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.
Monday May 18, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
ENGLAND IN A TIZZY OVER REOPENING SCHOOLS
My daughter is a primary school teacher and she won’t be returning to the classroom in Ireland before September. While on occasions she must oversee online work and make sure her pupils have content to work on, the government here has decided that it’s futile to reopen schools before the new academic year.
In England, however, there is pretty nasty row brewing between the government in London and parents, teachers and city and county councils over when children should go back to the classroom.
The government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it wants to see some children back in class by June 1. Forget that, unions and parents say, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that will happen anytime soon.
Quite frankly, if I was the parent of a child of school-going age, I would have serious concerns about the safety of schools.
Sure, it’s fine to talk about social distancing but how, for example, do you keep children apart when they’re in a corridor or the schoolyard? And while the science says that young children pose little risk of spreading coronavirus, what happens if they can – and spread it to those with compromised immune systems or parents working with others that are at risk?
I fully understand the government’s desire to get children back to school – but will three months make much of a difference?
Wouldn’t it simply be safer and better for all if classes were put on hold until September? That allows everyone some 14 weeks to sort it all out and buy more time during this coronavirus pandemic.
SCHOOLS ARE SAFE TO REOPEN, GOVE INSISTS
On Sunday morning, Michael Gove, one of the most senior ministers in the UK Cabinet, took to the airwaves and insisted England’s schools are safe to reopen, but acknowledged that “you can never eliminate risk”.
Gove told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the key was to make schools safe with smaller classes and staggered arrivals as the government set out plans to begin a phased reopening of primary schools in England from next month.
Labour’s Angela Rayner urged the government to publish the scientific advice guiding those plans for 1 June, and said that if the government could ensure that tracking and tracing were properly in place, that would “reassure parents”
But the row isn’t going away, and teaching unions – backed by the British Medical Association – have continued to raise safety concerns about the plans.
Significantly, public support for the Johnson government has turned negative over the last 10 days, with more Britons thinking their government has botched its response to the pandemic and its plans for lifting restrictions.
Already, the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have rejected the UK government’s advice, instead advising all living in their provinces to stay home – not ‘stay alert’ as Johnson says.
NO GUARANTEES ON NOT CATCHING CORONAVIRUS
Speaking to Andrew Marr, Gove could not guarantee that teachers and pupils would not catch coronavirus. But the former education secretary said the UK can “learn” from children returning to schools in other European countries, such as Denmark.
“The only way ever to ensure that you never catch coronavirus is to stay at home completely. But there is always, always, always, in any loosening of these restrictions, a risk of people catching the coronavirus,” the Cabinet Office minister said. “You can never eliminate risk. It is the case that it is extremely unlikely that any school is likely to be the source of a Covid outbreak.”
Last week the Office for National Statistics published the first results of a survey of coronavirus tests on a representative sample of the population in England. Significantly, it showed that children are just as likely to get the virus as any other age group. The critical question, therefore, is how likely are they to spread it – and so far scientists simply don’t know.
The very early data from countries which have opened schools to a degree indicate that they have not become infection hotspots – but it’s early days and the data is currently too scant to give definitive reassurances that children don’t pass on the virus.
JUNE 1 DEADLINE FOR SCHOOLS
Under the UK government plans, children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England will return to school on 1 June, and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Saturday that the government’s approach was based on the “best scientific advice with children at the very heart of everything we do”.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner disagrees, however, and told Andrew Marr: “I urge the government to publish the science and to ensure testing and tracing is in place to safeguard. Councils want to make sure their citizens are safe. I support them in trying to do that.”
World Health Organisation (WHO) chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan told the same programme that children are “less capable” of spreading the virus, and are at “very low risk” of getting ill from the disease.
“What we have seen in countries where schools have remained open is that there have not been big outbreaks in schools,” Dr Swaminathan said, adding that most outbreaks have been associated with events” where a lot of people gather, not in regular classrooms”.
I spoke on WhatsApp to my in-laws, Ju and Pete, who live just outside Manchester. They have a daughter who is supposed to return on June 1.
“There’s no way she’s going back,” Ju told me. “I’m not convinced it’s safe. There are too many unknowns. Wait until September.”
GROWING GAP BETWEEN NORTH OF ENGLAND AND LONDON
Pete, who works with the police in Manchester, said that fast few days had shown that “Boris Johnson is only the Prime Minister of London. He has lost touch with reality and the north of England,”
I found it interesting then that some local authorities in the north of England have challenged the government’s timetable, with Liverpool and Hartlepool councils saying schools will not reopen at the start of next month as coronavirus cases continue to rise locally.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson is a straight shooter – and an Everton fan, so he has a lot going for him in my blue-eyed opinion – and his city and wider region has seen some of the UK’s highest infection rates for coronavirus, well above the England average.
The council’s director for children and young people's services confirmed that only the children of key workers and vulnerable children will be allowed in school from June 1.
Instead, the city council said schools reopening will be staggered, with all pupils only allowed in when headteachers, governing bodies, council officials and unions are satisfied it is safe to do so.
“We will make sure that is safe for our children to return to school,” Mayor Anderson says. “I’ve listened just now to a guy who heads up an academy trust and I’ve listened to other people talking about social deprivation and how it is impacting on some of those children who live in poverty and therefore should get them back to school quick. I think that’s an absolute disgrace and insult to the children whether they live in disadvantaged communities or households because I would only allow schools to take children, teaching staff and ancillary staff back in if it is safe to do so.”
‘EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE SAFETY OF CHILDREN’
“This has got nothing to do with disadvantaged children or politics, it’s got everything to do with the safety of children,” Mayor Anderson says.
Asked what Liverpool City Council were basing their findings on, Mayor Anderson responded “It’s not based on scientific model it’s based on common sense.
“The bottom line is I've heard scientists give different opinions and views,” he says. “These same scientists told us that there was no problem with care homes and infection rates. These are the same government ministers that are taking advice from the scientists who tell us it’s not safe to travel on public transport but it’s safe to send your kids to school.”
He said that infection rates as high as they are in Liverpool, “I think I’m better qualified along with parents, teachers and headteachers along with the professional staff who work for me to decide where and when it’s safe to reopen schools.”
It’s one thing for the UK government to want to open schools from June 1, but I think the reality is that they are few parents who feel confident enough to send their children back to the classroom then. Maybe waiting is the best option. This year has been a bit of a wright off so far, will a few weeks in the class really make that much of a difference now?
RETURN OF THE KILLER WHALES!
It is amazing just how quickly nature can rebound after just a couple of months without man’s involvement. I’ve written here before about whales coming into shore near where I live in Lanzarote on Spain’s Canary Islands. But now there’s some remarkable footage of killer whales inshore in Northern Ireland.
Boaters there were “stunned” to film killer whales in Strangford Lough.
The orcas swam alongside marine maintenance worker Jeremy Rogers’ boat in the inlet of the Irish Sea in Co Down.
“That’s the third time I’ve seen them in Lough in my lifetime,” the 47-year-old told the PA news agency.
“My son and my nephew were with us and got their phones out … we were just full of excitement and stunned to see them.
“When we’ve seen them before, they always seemed to be chasing something – but these ones stayed around and were swimming around us.
“We always try to keep our distance from them, so we just sat there for a while and they came to us.”
ABSENCE OF BOATS BECAUSE OF COVID-19
Rogers, from Portaferry, works for Cuan Marine Services based in the town, and said the coronavirus lockdown may have created conditions for the killer whales to appear.
“There’s no boats on Strangford Lough at all, but because we’re commercial we’re still allowed to work – so that could well be something to do with it,” he said.
Suzanne Beck is a marine biologist with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast and commended the rarity of the sighting.
“I’ve only managed to see killer whales once in Northern Ireland, and this has been my day job for the past 10 years,” the 34-year-old told PA.
“These individuals are from the west coast community of killer whales that range around the British Isles. We usually get a couple of sightings a year, so this isn’t totally unexpected, but certainly a lucky sighting.”
The scientist said the group are type two eastern North Atlantic orcas.
“The group is declining and we haven’t seen any calves in all the time we have studied them,” she added.
Beck said her group’s knowledge of the community comes largely from amateur sightings reported to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.
KNOCK-KNOCK! WILL OPENING A DOOR EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN?
I had a hard enough time noticing ‘PULL’ or ‘PUSH’ signs on doors before this pandemic came along – now, opening a door may indeed never be the same again.
It’s something that we take for granted – reaching out and touching the handle and entering or exiting. We probable do it a hundred times a day in the course of our normal work in an office without giving it a second thought. But there will be a new normal. And it means we have to think about everything. The coronavirus can last for up to 72 hours on hard surfaces such as metals and plastics. And that means they it will survive on door handles.
By now, no doubt, if you’re one of the great ungloved, you will have perfected the move I call the “silent sleevie”. This involves pulling your wrist and hand up your sleeve and finding the cuff of your sweater or shirt. You open the door with the cuff, quickly releasing as the door opens.
Of course, the “silent sleevie” only works if you have long sleeves. You’ll just look weird if you try it with short sleeves.
But COVID-19 is changing everything, and there’s a whole science and industry being built up now over opening doors.
DECONTAMINATION OF DOOR KNOBS
As some companies plan a return to the office, entrepreneurs, engineers and architects are confronting a design challenge: How to keep the public safe from shared items that require constant decontamination. Grabbing a doorknob is almost as unconscious as touching your face — and both are now considered health risks, NBC reports.
“I’m not seeing my family, but I’m touching things that a thousand other people have, too,” said Ziad Salah, 26, from Edmonton, Alberta. His wife, Maram, is pregnant with their first child and both have older parents. “It’s not enough to socially distance from being around people. You have to socially distance from things that are publicly shared, too.”
Tired of using his sleeve to open doors – see, another who has perfected my “silent sleevie” move – Salah and two friends, brothers Abed Shawar, 26 and Ammar Shawar, 28, designed a solution. Their product, the CleanKey, is a key-shaped pocket tool with a hook on the end that can open doors of up to 30 kilograms without the user’s hands ever touching the door handle. It can also be used to press elevator buttons, keypads or touch screens.
The CleanKey is among a proliferation of portable door-openers that have either entered the market or grown in popularity since the pandemic took hold. Salah said he and his team have worked to improve upon other designs: The CleanKey has a curved hook, for example, for a more stable grab, and at $7 (Dh25), is cheaper than some of its competitors. “We’re getting orders for five to six of them at a time; one for every member of a family, so we don’t want the total cost running to $100,” he said.
CHANGING THE DESIGN OF DOORS HANDLES
CleanKey co-creator Ziad Salah wanted a simple devise that people could carry on their keychain to open doors safely. Credit CleanKey Canada
Carrying door-opening tools might not be for everyone, so some 3D-printing evangelists have altered the design of the door itself.
It took engineers at Materialise, which runs Europe’s largest 3D-printing factory, just three days to design, manufacture, refine and publish online printing blueprints for a device that can be installed on an existing door handle and allows it to be opened with a forearm instead of a hand.
“We didn’t invent sliced bread with this thing. It’s a door handle,” Kristof Sehmke, a spokesperson for Materialise. The company is based in Leuven, Belgium.
“I think we were possibly the first to come up with a positive, functional, 3D-printed solution for a very practical problem that everybody has,” he said.
Materialise specialises in designing and making 3D-printed medical equipment, so the goal was never to mass produce doorknobs. Instead, by making the blueprints available free online, the company is encouraging a grassroots retrofitting of doors: Anyone with a 3D printer can download and make their own handles.
One-hundred-thousand blueprints have been downloaded so far, equivalent to at least one tenth of all 3D-printer owners worldwide.
MINIMISING SICKNESS LEVELS FOR EMPLOYEES
Even before the pandemic, architects and designers were increasingly interested in how the workplace affects employees’ physical and mental health.
“Fundamentally, we want to be creating buildings that minimise the amount of sickness people have when they’re in the office,” said Arjun Kaicker, head of workplace analytics and insights at Zaha Hadid Architects in London.
Kaicker designs some of the most sophisticated office spaces in the world, where everything from elevator doors to the air conditioning over an individual desk can be controlled by a cellphone app. He suggests voice-activated doors as a future alternative to germy doorknobs, with employees simply asking Alexa to close the door.
But in the short-term, Kaicker said offices may opt for simpler solutions.
“Meeting room doors are going to be propped open and only if you have a meeting requiring absolute privacy will a person close that door with a handkerchief,” he suggests. “And when people move into the offices straightaway, they might just take doors off meetings rooms and offices and put them into storage until things change.”
Yes, an interesting perspective from NBC. In the meantime, I’m working on my “elbow ease” – a move that’s almost as slick as the “silent sleevie”.
MEME OF THE DAY
This was also shared with me by a long-standing friend and former colleague, Sean, whose stories I miss from our days newspapering back in Ireland nearly 40 years ago. Maybe they’ll see the light of day in a book…
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
I’m going to stay put on my four stocks right now as the new trading week begins.
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: 18.6 per cent
£ Gain overall: £1,856.08
MEDICS THE WORLD OVER FACE INSULTS AND HATE OVER COVID-19
If you’re a regular readers of this space – thank you – but you will likely know I rail on here about numbskulls who are ignorant and use it as an excuse to abuse those working in the frontlines during this pandemic.
In England, yobs and goons have stolen the IDs from National Health Service staff so as they can get better slots for shopping, or to be able to travel freely under lockdown restrictions.
I’ve reported here about landlords who have kicked out ambulance drivers and other hospital workers from rented accommodation because they feared these vital frontline workers would somehow contaminate their properties.
And I’ve writer here too about in India, when the lockdown restrictions were suddenly introduced there, how doctors and other medical staff were being threatened by ignorant mobs.
These are people who should be embraced for their wonderful and caring work. Now comes a story from Cairo about Dr Dina Abdel Salam who watched in terror last month as scores of strangers gathered under the balcony of her aunt’s empty apartment in the Egyptian city of Ismailia. She’d temporarily sheltered there after leaving her elderly parents at home to protect them from exposure to the coronavirus.
HAD TO CALL POLICE FOR HELP
The crowd called out her name, hurling threats until she dialled the police for help. “You have moved here to make us sick,” someone shouted.
Abdel Salam’s ordeal as told to AP is just one of many in a wave of assaults on doctors, illustrating how public fear and rage can turn against the very people risking their lives to save patients in the pandemic.
While many cities across the world erupt at sundown with collective cheers to thank front-line workers treating COVID-19 patients, in Egypt, India, the Philippines, Mexico and elsewhere, some doctors and nurses have come under attack, intimidated and treated like pariahs because of their work.
The pandemic, especially in places with limited healthcare infrastructure, has already subjected doctors to hardships. But medical workers, seen as possible sources of contagion, face another staggering challenge in these countries: the stigma associated with the illness.
‘GUARANTEE WELL-BEING AND SAFETY’
“Now more than ever, we need to recognise the importance of investing in our health workforce and take concrete actions that guarantee their well-being and safety,” Ahmed Al Mandhari, the World Health Organisation’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said in a virtual news conference earlier this week.
But in many places, that’s a difficult task as mistrust, fear and misinformation can have devastating effects. Decades of poor education and scant government services in some places have created deep misgivings about the medical profession.
In central India, a group of five health workers, dressed in full protective suits, entered a neighbourhood to quarantine contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 patient when a mob descended, slinging stones and screaming insults.
“Some people felt that the doctors and nurses will come and take their blood,” said Laxmi Narayan Sharma, the health union president in Madhya Pradesh, in India.
STONE-THROWING MOB IN CHENNAI
In Chennai, another stone-throwing mob broke up a funeral for Simon Hercules, a neurologist who died from COVID-19, pelting the ambulance carrying his remains and forcing his family and friends to run for their lives.
In Afghanistan, conspiracy theories undermine the credibility of medical professionals. Nearly 19 years after the US-led coalition defeated the Taliban, many blame Western nations for the country’s deterioration. One commonly shared conspiracy theory is that the virus was allegedly manufactured by the US and China to reduce the world population, said Sayed Massi Noori, a doctor at one of two Kabul hospitals testing for coronavirus.
Last week, several physicians at the emergency unit of the Afghan Japan Hospital, where Noori works, were mobbed by 15 family members of a patient who died of the virus. The doctors had their noses bloodied.
“The relatives believe it is the doctors who killed their family members,” Noori said.
DEATH THREATS IN BURKINA FASO
The coronavirus hotline in Ouagadougou, the capital of war-torn Burkina Faso, fields calls about persistent coughs and headaches. But it has also gotten death threats.
“They call and say that after they’re finished killing the soldiers in the north, they’re going to come and kill everyone here,” said Red Cross volunteer Emmanual Drabo.
Health workers across the Philippines have been attacked and targeted more than 100 times since mid-March, resulting in 39 arrests, police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar told AP. In one attack, five men stopped a nurse heading to work in the Sultan Kudarat province in late March, throwing liquid bleach into his face and burning his eyes.
Tough-talking President Rodrigo Duterte, long censured for his violent approach to curbing crime, responded: “I told the police, maybe it’s illegal but I’ll answer for it. Pour it back on the attackers of doctors and nurses.”
SCRUBS INVITE DANGER IN MEXICO
In Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, doctors and nurses say just venturing out in scrubs invites danger. One city hospital instructed its workers to shed their uniforms when they clock out, and the government has assigned National Guard troops to public hospitals.
Similar fears have sparked arrests in Sudan. In Omdurman, across the Nile River from the capital, Khartoum, a riot erupted at a hospital when rumor spread it would take COVID-19 patients. Police arrested several people who tried to attack the building, said hospital director Babaker Youssef.
In Egypt, even hospital administrators have faced public anger.
Ahmed Abbas, the vice president of a government hospital in Egypt’s Nile Delta city of Zagazig, was wearing scrubs when he was jostled and cursed while waiting in line at an ATM. The head of Egypt’s Doctors’ Union, Ihab Al Taher, says such incidents are “limited” but still disheartening.
INCREASED PUBLIC HOSTILITY
On top of a global shortage of respirators, virus testing, and protective equipment, increased public hostility has deprived some medical professionals of basic needs — such as housing and transportation.
In New Delhi, doctors and first responders reported being evicted by their landlords. A nurse in Ethiopia said taxis refuse to pick up workers coming out of the nation’s main hospital dedicated to coronavirus patients.
As the wave of attacks spurs government efforts to better support medical personnel and dispel rumors, many doctors draw optimism from growing public awareness.
After police dispersed the mob beneath her balcony in Ismailia, some people came back to apologise, Abdel-Salam said. In India, two of the doctors pelted with stones in Madhya Pradesh were cheered when they returned with gifts of saplings a day later, after health officials had explained the purpose of their visit.
Yet painful memories linger.
After the aborted burial of Dr Hercules in southern India, one of his colleagues had to pick shards of glass off his shrouded body. Another colleague, Pradeep Kumar, gathered two hospital workers and returned under the cover of night to cover the dug-out grave with dirt.
“We had to literally use our hands,” Kumar said. “This man deserved something better than that.”
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection that serves as a reminder that covidiots would steal the milk out of your tea and come back from sugar.
UK POLICE ARREST 19 AT LONDON PROTEST AGAINST SOCIAL DISTANCING
London police arrested 19 covidiots on Saturday for deliberately breaking social distancing guidelines in protest against the rules, on the first weekend since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a slight loosening of England’s lockdown.
The Metropolitan Police said that a group in central London’s Hyde Park had been protesting about the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and had failed to comply with repeated requests to disperse.
“It was disappointing that a relatively small group in Hyde Park came together to protest the regulations in clear breach of the guidance, putting themselves and others at risk of infection,” Laurence Taylor, Deputy Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, said in a statement.
“Officers once again, took a measured approach and tried to engage the group to disperse. They clearly had no intention of doing so, and so it did result in 19 people being arrested, and a further ten being issued with a fixed penalty notice.”
Last Sunday, Johnson outlined plans to ease the lockdown, and people in England are now allowed to meet with another person from a different household in a park. However social distancing must be maintained under the rules, and gatherings of large groups are not allowed.
The protesters represented a minority of those the police encountered on Saturday, Taylor said.
“It was pleasing to see that people were largely compliant with the government guidance. Where they weren’t, and after we engaged with them, they quickly were,” he said.
HIDING BEHIND MASKS AND RECREATING WILD WEST CRIMES
Covidiots will go lower than a snake’s belly to commit crimes. And the scum are everywhere.
Here’s how the FBI tell one story. William Rosario Lopez put on a surgical mask and walked into a Connecticut convenience store looking to the world like a typical pandemic-era shopper as he picked up plastic wrap, fruit snacks and a few other items. Then, when the only other customer left, he went to the counter, pulled out a small pistol, pointed it at the clerk and demanded that he open the cash register.
The scene, the FBI contends in in a court document, was repeated by Lopez in four other petrol station stores over eight days before his April 9 arrest. It underscores a troubling new reality for law enforcement: Masks that have made criminals stand apart long before bandanna-wearing robbers knocked over stagecoaches in the Old West and ski-masked bandits held up banks now allow them to blend in like concerned accountants, nurses and store clerks trying to avoid COVID -19
“Criminals, they’re smart and this is a perfect opportunity for them to conceal themselves and blend right in,” said Richard Bell, police chief in the tiny Pennsylvania community of Frackville. He said he knows of seven recent armed robberies in the region where every suspect wore a mask.
MASKS ARE NOW THE NORM ACROSS THE US
Across the United States, masks have become more and more prevalent, first as a precaution and then as a requirement imposed by governmental agencies and businesses
And people with masks — as well as latex gloves — have found their way into more and more crime reports.
Just how many criminals are taking advantage of the pandemic to commit crimes is impossible to estimate, but law enforcement officials have no doubt the numbers are climbing. Reports are starting to pop up across the United States and in other parts of the world of crimes pulled off in no small part because so many of us are now wearing masks.
In March, two men walked into Aqueduct Racetrack in New York wearing the same kind of surgical masks as many racing fans there and, at gunpoint, robbed three workers of a quarter-million dollars they were moving from gaming machines to a safe. Other robberies involving suspects wearing surgical masks have occurred in North Carolina, Washington DC, and elsewhere in recent weeks.
The problem isn’t limited to robberies. In the troubled Cook County Jail in Chicago, the virus has led to at least nine deaths and sickened hundreds of inmates and correctional officers.
Staffers must wear masks and inmates are issued a new one every day — a policy that helped one inmate escape on May 2.
USED A MASK TO ESCAPE FROM JAIL
Jahquez Scott, jailed on a gun charge and for violating his bond in a drug case, has tattoos of a small heart on one cheek and what looks like a blood-dripping scar on the other. But when he wore a mask, he posed as Quintin Henderson — who doesn’t have tattoos on his face and was scheduled to be released, authorities said.
Scott made it out, though he was captured a week later.
In addition to rare jailbreaks, the prevalence of masks in society has created other problems for law enforcement. Before life in a pandemic, masked marauders had to free their faces immediately after leaving a bank or store to avoid suspicion once in the general public. But it came with the risk of being photographed and identified through omnipresent surveillance cameras and cellphones.
These days, they can keep the masks on and blend in easily with or without being “captured” in images.
“The video is much less useful if we are unable to see a face,” said Carlos Marquez, a detective division commander in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, in an email.
It’s leaving law enforcement without a crucial crime-solving tool.
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT WITH A MASK
“Guys are like, ‘OK, I have to wear a mask, the police are not going to stop me on the way to a crime and back from a crime wearing a mask,’” said Brendan Deenihan, chief of detectives for Chicago Police Department. “Now if you are going to commit a crime you can leave your house with a mask on and drive for an hour.”
With everyone basically incognito, would-be witnesses might not notice someone acting differently, and that would make it harder to get a good description or identification of the suspect, said Eric Nunez, chief of the Los Alamitos Police Department in Southern California and president of the California Police Chiefs Association.
It’s less likely now that other shoppers would “stare at them, just making mental notes of what they look like,” Nunez said. “If they look like everybody else walking in, they may not do that at all.”
It’s a real problem for clerks and tellers, such as Tiffany Becker, who manages a Valero convenience store in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, where a number of stores in the area have been robbed by mask-wearing gunmen recently.
“Before I would have called the police because having a mask wasn’t normal. Now it’s normal,” Becker said. “It’s scary because you can’t tell who is safe and who’s not.”
MORE GLOVES MEAN FEWER FINGERPRINTS
Even when investigators identify suspects, the protective gear makes putting cases together all that much more difficult. The same latex gloves more people are wearing to protect themselves from picking up the virus will mean fewer fingerprints at crime scenes.
“In the past if you did a search warrant and you found surgical masks, that would be highly indicative of something suspicious,” said FBI Special Agent Lisa MacNamara, who investigated the string of robberies in Connecticut that led to the arrest of Rosario Lopez. “Now everybody has masks or latex gloves.”
But the reverse can also be true.
MacNamara and her team’s investigation was made easier when his alleged accomplice went into the stores “acting as a lookout or ‘casing’ robbery locations.”
The accomplice hadn’t worn a mask.
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