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.
Sunday May 17, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
IT’S QUIZ TIME! HERE ARE 50 QUESTIONS TO GET YOU THINKING
Each is worth one point. No cheating. Answers at the end of the blog.
1 What bird has the longest wingspan?
2 Silly mid-on is a term from what sport?
3 The Minnesota Timberwolves play what sport?
4 What is the capital of Iceland?
5 Who succeeded Queen Victoria?
6 How many furlongs in a mile?
7 Antonio de Oliveira Salazar ruled what nation?
8 Daytona Beach is noted for motor sports. In what US state is it located?
9 Stansted Airport is the third airport for what city?
10 Newark Airport is located in what US state?
11 SGN is the airport code for what Asian city?
12 Where is Tranquility Base?
13 What river flows through Kolkota?
14 The kyat is the currency of what Asian nation?
15 Kandy elephant orphanage is located in what country?
16 Tenochtitlan is the former name for what modern city?
17 The Columbus Blue Jackets play which sport?
18 In American football, how many points is a touchdown worth?
19 In what country would you find the mouth of the Orinoco River?
20 ‘Las Malvinas’ is the Argentinian name given to what islands?
21 The infamous Charge of the Light Brigade occurred in what war?
22 The site of Machu Picchu is located in what nation?
23 The Shibuya Cross is located in what city?
24 The Three Gorges Dam spans what river?
25 Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled what nation?
26 Pyeonchang hosted what event in 2018?
27 SFO is the airport code for what US city?
28 What river flows through the Grand Canyon?
29 The Indian Premier League team the Sunrisers are based where?
30 Who did Emmanuel Macron succeed as president of France?
31 By what name is the former country of South West Africa now known?
32 If you had a flight to Incheon International Airport, which country would you be visiting?
33 The QE2 has recently been turned into a hotel but where is it docked?
34 On which island can lemurs be found in the wild?
35 Riga is the capital city of which country?
36 In which mountain range can Mount Everest be found?
37 Which river is the deepest in the world?
38 In which country would you find Timbuktu?
39 How many capital cities does South Africa have?
40 Which US city is nicknamed the “Windy city”?
41 Victoria Falls is found on which river in southern Africa?
42 Paricutin in Mexico is named as one of the seven natural wonders of the world but what is it?
43 Which city is the capital of Turkey?
44 What is the currency in Thailand?
45 In which country would you find the Chocolate Hills?
46 Livraria Lello, a book shop in Porto that is frequently ranked among the best in the world, became more famous because of which book series?
47 Meteora is a rock foundation found in central Greece that is famous for what?
48 Which famous Spanish church designed by architect Antoni Gaudi has been under construction for over a century?
49 The Trevi Fountain can be found in which city?
50 Korcula is an island found in which country?
‘WISH YOU WERE’NT HERE’
I was on WhatsApp to some family who live near Manchester on Saturday evening and Pete and Ju are worried. They live in a beauty spot in the Peak District of Derbyshire and fear an influx of hikers, bikers, cyclists and tourists this weekend as for the first time in two months, lockdown rules are being eased in England.
Peter is in the police in Manchester and tells me that there has been a big increase in the number of spitting cases there over the past week as people started to return to work. Ju works in social services in schools and has been busier than ever because families are living under very stressful situations where they are unsure about their health and their wealth – and mental health issues and domestic abuse incidents are up dramatically.
And the easing of English lockdown rules mean there’s going to more people moving about – giving more opportunity for coronavirus to spread.
While officials in England are urging them to “think carefully”, since Wednesday, people have no longer been limited to one opportunity to exercise outdoors each day.
They can also drive to beaches and beauty spots in England, alone or with members of the same household, and can meet up with one other person from a different household, as long as it is in a park or outdoor space and both individuals are at least two metres apart from each other.
LOW PETROL PRICES
Anyone who does hit the road will also benefit from the lowest fuel prices since 2016, with an average of 107.5p per litre for petrol and 114.8p per litre for diesel. These factors, along with a forecast for good weather, are expected to see around 15 million drivers head onto the roads over the weekend.
The number is based on a survey by the Royal Automobile Club but spokesman Rod Dennis said he would have expected numbers to be higher.
“In normal times, the weather warming up in time for the weekend would spell traffic jams on routes leading to tourist hotspots,” he said. “These figures suggest that’s less likely this weekend, with the vast majority of drivers we surveyed not jumping at the chance to drive very much further afield. Most are choosing to stay very local indeed or even not getting in the car in the first place, which bodes well for control of the coronavirus.”
UK health officials are warning that if the coronavirus reproduction rate – known as the R value – gets any higher, lockdown measures may have to be toughened again.
This and fear of being overwhelmed by crowds of Britons seeking their first trips away in two months have prompted some popular regions to issue warnings.
People have been told to remember the importance of social distancing and to continue to avoid large gatherings.
NATIONAL PARKS AND BEACHES
On Thursday Cleveland Police and North Yorkshire Police issued statements alongside the North York Moors National Park Authority warning that most facilities there will be closed this weekend.
“Please think carefully about where you are going and how you will be able to keep your distance from others,” Assistant Chief Constable Mike Walker said
South Downs National Park has asked people to tackle pollution by keeping visits to the park car-free.
The Peak District National Park said that people should give the area “crucial breathing space to recover by staying local” and that many facilities will remain closed.
After the prime minister’s announcement on the changes to lockdown restrictions in England, the Lake District National Park Authority’s chief executive, Richard Leafe, told visitors “not to rush back”, to avoid putting pressure on the community and mountain rescue teams.
“Just because the government says you can go out, it doesn’t mean you should,” said Mike France, senior executive officer of Mountain Rescue England and Wales. “No matter how much exercise people have been taking at home, in their gardens or local to home during lockdown, most of them may not be as hill fit as they were three months ago.”
In a North Somerset Council news release entitled “Wish you weren't here”, deputy leader Cllr Mike Bell said on Wednesday: “North Somerset is not open for visitors. We don't want people to travel into North Somerset from outside the area for day trips and instead want to encourage them to use outdoor spaces nearer to where they live. We’re not open for tourists – pubs, restaurants, hotels are all still closed. Our focus is on protecting the community here in North Somerset who have worked so hard to do the right thing in staying at home.”
MEME OF THE DAY
This was also shared with me by my first cousin Gus on Facebook. I wonder what you partner’s reaction would be if she was handed a pair of these….
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
A reminder that this is all pretend, I started out in lockdown with £10,000 – about Dh45,000 to invest on the London Stock Exchange, I don’t pay for trade and I can only buy or sell when the market is closed. There’s no minimum on the amount of stocks I can buy, just as long as I can afford them.
This is how I stand after Friday. There is no trading on Saturday and Sunday.
Net worth: £11,856.08
Diageo, 100 shares: £2743.0
Ocado, 100 shares: £1954.40
Drax, 2,600 shares: £5163.60
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £1,980.00
Cash in hand: £14.98
£ gain on last trading day: £99.60
% Gain overall: 18.5 per cent
£ Gain overall: £1,856.08
WILL NATIONALISM HAMPER EFFORTS TO FIND A VACCINE?
There’s one thing we know for sure about COVID-19 – it crosses borders without any regard for manmade frontiers. Over these past four long months, we have seen different nations take different approach. There was the New Zealand model that used its geographic isolation to quickly shut down – and it is bouncing back, with things there almost back to the new normal of social distancing. I have tremendous respect for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government for the way they handled this crisis.
Denmark and Norway were quick to shut down. Italy and Spain still had horrific death tolls even though they locked down with strict rules, while in Britain the delay to closing down has led to the second-highest death rate in the world – though Russia and Brazil are likely now to surpass its grim total of more than 41,000.
Sweden adopted a different, laissez-fair attitude though it seems now as its elderly are paying a very high toll for Stockholm’s hands off approach.
Everywhere, though, the search is on for a vaccine. So, I was intrigues to read a piece on NBC that suggested that the nationalist approach by many nations – yes, even in the European Union itself –might end up delaying distribution of a vaccine to billions of people.
Accord to NBC, a competitive vision outlined in the United States and other vaccine-producing powerhouses such as China and India threatens to undermine the efforts of dozens of countries, which are raising billions of dollars in an attempt to find an effective immunising shot that they say should be available equally around the world.
Some experts and former officials fear that leaders such as President Donald Trump may be pursuing the doctrine of “vaccine nationalism.” This is the idea that any government whose scientists win this vaccine “race” — as it’s often described — might try to hoard the shots for domestic use.
“Do you believe that Trump’s base will be content with a vaccine strategy that does not ‘make America great again’?” asked David Salisbury, a former director of immunisation for the British Department of Health who is now an associate fellow at the London think tank Chatham House. “If your country develops the vaccine before anyone else, immediately exporting it to another country is not a vote-winner.”
This tension between nationalism and internationalism was illustrated at a virtual summit hosted by the EU last week.
Dozens of countries, including Canada, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, teamed up with organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in pledging $8 billion toward a global fund for vaccines, treatments and testing.
“This will be a unique global public good of the 21st century,” the leaders said in a joint statement, committing to making any vaccine “available, accessible and affordable to all.”
It was a rare moment of intentional and cross-border cooperation.
NO US REPRESENTATIVE
But one glaring absentee was the US. China, however, did attend the EU-hosted summit, even though Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s second-most powerful official, pulled out at the last minute and sent his ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, instead.
Despite being the world’s second-largest economy, China pledged around $49 million, a fraction of what was promised by many of its European counterparts — such as Norway, at $1 billion.
The most promising trial in China is funded by the government. And a far more nationalistic approach was set out in an opinion articles in the Global Times, a hawkish newspaper that publishes what Communist Party officials privately think but don’t say publicly.
“We must be aware that the development of a vaccine is a battle that China cannot afford to lose,” it said. “There is no way for China to rely on Europe or the US in vaccine development. China has to be by itself in this crucial field,” it added, calling the race “a life-and-death battle.”
Another absentee at the summit was India, which is home to the world’s largest vaccine producer by volume, the Serum Institute of India. Its owner, the billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla, has openly said that “a majority of the vaccine, at least initially, would have to go to our countrymen before it goes abroad.”
Even for those countries that did attend, it is not clear whether they would have the power to enforce their egalitarian vision in the face of nationalistic or market forces.
VACCINE ‘WON’T BELONG TO ANYBODY’
French President Emmanuel Macron said that any vaccine “won't belong to anybody,” and that those who discover it “will be fairly paid, but access will be given to people across the globe.”
This dream was given a reality check Wednesday after Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical giant and one of the leading players in the coronavirus vaccine race, told Bloomberg that the US was likely to get access before the rest of the world because it had invested more money.
Likewise, in the UK — which pledged more than $480 million at the teleconference — the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said it will prioritise the UK if its promising trials yield results.
“This debate builds on a long-standing question about nationalism versus global responsibility,” says Nancy Kass, a professor and the deputy director for public health at Johns Hopkins University’s Berman Institute of Bioethics. “And we happen to be in an extraordinarily nationalistic period right now in the United States.”
Like many bioethicists, Kass said it’s understandable for citizens to expect first access to drugs developed and manufactured on their soil, particularly at a time of chronic anxiety.
“I don’t think it will either be constructive or even necessarily an appropriate framing to think of this in terms of good guys and bad guys,” she says. “What I do think is essential is that people use this time before we have a vaccine to have this conversation.”
NO GUARANTEES OF VACCINE
There’s no guarantee an effective vaccine will ever be found, and even then it could take a year or more to develop, test and distribute. Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are in the first stages of testing or poised to begin, small safety studies in people, according to the Associated Press.
“The social value of a safe and effective vaccine is almost incalculable — we are talking about trillions of dollars,” says Frank Lichtenberg, a Columbia Business School professor who has spent much of his career estimating how much new medicines are worth.
“Drugs are usually valuable because they decrease mortality,” he says, “not because they have the power to stop the unemployment rate hitting 20 per cent, like this one might.”
Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky has said his company is committed to coming up with a not-for-profit vaccine that is “available and affordable globally as quickly as possible.”
The vaccine world has been here before. During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, wealthy countries put in advanced orders for the H1N1 flu vaccine, essentially crowding out poorer countries who had to wait longer to get access to the shots.
However, in this unprecedented situation, where a vaccine could prevent a country’s economic collapse, governments might resort to more desperate measures. One tactic might be to ignore patents covering the drugs and manufacture them without consent, according to Soren Holm, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester, in England.
That’s what South Africa did with HIV/AIDS medicine in the 1990s, ultimately forcing drug companies into a humiliating climbdown in which they licensed the medication at a lower price.
“It showed that these types of threats tend to work,” Holm said.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection that serves as a reminder that covidiots will part a fool and their money at any opportunity.
COVIOTS PEDDLE CHINESE HERBS AS COVID CURE
Covidiots are trying to convince people that traditional Chinese herbs can cure COVID-19.
Almost 6,200 capsules of traditional Chinese medicine which claim to treat symptoms of COVID-19, were seized by Irish police during a search operation in the north of Dublin last week.
The operation was conducted following a previous seizure of approximately anothter 7,200 capsules at Dublin Airport on April 29 after customs officers intercepted falsely declared packaging.
Approximately 10,000 non-compliant ‘surgical face masks’ were also seized.
The follow-up search operation was conducted on May 8 as part of a joint operation between the police, Irish revenue officials and health regulators.
The capsules seized during the operation had an estimated street value of €10,000.
COVIDIOTS ARE ALL OVER THE UK
Yorkshire and London are the worst areas for covidiots in the Britain it has been revealed as police across the United Kingdom issued more than 14,000 fines for lockdown breaches.
The Mail is reporting that of 43 regional police forces in England and Wales, the Metropolitan Police issued the highest number of fines with 906. This was followed by Thames Valley Police, with 866, and North Yorkshire, with 843. Warwickshire issued the fewest, with just 31.
The fines were all handed out before lockdown regulations were relaxed in England from Wednesday.
In addition, 80 per cent of the fines were issued to men and over half were to people under 30.
The figures run from March 27 to May 11. There have been 862 repeat offenders, including one person who was fined nine times.
5 Edward VII
10 New Jersey
11 Ho Chi Minh
12 The Moon – where Apollo 11 landed
15 Sri Lanka
16 Mexico City
17 Ice hockey
20 Falkland Islands
21 The Crimean War
24 Yangtze River
26 Winter Olympics
27 San Francisco
30 Francois Hollande
32 South Korea
36 The Himalayas
37 The Congo
39 3 – Cape Town, as the seat of Parliament, is the legislative capital; Pretoria, as the seat of the President and Cabinet, is the administrative capital; and Bloemfontein, as the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal, is the judicial capital.
41 Zambezi river
44 Thai baht
45 The Philippines
46 Harry Potter
47 The monasteries found perched atop the rocks
48 The Sagrada Familia
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, 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