep positive around here and try to look at the positive of everything.”

Kourtney says the people of Kerry have been amazing in their generosity towards the circus.

Each afternoon, Circus Vegas performers have been gathering around the circus ring to practice and maintain their skills. No audience means no ticket sales and no income for the past two months, putting huge strain on the business.

Circus Vegas performers have vowed to put on a special performance to thank the people of Kerry for their support once restrictions are lifted because, they say, the show must go on.

And that’s an important message for us all to remember too – yes, the show must go on.


I have a confession to make, dear reader. Monday was a bad day for me. I felt very down – a little depressed. I can’t put my finger on it but I just felt the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Yes, I am well into my seventh week of lockdown, but it really got to me.

I felt grumpy and tired, a little teary. Just not myself. And being confined and focusing on work for so much of these days has worn me down. That was Monday. Tuesday was a better day, but I’m still not feeling great.

Should I share this with you, you are facing the same pressures and feelings? Yes, why not? We’re all human.

I was checking my Facebook account on Tuesday when I came across a shared post from my first cousin, Marie McHale. And yes, thanks for sharing. It was a piece that the BBC posted on March 15 – two months ago now, and eight weeks of lockdown has passed since then. I’d like to share it with you if you’re feeling as I did on Monday. I found it helped me – and I hope it helps you too.

As Anxiety UK’s Nicky Lidbetter explains, the fear of being out of control and unable to tolerate uncertainty are common characteristics of many anxiety disorders. So, it’s understandable that many individuals with pre-existing anxiety are facing challenges at the moment.

“A lot of anxiety is rooted in worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen – coronavirus is that on a macro scale,” agrees Rosie Weatherley, spokesperson for mental health charity Mind.


Limit the news and be careful what you read. Reading lots of news about coronavirus has led to panic attacks for Nick, a father-of-two from Kent, who lives with anxiety.

“When I’m feeling anxious my thoughts can spiral out of control and I start thinking about catastrophic outcomes,” he says. Nick is worried about his parents and other older people he knows.

“Usually when I suffer I can walk away from a situation. This is out of my control,” he says.

Having long periods away from news websites and social media has helped him to manage his anxiety. He has also found support helplines, run by mental health charities such as AnxietyUK, useful.

Limit the amount of time you spend reading or watching things which aren’t making you feel better. Perhaps decide on a specific time to check in with the news. There is a lot of misinformation swirling around - stay informed by sticking to trusted sources of information such as Gulf News, government and legitimate public health websites.

Have breaks from social media and mute things which are triggering. Alison, 24, from Manchester, has health anxiety and feels compelled to stay informed and research the subject. But at the same time, she knows social media can be a trigger.

“A month ago, I was clicking on hashtags and seeing all this unverified conspiracy rubbish and it would make me really anxious and I would feel really hopeless and cry,” she says.

Now she is careful about which accounts she tunes into and is avoiding clicking on coronavirus hashtags. She is also trying hard to have time away from social media, watching TV or reading books instead.


Mute key words: Good advice when it comes to posts that trigger on Twitter, and unfollow or mute accounts as well. WhatsApp groups can be muted, and hide Facebook posts if you feel they’re taking over your life.

Wash your hands – but not excessively: OCD Action has seen an increase in support requests from people whose fears have become focused on the coronavirus pandemic. For people with Obsessive Compulsion Disorder and some types of anxiety, being constantly told to wash your hands can be especially difficult to hear.

For Lily Bailey, author of Because We Are Bad, a book about living with OCD, fear of contamination was one aspect of her obsessive-compulsive disorder. She says the advice about hand washing can be a huge trigger for people who have recovered.

“It’s really difficult because I now have to do some of the behaviours that I’ve been avoiding,” says Bailey. “I’m sticking to the advice really rigidly but it’s hard, considering that for me, soap and sanitiser used to be something comparable to an addiction.”

Charity OCD Action says the issue to look out for is the function – for example, is the washing being carried out for the recommended amount of time to reduce the risk of spreading of the virus – or is it being done ritualistically in a specific order to feel “just right”?

Bailey points out that for a lot of people with OCD, getting better means being able to leave the house - so self-isolating can present another challenge.

“If we’re forced to stay at home, we have lots of time on our hands, and boredom can make OCD worse,” she says.

Stay connected with people: Staying in touch with those you care about will help to maintain good mental health during long periods of self-isolation.

“Agree regular check-in times and feel connected to the people around you,” says Weatherley.

Strike a balance: Know the difference between having a routine and making sure each day has some variety. For some people it might end up actually feeling like quite a productive or restful period. You could work through your to-do list or read a book you’d been meaning to get to.

Avoid burnout: With weeks and months of the coronavirus pandemic ahead, it is important to have down time. Mind recommends continuing to access nature and sunlight wherever possible. Do exercise, eat well and stay hydrated.


AnxietyUK suggests practising the “Apple” technique to deal with anxiety and worries.

Acknowledge: Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.

Pause: Don’t react as you normally do. Don't react at all. Pause and breathe.

Pull back: Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.

Let go: Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don't have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.

Explore: Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.

Personally, just reading the above has made me feel better and realise that I’m not losing my mind. Perspective is everything. I hope it helps you too if you need a lift. We all do at times.


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I regularly rail against conspiracy theorists who are spreading vile mistruths that are plainly dangerous to public health and undermine all of our efforts in curtailing Covid-19.

I believe that they are simply kooks, irresponsible and engage in the immoral sharing of baseless theories. And sadly, there are some clergy in German who fall into this category.

Top Roman Catholic bishops in Germany have dissociated themselves from a letter in which several prominent Catholic clergy question the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and the measures taken by governments across the world to stem it, the German agency DW reports.

The letter, signed by such Catholic notables as the German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano from Italy and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the former bishop of Hong Kong, claims that the pandemic is being exploited to restrict basic rights “disproportionately and unjustifiably.”

It also maintains that the contagiousness of the novel coronavirus has been overstated by authorities, referring to unnamed “authoritative voices in the world of science and medicine” to back its claim.

It strongly criticises governments around the world for the lockdowns imposed in a bid to stem the spread of the virus, saying that “the imposition of these illiberal measures is a disturbing prelude to the realisation of a world government beyond all control.”

In one strongly worded sentence, it claims that “centuries of Christian civilisation” could be “erased under the pretext of a virus” and an “odious technological tyranny” established in its place.

In other words – they believe it’s all part of a “deep state conspiracy”.


Naturally, the letter drew immediate and strong criticism from the hierarchy of the church and others.

“The German Bishops’ Conference’s assessment of the coronavirus pandemic is fundamentally different than the [letter] published yesterday” Bishop Georg Batzing, who heads the influential body, told the Catholic KNA news agency.

Other German Catholic clergy chose harder words in their criticism of the appeal.

The vicar general of the city of Essen, Klaus Pfeffer, said on Facebook that he was “simply speechless at what was being published there in the name of the Church and Christianity: crude conspiracy theories without facts or evidence, combined with aggressive right-wing populist rhetoric that sounds alarming.”

The arguments presented in the document strongly resemble those currently making the rounds on social media, particularly in far-right and far-left circles.


Historically, the outbreak of pandemics has always been accompanied by the dissemination of rumours and conspiracy theories. But what, exactly, defines the latter? Professor Michael Butter, who teaches at the University of Tubingen, says conspiracy theories tend to claim that a group is clandestinely plotting to control and destroy an institution, a country or the entire world. Here’s a look at how historic pandemics spurred spurious conspiracy theories down through the ages.

The Black Death: In the 14th century, when the plague ravaged Europe, nobody knew how the illness had originated. Soon after, unfounded rumours surfaced that Jews caused the outbreak by poisoning wells in a bid to control the world. Jewish people were accused of being behind the plague — and were subjected to deadly pogroms and forcefully displaced.

1918 influenza pandemic: Between 1918-1920, the so-called Spanish flu killed between 25 and 50 million people — making it more lethal than the First World War, which ended the same year the influenza pandemic began. As the origins of the virus outbreak remained a mystery until the 1930s, some people believed the pathogen had been developed by the German army to use as a weapon.

East Germany’s beetle infestation: When a Colorado potato beetle infestation in 1950 threatened to wipe out all of East Germany’s potato crops, the country’s socialist leadership was quick to blame the US. In an attempt to distract from its own failures, East Germany accused the US of having orchestrated the beetle infestation to sabotage its economy.

The AIDS epidemic: The onset of the Aids epidemic in the US during the 1980s was accompanied by an elaborate Soviet disinformation campaign. In 1983, the Soviet secret service KGB spread the rumour that the US had developed Aids at Fort Detrick as a biological weapon and tested it on prison inmates, ethnic minorities and gay people. It also claimed the US was deliberately deflecting blame by saying the disease had originated on the African continent. In 1985, Russian-born German biology professor Jakob Segal even published a pseudo-scientific study to back up the conspiracy theory. And even though many biologists and medical experts dismissed the unfounded claims as nonsense, the conspiracy theory still circulates today.

Ebola outbreaks: By the mid-1990s the Soviet Union had collapsed, and national health agencies had largely gotten the AIDS outbreak under control. At this time, however, Africa experienced a major Ebola outbreak. Many conspiracy theorists who had falsely claimed Aids was created in US military labs, now claimed the Ebola virus was a bio-weapon developed by the US or the United Kingdom.

The great tick conspiracy: Another conspiracy theory concerns the US military and ticks. In 2019, Republican Congressman Chris Smith called on the Pentagon to release classified documents about a supposed weaponised ticks programme. Smith referred to a recent book that claimed the programme, which supposedly ran between 1950 and 1975, had allowed the tick-borne Lyme disease to get out of control.


A whole host of diseases has been blamed on secret US biological weapons programme and some conspiracy theorists have suggested that COVID-19 is an artificially engineered Chinese bioweapon.

These, and other conspiracy theories, however, rely on arguments that are never weighted in evidence. The conspiracies tend to emerge in the early stages of a pandemic — when little is known about a pathogen’s origin and spread.

The digital revolution, meanwhile, has amplified the dissemination of rumours and disinformation. Online posts are shared much quicker on social media and through messenger apps than any medical or health authority can refute them, DW reports.

And social media has allowed conspiracy theories to go viral as never before.

COVID-19 can only be contained by studying it scientifically, practicing good hygiene and ensuring those infected receive adequate medical treatment. Similarly, education and media literacy, as well as good mental health, should be promoted to be in line with how we consume information in the digital age.

As I’ve written here before and will do so again, no doubt, you really do need to reply only on respected news sources such as Gulf News – and question what you read using your common sense.

Some online trolls have even suggested downing a Corona beer to combat irrational coronavirus-related fears. While this has not been proven to help, it may provide a soothing effect in the meantime!


In Germany, researchers at the University of Munster have been taking a closer look at how right-wing conspiracy theories work during the COVID-19 pandemic. From January to March this year, they examined around 120,000 Facebook posts from various German media outlets.

The result? Alongside the extensive coronavirus reporting by established newspapers and broadcasters, there was also a rise in the number of posts by so-called “alternative media” outlets – right-wing and fringe publications that want to deliberately dissociate themselves from established media and the political elite.

The interesting thing researchers found was that “alternative media” are also basically reporting on the same, verifiable facts — but they lace these reports with speculation, such as positing that the virus was produced in a laboratory or that it is less dangerous than reports would suggest.

“The alternative media spread their messages subtly in a seemingly harmless communication strategy. Obvious false reports do not fit in with this approach,” says Thorsten Quandt, who headed the University of Munster’s study. Populist tendencies were still found in the posts.

Scientists have dubbed this strategy “pandemic populism.”


Conspiracy theorists mix the pandemic in with already-established topics — climate change, refugee issues, and doomsday fantasies lumped together with the coronavirus.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, climate activist Greta Thunberg, refugees and COVID-19 — in the end, everything is somehow connected to everything else.

Even if this “pandemic populism” only accounts for a fraction of all the coronavirus coverage, the “alternative media” have succeeded in building up their own frame of reference.

“We found several cases where their statements were picked up by others, for example on the YouTube channels of conspiracy theorists, which serve as a secondary distribution system. They label alternative news media messages as credible,” Quandt says.

This enables them to make their own unsupported theories appear larger and more established than they factually are. Individual posts can also certainly keep up with the reach and interaction rates of large media platforms.


Conspiracy theorists don’t believe in coincidences. They claim there is a small group of elites pulling the strings behind the scenes, and that these elites are conspiring against the public, against everyday people. The fact that there are regular reports about abuse of power and misconduct by politicians and other powerful people plays into their hands.

Media outlets that spread such theories are anything but naive about what they’re doing. Such platforms carry out targeted propaganda.

There is no shortage of uncertainty right now. The pandemic scares people, particularly as they notice that even those in positions of political responsibility are struggling to find their way through the crisis.

Conspiracy theorists are particularly grateful for the boost they receive from celebrities who take part in speculating about theories.


Horse racing is just one of many sports being put on ice by coronavirus. This was shared with me on Facebook by Ted, who is a big fan of all things related to horses. He lives in Wexford.

Image Credit:



My 1,200 shares in PowerHouse, a green energy producer, seem like a really smart bet. I bought them about 2 weeks ago for 87p and, following two strong days, stand now at £170 each – I’m close to doubling my money.

A reminder that this is all pretend, I started off some 40 days ago with £10,000 – about Dh45,000 to play with, I don’t pay for trades, I can buy any amount of shares and can only do so when the London Stock Exchange market is closed

All my four investments had good days, and I ended up with a £530.90 gain over Monday’s close. This is how things stand now:

Net worth: £12,231.38

Diageo, 100 shares: £2884.00

Ocado, 100 shares: £2056.00

Drax, 2,600 shares: £5236.40

PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £2,040.00

Cash in hand: £14.98

£ gain on last trading day: £530.90

% Gain overall: 12.2 per cent

£ Gain overall: £1,231.38


Here’s my daily collection that serves as a reminder that covidiots have a lot in common with cockroaches – both would survive a nuclear blast.


The government has divided France into green and red areas, with Paris and three other “red” regions seeing a more limited relaxation of lockdown rules. Sadly, covidiots are colour blind!

Covidiots in Paris have been banned from drinking alcohol on the banks of the Saint-Martin canal and the Seine river after police were forced to disperse crowds just hours after an eight-week coronavirus lockdown was eased

Many covidiots stuck in flats without balconies, terraces or gardens for almost two months turned out on Monday evening to celebrate. Photos quickly circulated of unmasked revellers gathering by the water in the French capital.

On the orders of the interior ministry, Paris’s police prefect issued a ban, saying it “deplored” having to do so in an indignant press release reminding everyone that the success of the opening up rested on “the principle of each citizen’s individual responsibility”.

“Barely a few hours after the lifting of the lockdown, dozens of people gathered … without respecting social distances and the health recommendations that have even so been hammered home for the past few weeks,” the press release said. “The prefect of police deplores the fact that, on the first day of deconfinement, he has had to take measures to prohibit the consumption of alcohol on the public highway.”


With the streets of Toronto – Canada’s largest city–mostly empty because of coronavirus precautions, covidiots see that empty pavement as an opportunity to perform stunts.

One of the busiest areas of the city, the intersection of Yonge and Dundas. Usually it’s packed, especially where the Eaton Centre entrance empties out into a square that’s often used for public concerts.

One covidiot saw this space as the perfect venue to perform doughnut turns in his V6 Mustang.

The embarrassing spectacle didn’t last long, however, as police showed up almost immediately and chased the Mustang out of the area, leading to the arrest of the driver a few days later.

The was charged with dangerous operation of a conveyance, mischief and endangering life, flight while being pursued by a police officer, driving a motor vehicle on a highway while performing a stunt, and careless driving. And convicted on the spot of being a numpty and covidiot.


The usually jam-packed Don Valley Parkway in Toronto – colloquially known as the “Don Valley Parking Lot” – usually ruins everybody’s commutes both going to work and returning home from it.

But not covidiots.

In a single weekend, 18 people lost their driving privileges and had their vehicles impounded for seven days in Toronto. Another group were caught traveling at speeds up to 171 kilometres per hour, close to double the posted limit.

Racing on the DVP has always been a thing, but luckily now the street is empty, those who put themselves and others at risk are much easier to spot, and catch.


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, DW, 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