Mick day 10
Image Credit: Screengrab

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 58: Tuesday May 26, 9am

Tuesday May 26, 9am




I long for the time when I can put my car on a ferry here in Ireland, arrive in Cherbourg in northern France 18 hours later and drive.

Before this pandemic hit, it was possible to drive through the 25 EU states together on the “mainland” on continental Europe without having to stop at border checks. If you wanted to walk in the Alps, it was a 12-hour drive from the ferry ports of Normandy.

You be in Rome in 18 hours, Amsterdam in under five.

I have a home in Lanzarote on the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco and I spend part of my year there, the rest in either the UK or Ireland.

Getting off the ferry in Cherbourg to the Spanish border in Basque Country is a 12-hour drive. Break that into four days and you get a real sense of the regions of western France.

From Basque Country to Cadiz is another 12 hours. Take your time and you travel the wondrous empty middle of the Iberian Peninsula. Then it’s a 30-hour ferry to Lanzarote.

That freedom of movement is gone.


The new reality is that “travel bubbles” or “air bridges”? will become part of daily life for the next while.

With little clarity on when the pandemic might end, many Europeans have already given up on the idea of a summer getaway.

But some countries, desperate to salvage this year’s travel season — and eager to jump-start their economies — are slowly reopening their borders and offering a glimpse of what travel might look like now.

The pandemic, which has killed more than 300,000 people around the world, dealt a hammer blow to the airline and tourism sectors as country after country went into lockdown, closing borders and grounding flights.

But with lockdowns across Europe gradually being lifted, some countries are toying with the idea of establishing special “travel corridors” or “travel bubbles.” The idea is to allow people from countries with low levels of infection to travel freely, with no requirement to endure a 14-day quarantine at their destination.

The European nations of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have already created what they are calling a “Baltic travel bubble,” allowing one another’s citizens to travel among the three states without having to self-isolate on arrival.


All three Baltic nations managed to contain their viral outbreaks with only dozens of deaths. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius says the “bubble” is important for the country’s tourism sector, which makes up five per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), and is the first of its kind in the European Union. For nationals of other countries, quarantine restrictions will still apply.

A similar idea was floated by United Kingdom’s Transportation Minister Grant Shapps, raising the hopes of Britons eager for sun-splashed European getaways after weeks of lockdown restrictions.

Shapps said he was considering what he called “air bridges.” These, he said, would enable people from countries with lower levels of infection to come to the UK.

Greece, a major beach destination for Europeans said last week that citizens of Balkan and Baltic countries, Germany and regional neighbours such as Cyprus are expected to be in the first wave to be allowed to enter the country without going into quarantine – but could be subject to random testing.

Some countries might be excluded depending on the situation with their coronavirus outbreaks, Greek officials said.


Greece has restarted regular ferry services to its islands, and cafés and restaurants are also back open for business as the country accelerates efforts to salvage its summer tourism season.

Travel to the islands had been generally off-limits since a lockdown was imposed in late March to halt the spread of coronavirus, with only goods suppliers and permanent residents allowed access.

But the country’s low infection rate in the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the government to start the holiday season three weeks earlier than the expected June 15 date, as other Mediterranean countries — including Italy, Spain and Turkey — grapple with deadlier outbreaks.

Social distancing regulations and passenger limits have been imposed on ferries and at restaurants to ward off new infections.

State-run health services to combat coronavirus are being expanded to the islands, with intensive care units being placed on five islands – Lesbos, Samos, Rhodes, Zakynthos and Corfu – along with existing facilities on the island of Crete.


However, the European Commission has also warned against discriminatory agreements as borders reopen. It said countries should allow travel from all regions of the EU with similar epidemiological conditions.

The idea of “tourist corridors” within Europe also does not sit well with Italy — whose historic sites and Mediterranean coast normally make it a popular summer destination. It suffered one of the worst outbreaks in Europe, one that killed more than 32,000 people.

“It’s against the spirit of the European Union,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said. Once the pandemic is under control, he believes all member states should open their borders — and all should follow the same rules.

Italy said last week it would be ready to welcome European tourists as of June 3.

Tourism makes up 10 per cent of the European Union’s total economy, according to the European Commission. For some countries, it is one of the central pillars of the economy.

For example, nearly 20 per cent of Croatia’s GDP comes from spending by foreign tourists — by far the largest share in the EU, according to the commission.


Croatia, which is desperate for international visitors to start flocking to its famed Adriatic beaches, managed to contain the outbreak with just under a hundred deaths.

“If there was no coronavirus, we’d be open as usual at the end of April,” says Drazen Bonkovic. who runs a restaurant on the picturesque island of Hvar. “If we don’t have foreign guests, this season will be a disaster.”

Last week, the country entered into a quarantine-free travel bubble with neighbouring Slovenia, which had a similarly low number of coronavirus deaths.

Experts agree that travel bubbles and corridors are a possible solution to saving this year’s tourism season, but say that there are issues to consider, such as maintaining the consistency of restrictions and regulations within a bubble.

“Will anyone from another country who needs medical care be covered while in the bubble?” said Richard Butler, emeritus tourism professor at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. “Are restrictions on things like group size or activities, the same throughout, and will visitors be treated the same as the host population?”


Transparency and certainty will be critical, ensuring that travellers are fully informed before they make any arrangements, Butler said.

With uncertainty still swirling around whether the virus might rebound when borders open, some countries are focusing instead on domestic tourism.

The French government has launched a #ThisSummerIAmVisitingFrance hashtag.

“We are working with the regions to promote destination France,” Tourism Minister Jean Baptiste LeMoyne said last week.

Italy, too, is working to encourage domestic travel, announcing a €500 (Dh2,000) holiday subsidy to be spent on summer holidays in the country.

“Overall, if rates of infection keep dropping, the second half of the summer is savable, particularly for the bubbles and corridors, and domestically, but even one or two flare-ups and lockdowns will pretty quickly kill off tourist travel even if governments do not do so,” Butler said.

Me? I just can’t wait to be able to get back to Spain and visit my friends. Driving would be a nice option. But everything has changed as never before.



There is palpable anger across the UK now as the scandal over Dominic Cummings simply refuses to go away.

I spoke with several family members on England on Sunday and they were furious. “It’s one rule for us and other from him. Who does he think he us,” said Pete, who works as a police officer in the north of England. “Boris just made my job impossible. I can’t enforce laws when the PM doesn’t take them seriously.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced mutiny in his party and fury across Britain on Monday for refusing to sack his closest aide who is accused of flouting the coronavirus lockdown by driving 420 kilometres from London.

Defending one of Britain’s most powerful men, Johnson said at the weekend Cummings acted “responsibly and legally and with integrity” by heading from London to northern England with his son and his wife, who was ill with COVID-19 symptoms.

Many believe that was hypocritical given the government’s mantra at the time to avoid such movements.

“What planet are they on?” asked the Daily Mail on Monday morning. The Mail is an influential right-wing paper usually supportive of Johnson and his adviser, who helped the prime minister to power and to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Some 20 ruling Conservative Party lawmakers, 14 Church of England bishops and some scientists also expressed anger.

“Johnson has now gone the full Trump,” said Pete Broadbent, bishop of Willesden, comparing Britain’s leader to his ever-controversial US ally President Donald Trump.

With a death toll around 43,000, Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe and the government was already under pressure over its handling of the pandemic.


Conservative lawmakers reported being contacted by outraged constituents who had made sacrifices during the lockdown, including staying away from dying relatives.

“I got swamped with even more emails from people who don’t have a political axe to grind and who say... ‘it looks as though it’s one rule for them and one for us, why should we now abide by government guidance?’,” said lawmaker Tim Loughton.

Behavioural scientist Stephen Reicher, a member of a panel which advises the government, said the furore would wreck public confidence. “In a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control COVID-19.”

Johnson’s Downing Street office said Cummings made the journey to his parents’ property in County Durham to ensure his four-year-old son could be properly cared for by relatives if he fell ill along with his wife. At the time, the government’s instruction to anyone showing symptoms was not to leave the house for 14 days.


The architect of the successful Brexit campaign in 2016, Cummings, 48, is a polarising figure, accused by many who wanted to stay in the EU of using inflammatory tactics and playing fast and loose with the facts.

Ominously for him and for Johnson, many of the lawmakers and newspaper columnists calling for him to be sacked were Brexit supporters, not his usual critics.

Coming home late on Sunday, Cummings was harangued by neighbours, including a woman who broke down in tears as she leaned out of her window and described the hardship she and her family had endured during the lockdown.

In contrast to Cummings, Scotland’s chief medical officer and a senior epidemiologist who advised the government both resigned after admitting they had broken lockdown rules.


Despite backing by Boris Johnson, key details about aide’s breaching of lockdown remain murky and his reasons and explanations, in my opinion, seemed lame and stretching credulity.

He remains in his position as Johnson’s de facto chief of staff after the British prime minister gave him his backing on Sunday evening and again when Johnson gave the daily COVID-19 update on Monday evening in London.

Johnson said on Monday evening that he regrets the confusion, anger and pain people feel over Cummings’ trip to Durham, but he isn’t backing down on support for his chief aide.

When asked at the daily Downing Street press conference if he was prepared to revisit his decision to support Cummings, Johnson said that he could not give anyone “unconditional backing”.

However, he added that he does “not believe anybody in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our messaging.”

Cummings said he drove the 420 kilometres from London to Durham in late March due to fears over a lack of childcare in London and concerns about his family’s safety.

At an unprecedented press conference in Downing Street’s rose garden, Cummings said he does not regret this decision and added that stories suggesting he had opposed lockdown and “did not care about many deaths” were false.

Johnson said Monday evening: “I do regret the confusion and the anger and the pain that people feel.”

“This is a country that has been going through the most tremendous difficulties and suffering in the course of the last 10 weeks and that’s why I really did want people to understand exactly what had happened.”


The prime minister said he had been told about Cummings’ decision to drive to Durham to isolate while he was himself ill and “had a lot on my plate”.

“I didn’t know about any of the arrangements in advance,” Boris Johnson told the Downing Street press conference.

“What I think did happen was while I was ill and about to get a lot sicker we had a brief conversation in which I think Dominic Cuimmings mentioned where he was.

“But I have to tell you, at that particular stage I had a lot on my plate and really didn’t focus on the matter until these stories started to emerge in the last few days.”

Johnson said it “would be wrong” of him to comment on the incident any further.

“I think, as he said himself, reasonable people may disagree about some of the decisions that he took, but I don’t think reasonable people can disagree about what was going through his head at the time and the motivations for those decisions.”

Meanwhile, Johnson announced that all shops across England will be able to open next month if they can meet the coronavirus guidelines to protect shoppers and workers.


In an unprecedented move for a senior political adviser, Cummings addressed criticism of his actions from the rose garden of No 10 Downing Street on Monday afternoon. In a lengthy statement, Johnson’s chief aide confirmed he had driven to Durham while his wife was unwell and that he had also taken a trip 50 kilometres away from his parents’ house to Barnard Castle while non-essential travel was banned.

“The rules make clear that when dealing with small children that can be exceptional circumstances and I think that was exceptional circumstances,” Cummings said.

Asked why he was not resigning, he said: “There is understandable anger but a lot of that anger is based on reports in the media that have not been true. It’s extremely regrettable that the media were told some of these things were wrong and reported them anyway.”

He later added: “I have not offered to resign … I have not considered it.”


The senior adviser also revealed that his son had needed to go to hospital in Durham while they were staying at a separate property on his parents’ farm. The child was taken to hospital by ambulance, along with his wife, and stayed overnight, before Cummings left isolation the next day to pick up his wife and child from the hospital. His son later tested negative for coronavirus.

Cummings said he had no physical contact with his parents but they had “shouted conversations at a distance” and that he made the trip to Barnard Castle because he was trying to work out if he was fit enough and his eyesight was good enough to drive back to London that week.

But he admitted getting out of the car in Barnard Castle and sitting by a river for 15 minutes at a time when the guidelines said non-essential travel was banned and people should only be leaving the house for exercise, essential shopping and picking up medication.

For me, the sad thing remains that this political farce and sideshow has unneedlessly caused division and anger at a time when the national focus in the UK should be getting the country reopen again. Now it seems as if the government is telling people to do as we say, not as we do. And that’s hypocritical.


There is nothing I enjoy more than watching a really good nature programme. Drone photography has brought a whole new dimension to filming, so too very high definition video cameras that catch even the most minute detail. And no one does it better than Sir David Attenborough.

His latest series, Seven Continents One Planet is airing on Irish broadcaster every Sunday evening, and he has remarkable other work out there on Netflix.

At 94, he has remarkable enthusiasm for our natural world and uses his skills to drive home that we are in grave danger of harming this blue planet we all share irrevocably.

Now, Sir David says the coronavirus pandemic has “swept” climate change from the front pages – but warned the clock is still ticking to tackle the crisis.

The broadcaster and naturalist told the first episode of the So Hot Right Now podcast: “The trouble is that right now the climate issue is also seen as being rather in the distant future because we’ve got the virus to think about.

“And so what are the papers full of? The virus. Quite right, that’s what I want to know about, too. But we have to make sure that this issue, which was coming to the boil with the next COP meeting in Glasgow, has suddenly been swept off the front pages. And we’ve got to get it back there.”


The COP26 international climate talks were due to take place in Glasgow this November but have been postponed due to the pandemic.

Asked whether he saw a solution to the lack of focus on climate change awareness, Sir David said: “No, if I knew that I would be a dictator but I'm not. I don’t know – we, you and me and lots of others like us have got to keep on going on about it but the clock is ticking. The danger of the Arctic and the Antarctic warming is becoming greater day by day.”

Sir David said he hopes the pandemic makes nations realise they have to work together, but suggested it would be a first.

“What the result of coronavirus is going to be I don’t know,” he told journalist Lucy Siegle and film-maker Tom Mustill, who host the podcast. “But I’m beginning to get a feeling that for the first time the nations of the world are beginning to see that survival depends on co-operation. If that happens, that’s going to be a first in human history.”


Sir David, a great supporter of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, said she was “remarkable” for energising young people and for following the science.

“I think she’s very remarkable,” he said. “And what is more she is, with all that power, she is nonetheless extremely modest. She is extremely well informed. But she’s also very modest. And she keeps saying: Look, the only guide has to be the science, we must follow what the science says.”

The naturalist said Thunberg’s critics were not “particularly well informed” which is why they act “outraged”.

“Yes, well that’s the way it is. That’s the way life is, that’s the way society is,” he said. “And in fact if you aren’t particularly well informed about the natural world, and the minute you find that you can’t get to your work to do what you want to do, or what you need to do to earn a living, because somebody has stopped you because they are talking about an issue you don’t know about, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there will be some people as a consequence of that who will act in an outraged way.”

The So Hot Right Now podcast will be available on all podcast platforms from Tuesday. Singer Ellie Goulding, UN climate negotiator Christiana Figueres and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson will also feature in the series


Maybe we should take a leaf out of Haiti’s voodoo leaders.

There’s a wire agency story that says leaders have trained priests of the Afro Caribbean religion to concoct a secret remedy for the novel coronavirus and to prepare the sacred initiation chambers of their temples to receive patients.

In Haiti, where Western healthcare services are scarce and too expensive for many, inhabitants often rely on the herbal remedies and ritual practices of their voodoo “houngan” priest or “mambo” priestess.

Draped in necklaces of colourful beads, Haitian Voodoo “Ati” or supreme leader Carl Henri Desmornes said in an interview at his “gingerbread house” in Port-au-Prince he knew there would be a deluge of patients at their temples.

While the virus took root slowly in the poorest country in the Americas, in the last two weeks the number of confirmed cases has nearly quintupled to 865 while reports of a mysterious “fever” are spreading.

“Voodoo — the Houngans and Mambos in — have the responsibility to look after the wellbeing of the population,” said Desmornes, 60, who was a music promoter before becoming the Ati. “They have received the powers and the knowledge to put in practice.”


More than half of Haiti’s 11 million people are believed to practice voodoo, a religion brought from West Africa centuries ago by enslaved men and women and practiced clandestinely under French colonial rule.

Ever since the first cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed in Haiti in mid-March, Voodoo priests have been serving up teas with ingredients including moringa, eucalyptus, ginger and honey to strengthen the immune system.

“We live in a country where the health system is not able to respond to the challenge of the pandemic, so we rely on natural remedies instead,” said Mambo Lamercie Charles as she ladled out potion. “I consider my temple a clinic”.

Voodoo deputy leader Euvonie Georges Auguste said the community, inspired by the “Loas” (spirits), has also come up with a potion for COVID-19 symptoms that they had taught priests virtually to prepare and administer.

The community had identified 1,000 voodoo temples that had a “Djèvo” – a sacred chamber used for initiation rituals – that was separate to the worship chambers and could be used to isolate up to 15 patients each, she said.


Auguste said it was a shame President Jovenel Moise had highlighted Madagascar’s self-proclaimed, plant-based “cure” for COVID-19 rather than Haitian voodoo treatments.

“This attitude shows he is a victim of the system that still bears the scars of slavery,” she said.

Voodoo is closely identified with Haiti’s struggle for independence but has worked hard for legitimacy. It only won recognition as an official religion in 2003 under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Haiti’s voodoo practitioners in the past have criticised Moise for appealing publicly to Christianity’s god rather than to Voodoo’s spirits.

Sometimes misrepresented in Hollywood and pulp fiction as a black magic cult, it suffers from stigma. Some evangelical preachers blamed the 2010 earthquake on voodoo while mobs lynched at least 45 houngans and mambos they blamed for bringing about the subsequent cholera outbreak with their spells.

Voodoo priests have appeared on television and radio shows to make clear they are not responsible for coronavirus and are ready to fight it.

Still, Desmornes said maybe the pandemic carried a message for the world - one difference between voodoo and Western medicine is that it seeks meaning in illness. Perhaps it was a warning sign, Desmornes said, that humans were like a virus to other beings on earth.

“My hope is that after corona ... instead of transforming all we touch, transforming nature, we look instead to live in harmony with it,” he said.


This was shared with me on Facebook by my former colleague, Doug. I used to work with him back in Toronto and he is a big fan of the New Yorker magazine. It cartoons are always to the point.

Image Credit:



It’s a shortened trading week on the London Stock Exchange and I’m looking to give my portfolio a bit of a bump.

I bought 2,600 shares in Drax, a biomass fuel company on May 10 for 202p a share. It’s bounced around but hasn’t really gained any traction.

I’m sticking with my other three picks – PowerHouse Energy (1,200 shares worth £1998.00), Diageo (100 shares worth £2834.00) and Ocado (100 shares worth £2083) for now.

Cashing in Drax gives me £5110.40 along with £14.98 cash in hand. The total value of my portfolio after last week’s trading is £12,140.38.

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 trades 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.

So what to do with that £5125.38?

Well, Avast is a maker of software that’s used on phones and you’re probably familiar with the app. I’m buying 1,000 at 507p (£5.07), costing me £5070.00 and leaving me with £55.38 cash in hand.

That’s how I’ll opening trading on Tuesday.

Net worth £12,140.38

Ocado, 100 shares: £2030.00

Diageo, 100 shares: £2834.00

Avast, 1,000 shares: £5070.00

Cash in hand: £55.38

£ loss on last trading day: £91.40

% Gain overall: 21.4 per cent

£ Gain overall: £2,140.38


Some three months into this pandemic, we all know firsthand the uncertainties it brings to our lives, our jobs, our futures. We all know by now that remote working is the new normal, and that it could have repercussions for us all.

Some will be good – a better work-life balance, new career opportunities opening up, being able to live in a community of your choice instead of one dictated by proximity to the workplace. But there are downsides, such as a potential end to the dreams of Silicon Valley or higher-level salaries for workers based in more affordable locations.

Although we were all forced into a situation that saw us share “office” space with our living space and encounter all the chaos that entails, it may be difficult to envisage a return to the traditional office when life resumes some semblance of normality.

Some companies don’t want to. Twitter, for example, has told employees that they can work from home “forever” if they want. Shopify announced earlier this week that the ecommerce company would be “digital by default”, and its employees would largely work from home. “Office centricity is over,” Shopify chief executive Tobi Lutke wrote on Twitter.


Last Thursday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg unveiled plans for the future of work at Facebook. Employees have been told they can work from home if it is possible to do so until the end of the year. Those who want to continue to work remotely have until the end of the year to inform the company where they will base themselves.

The catch, if you can call it that, is that salaries will be adjusted to reflect the cost of living in those areas. So, workers won’t be able to take their Silicon Valley pay packets to rural areas where living is significantly cheaper. Facebook will be using VPNs to check-in on employees to enforce that.

The situation may be also giving property investors some pause for thought. Tech companies have been hoovering up office space as their businesses expand. Silicon Valley stalwarts Facebook and Google employ thousands at their Silicon Valley locations or elsewhere around the world.

In this brave new world, where people can choose to work from home, how many huge campus-style developments will we see in the future?

And it’s not just about commercial property. Although Facebook’s plans only apply to its US staff, if it does decide in the future to implement the policy at its international offices, there could be repercussions for the residential property and rental markets elsewhere. Without the offices to draw people to a particular area, what happens to rents there?


Here’s my daily collection that serves as a reminder covidiots thrive in sunshine.


The covidiots were out in full force Saturday at Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park. The hipster favourite at the west end of Queen Street West was filled with people who apparently have never heard of physical or social distancing in the coronavirus era.

As photos and video of people sitting side by side, having large group picnics and ignoring public health advice were shared widely on social media, city councillor and board of health chair Joe Cressy reacted with disappointment on Twitter.

“Toronto, this will not end well if we don’t all do our part and respect physical distancing,” Cressy said.

“Going outside is good for physical and mental health, but at a distance. We’re by no means out of the woods yet. Anything but. Please, we are all in this together.”

Park dwellers appeared to mostly be in their 20s or 30s, and many were not wearing masks and not keeping two metres apart. The scene was variously described as a nightclub, a cocktail party and disappointing.

Toronto reopened 850 park amenities Saturday after more than two months of closure due to COVID-19. Health officials on Saturday reported 220 new COVID-19 cases in Toronto, while Ontario reported 412 new cases, along with 27 new deaths related to the virus.


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