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 25, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
COULD COVID-19 IMMUNITY COULD LAST JUST SIX MONTHS?
STUDY ADDS TO SCIENTIFIC DOUBT ABOUT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF ANTIBODY TESTS, HERD IMMUNITY AND ‘IMMUNITY PASSPORTS’.
Entering my ninth week of lockdown restrictions, I have worked on little else that this coronavirus and how the pandemic is affecting us all.
Every day it seems as if we are learning something new about COVID-19 and how it seems to spread and mutate. Now comes work from a study in the Netherlands which might indeed suggest that this coronavirus might be with us for far longer than we would like – and that would have very serious consequences indeed.
Dutch research strongly suggests that a person could be re-infected with coronavirus in six months – a blow to the push for so-called “immunity passports” as evidence of recovery from the illness.
The research was released after many European governments have said they will supply millions of antibody tests to show if someone has had COVID-19 and potentially developed immunity to the virus.
In the United Kingdom alone, the government has said it will soon provide 10 million antibody tests.
LONG-TERM TESTING AT UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM
Over 35 years, University of Amsterdam scientists regularly tested 10 men for four types of coronaviruses which cause the common cold.
Most participants – aged between 27 and 66 – caught the viruses again within three years, with the study concluding “coronavirus protective immunity is short-lasting”.
“We saw frequent reinfection after 12 months post infection and substantial reduction in antibody levels as soon as six months post-infection,” the study stated.
Between 1985 and 2020, the subjects were tested at either three-month or six-month intervals. Researchers found that high antibody levels “were never sustained at the next visit”. While acknowledging limitations to the study, its conclusion casts doubt on the reliability of “immunity passports”.
The proposed passports would be issued to people who have already overcome a COVID-19 infection and test positive for antibodies - based on the assumption they are therefore immune.
IMMUNITY PASSPORTS WOULD ALLOW FOR EASING OF SOME COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
“It was recently suggested that recovered individuals should receive a so-called ‘immunity passport’ which would allow them to relax social distancing measures and provide governments with data on herd immunity levels in the population,” the study notes. “However, as protective immunity may be lost by six months post-infection, the prospect of reaching functional herd immunity by natural infection seems very unlikely.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned governments not to use immunity passports for easing lockdown simply because they have antibodies for COVID-19. Health experts are still unsure what level of immunity recovering from the disease provides and how long it lasts.
John Edmunds, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, recently warned studies of other coronaviruses suggest “potentially bad news” for hopes humans could develop long-term immunity.
From my perspective, the long-term implications of this study would suggest that it is going to be a very long time indeed before this coronavirus goes away – and the need for a vaccine is more pressing than ever.
ONE-HOUR COVID-19 TEST BEING TRIALLED AT HOSPITALS AROUND LONDON
So, if antibodies might only last for six months, then here, however, is one bit of good news. A COVID-19 test that gives results in just over an hour and which requires no laboratory, potentially allowing for swifter testing of much larger numbers of people, is being rolled out at a number of London hospitals after getting regulatory clearance.
As Britain tries to ramp up testing to help revive the stalled economy, it is still mainly using laboratory tests that take around 48 hours to produce a result and either require people to travel often long distances to regional testing centers or receive by post at home.
Faster testing could allow more people to go back to work or permit testing on a more regular basis and could help Prime Minister Boris Johnson achieve his target of 200,000 tests a day, an important element in successfully ending the lockdown.
The new test, based on the design of a DNA test developed by a professor at Imperial College London, received approval for clinical use by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) at the end of April after successful trials.
HIGH SENSITIVITY TESTS BEFORE WIDER RELEASE
With a sensitivity of over 98 per cent and specificity of 100 per cent, the DnaNudge test is being rolled out in cancer wards, accident and emergency, and maternity departments, as a prelude to possible wider application.
The health ministry said it was a pilot scheme and that other lab-based tests were also being run in order to look at the benefits and capabilities of each test. Britain’s National Health Service is also using other point-of-care machines to test for the virus.
Britain made an initial order of 10,000 DnaNudge cartridges in March and has procured another 70,000 since. The price of the disposable cartridge tests is around £40 pounds (DH179).
“It is a lab in a cartridge effectively,” said Chris Toumazou, a professor of engineering at Imperial College who developed the test. “The key is that with this test you go straight from a saliva swap or a nasal swab into the cartridge with no transport and no laboratory.”
“You can even look at such small fragments of the RNA (Ribonucleic acid) that you can check whether a patient is coming out of it or going into COVID,” Toumazou said.
DOCTOR LOOKS FOR MISSING DOG AFTER EVERY HOSPITAL SHIFT
The internet, they say, loves dog stories. This one caught my attention and, as a dog lover, it pulls at my heartstrings for a couple of reasons.
In the UK, a consultant doctor with the National Health Service goes straight from 12-hour shifts in his Accident and Emergency ward to look for his beloved cockapoo after he disappeared a month ago.
Dr Zeki Atesli and his wife Siobhan Dodd have been left devastated after their five-year-old dog Bertie disappeared from a friend’s house in Telscombe, East Sussex, on April 22.
The cross-breed was having his fur clipped when a postman knocked at the door and he ran out unexpectedly, they said.
Now the Eastbourne General Hospital doctor is driving 40 kilometres after work every night to the village where he was last seen.
“We are heartbroken,” Dodd told Sky News. “It’s like a member of our family has gone missing. It’s every dog owner’s worst nightmare. My husband comes off really long, draining 12-hour shifts and goes straight up there. He's been going before work, after work, on his days off. He’s had no time to relax.”
ROW ABOUT BORIS JOHNSON’S TOP ADVISOR BREAKING LOCKDOWN RULES ISN’T GOING AWAY
At a time when the UK has the second highest COVID-19 death rate globally and it is struggling to re-open, there’s a vicious row going on that is distracting a lot of people from the focus they need to emerge from this
Prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief aide Dominic Cummings is facing fresh allegations that he breached lockdown rules.
He and the government had said he acted “reasonably and legally” by driving from London to County Durham while his wife had coronavirus symptoms.
But The Observer and Sunday Mirror are now reporting he was seen in the North East on two more occasions, after recovering from his own COVID-19 symptoms and returning to work in London.
No 10 said the story is “inaccurate”.
Downing Street has also denied that police spoke with family members of Cummings “about this matter”. But Durham Police insist their officers spoke to Cummings’ father, who confirmed that his son had travelled with his family from London.
URGENT INQUIRY IN FLOUTING OF LOCKDOWN RULES
Labour has called for an urgent inquiry into the allegations. Shadow policing minister Sarah Jones told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that people “are feeling rightly angry”.
“I think people are rightly feeling is it one rule for us and one rule for people at the top,” she said.
Government ministers have rallied around Cummings, and have defended his conduct.
They said Cummings and his wife were right to self-isolate at a property adjacent to other family members in case they needed help with childcare.
But backbench Tory MP and former chairman of the European Research Group Steve Baker has called for Cummings to resign, saying he “must go before he does any more harm to the UK, the government, the prime minister, our institutions or the Conservative Party”.
Speaking to reporters outside his home in London on Saturday morning, Cummings said he would not be resigning and had done the “right thing” by travelling more than 400 kilometres with his wife and young son to be near relatives when she developed COVID-19 symptoms at the end of March.
Later that day the two newspapers revealed that witnesses have reported seeing Cummings in Barnard Castle – more than 40 kilometres from Durham – on April 12.
On April 14, he was seen in London. According to a witness, he was spotted again in Houghall Woods near Durham on April 19.
Cummings is yet to publicly respond to the new claims, but the Sunday Telegraph reports he told Downing Street he left Durham on April 13 , and that the claim he made a second trip from London was “totally false”.
DOWNING STREET STANDS BY DIVISIVE ADVISER
In response to the fresh claims, Downing Street said: “Yesterday the Mirror and Guardian wrote inaccurate stories about Cummings. Today they are writing more inaccurate stories including claims that Cummings returned to Durham after returning to work in Downing Street on 14 April. We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Cummings from campaigning newspapers.”
Opposition parties renewed their calls for the prime minister’s adviser to go.
Ian Blackford from the Scottish Nationalist Party said Cummings “has to leave office”, while acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey told BBC Radio 5 Live: “If Dominic Cummings has not been sacked by tomorrow, I think the prime minister’s judgement is in serious doubt.”
Government advice had been for people to stay at home during the first weeks of lockdown. Self-isolation at home continues to be advised for those with coronavirus symptoms.
‘CARING FOR YOUR WIFE AND CHILD IS NOT A CRIME’
However, ministers offered their support to Cummings earlier in the day, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeting that it was “entirely right” for the senior aide to find childcare.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove tweeted: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries also said all health guidance should be applied with “common sense”.
But following the fresh reports concerning the alleged second visit to County Durham, a Labour source said: “If these latest revelations are true, why on earth were Cabinet ministers sent out this afternoon to defend Dominic Cummings?”
In my opinion, this whole affair smacks of there being one rule for all and other for those who make the rules. Too many people have missed too many funerals and lost too many relatives for the lockdown to be undermined by such reckless behaviour.
REOPENING ECONOMY DOES NOT CAUSE CORONAVIRUS SPIKE, RESEARCHERS SAY
For Governments wary about reopening the economy and the prospect of a new spike in infections, there was good news this past week from the United States.
Investment bank JP Morgan has consistently predicted market reactions, as well as accurately predicting the timelines of economic reopenings since the crisis began. On Thursday its researchers Marko Kolonovic and Bram Kaplan issued a new data-rich note to the bank’s clients.
Their research shows that almost all US states that have reopened so far have not witnessed any fresh resurgence in coronavirus.
Kolanovic and Kaplan collated the virus R0 rates – the rate at which infections are passed between people – in each US state. They compared the rates in each case on the day lockdown ended with the most recent R0 measurement: “Virtually everywhere, infection rates have declined after reopening.”
While acknowledging that lockdowns were justified on the basis that politicians had little reliable data at the time, and decisions had to be taken on the hoof, the researchers appear to have become lockdown sceptics after crunching the numbers.
SOCIAL DISTANCING AND HAND-WASHING IS WORKING
Kolanovic and Kaplan say the evidence suggests measures such as social distancing and hand-washing must have done most of the heavy lifting in the fight against infection, rather than the full economic lockdowns.
“The fact that reopening did not change the course of the pandemic is consistent with mentioned studies showing that initiation of full lockdowns did not alter the course of the pandemic,” they said.
“Unlike rigorous testing of potential new drugs, lockdowns were administered with little consideration that they might not only cause economic devastation but potentially more deaths than COVID-19 itself.”
Most governments had to made a huge call in March as the coronavirus came over the hill and threatened the public health of literally billions. Some two-thirds of the world’s population were in lockdown and there was no other realistic option left.
But if the data now shows that ending lockdowns has no real negative impact on infection rates, it certainly will put pressure on governments to get their economies out of hibernation now.
THIS IS NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL: YOU MAY START SEEING A COVID-19 SURCHARGE ON YOUR RECEIPTS
Getting economies out of hibernation does, however, require careful planning, and governments are going to great lengths to try and get their economics up and running again. But things will take a long time to get back to the way they were – and the Dutch study above I just referenced certainly provides food for thought in that regard.
The I came across another piece from Toronto that said as small businesses begin the arduous task of reopening amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some have opted to tack on a COVID-19 surcharge to their receipts in an effort to recoup funds spent on new sanitation and physical distancing measures.
The so-called “COVID fee” is designed to help cover the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees, increased sanitation measures, or income lost from reducing the number of customers a business is allowed to serve based on physical distancing measures.
Hair salons and restaurants are among the first to embrace the surcharge in provinces where they have been allowed to reopen, such as British Columbia, but experts warn it’s a delicate balance to strike at a time when consumers are wary about spending.
“In a situation where many people are scared to go back to the hairdresser, or scared to go out to eat, charging an extra dollar or some type of surcharge just adds to that. It’s extra incentive to stay home,” Darren Dahl, professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, told CTV News. “This is not a ‘business as usual’ situation for consumers either. A lot of consumers will have to be lured back to some of these services.”
EXTRA HEALTH SAFETY MEASURES MEAN EXTRA COSTS
Experts agree that consumers will need to see proof that there has been an added cost to a business’ operation because of the pandemic—be it Plexiglas shields, employees wearing PPE, or new operating measures.
But even with these obvious changes, news of the COVID-19 fee has consumers divided.
Photographic evidence of a restaurant charging a “COVID fee” in the US ignited fury from some Twitter users who suggested ordering from local restaurants is support enough. But hundreds of others reacting to the same photo said the $2 (Dh7.34) fee was a small price to pay to support small businesses.
The decision to tack on the added surcharge has divided business owners too, as they navigate lost income and the added financial challenges of operating during a global pandemic.
“You can’t recuperate what you’ve lost,” said Mandy McFadden, owner of Salon Decorum in a town just north of Toronto.
“There’s no charge you can give at this point to make up for lost time. But you can’t go back to doing business without raising prices.”
SUPPLIES HAVE SKYROCKETED IN PRICE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
McFadden says the cost of business has increased significantly for hair salons whose supplies have skyrocketed in price. A box of gloves used for colour services used to cost the salon $8.95 plus tax per unit. McFadden’s distributors are now charging up to $20 per box.
She also expects the salon’s utilities to increase to accommodate for increased sanitation rules. Plus, in order to comply with physical distancing standards, her team will only be able to see half of the clients they normally would in a day.
“My costs have automatically gone up anywhere between $5 and $10 per client just to operate,” she explained. “But I’ll only be allowed to service 50 per cent of the people that I used to once we open.”
McFadden said she and other salon owners she has spoken with will undoubtedly be forced to increase their prices in order to acclimatise to the new cost of business. But she is against the idea of instituting a COVID-19 surcharge, saying that the constant reminder of COVID-19 stamped on a receipt is no way to move forward.
WHY IS THERE A COVID-19 SURCHARGE ON MY RECEIPT?
Transparency and credibility will also be a big issue for businesses who choose to adopt these surcharges.
As Dahl notes, surcharges are typically a temporary measure introduced to cover a sudden rise in cost, like those implemented by the airline industry, which became notorious for adopting a fuel surcharge when oil prices skyrocketed.
“Are businesses going to remove the COVID surcharge when they have paid off the investment that they need to make, or when we move into phase three? That’s an open question,” he said, noting that surcharges are often rolled into a company’s prices when they choose to do away with them.
David Soberman, professor of marketing at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, says there is a big issue of credibility for businesses who take this approach.
Soberman says any business that tacks on a surcharge must disclose the added fees upfront and clearly communicate those changes to customers.
“Transparency is not an option for a business — it’s an obligation,” he told CTV News.
“Companies need to make it clear what consumers will be expected to pay before they engage the business. And if they don’t, I would go as far as to say they have every right to refuse to pay.”
MEME OF THE DAY
This was shared with me on Facebook by a chap who’s from Beirut and lives and works back in Dubai as an engineer. Thanks Michel – and Eid Mubarak.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
There’s no trading again on the London Stock Exchange until Tuesday morning. It’s the Whit bank holiday weekend in the UK. I’ll review my portfolio on Monday afternoon, with my Drax shares going for sure.
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 things stand:
Net worth: £12,140.38
Diageo, 100 shares: £2834.00
Ocado, 100 shares: £2083.00
Drax, 2,600 shares: £5110.40
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £1,998.00
Cash in hand: £14.98
£ loss on last trading day: £91.40
% Gain overall: 21.4 per cent
£ Gain overall: £2,140.38
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection that serves as a reminder covidiots would steal fresh air if they got half a chance.
COVIDIOT ALLEGEDLY FAKED COVID-19 DIAGNOSIS, FORCING BUSINESS TO SHUT
A Georgia man who allegedly faked a COVID-19 diagnosis to his employer, leading the business to temporarily shut down, is facing federal charges in the US.
Santwon Antonio Davis, 34, of Morrow, about 25 kilometres south of Atlanta, is charged with defrauding his employer after he allegedly faked a medical excuse letter. He has since admitted to authorities that he did not have the virus, according to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office in Atlanta.
Davis, who was employed by an unidentified Fortune 500 company, told his supervisors in March that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and emailed a letter stating that he had been admitted to the hospital and needed to quarantine for 14 days, an affidavit states.
Days prior, the company had told employees that if they have the virus they would receive paid time off while they quarantined.
UNSIGNED LETTER APPEARED TO BE A FAKE
The company’s human resources manager reviewed the excuse letter submitted by Davis and observed some indications of fraud – enough to raise suspicions – the affidavit said.
“For example, the letter stated that Davis was discharged on November 10, 2019, months before the purported admission date. The letter was unsigned. The letter did not appear to be on formal letterhead,” the US Attorney’s statement said.
The company called the hospital where Davis said he was treated and was told that he was not a patient there in March.
Davis; employer also asked for a copy of his positive test result, but he refused to give it to them, according to the document.
Out of an abundance of caution, the company shut down for cleaning, and at least four workers had to be placed in quarantine.
THIEF STEALS DOCTORS' PARCELS AS THEY TEND TO PATIENTS DURING LOCKDOWN
British Police have launched an investigation after two doctors had parcels stolen from their doorstep while they tended to patients during lockdown.
Dr Ben Noble was working as a duty doctor at the Woodbrook Medical Centre in Loughborough when a thief stole four packages from his doorstep in Attenborough, East Midlands, police said.
His wife Hannah, who is also a doctor, was working from home at the time, but did not realise what was happening because she was on the phone to a patient who was mentally unwell, Nottinghamshire Police said.
The force has released a CCTV image of a man they would like to speak to in connection with the incident, which happened at around 4.40pm on 4 May.
One of the stolen parcels, which contained a number of drink bottles, was found nearby.
Father-of-two Dr Noble said: “It’s incredulous that someone would steal parcels from your doorstep and what’s even more galling is that it happened in broad daylight. It’s just so bad that someone could do such a thing during these difficult times.”
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, Sky News, 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