Ireland
A police officer is seen on the streets of Dublin as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Dublin, Ireland, March 29, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

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 59

Wednesday May 27, 9am

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?

AS LOCKDOWNS EASE ACROSS EUROPE, THE CHALLENGE IS TO AVOID A SECOND WAVE

POLITICAL NOISE IN UK OVER JOHNSON’S TOP AIDE IS A DISTRICTION FROM REAL FIGHT

I watched the television on Monday as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that most shops up and down his nation would open their doors by the middle of June.

Johnson’s good news message, however, was largely lost in the political noise surrounding his chief aide, Dominic Cummings.

Britons are furious that Cummings seemingly flouted lockdown rules by making a 900-kilometre round trip to his parents’ home in the north of England – and is refusing to apologise for his insensitive actions at a time when thousands have lost relatives and can’t mourn them properly, at a time when the strict rules are supposed to apply to all.

Douglas Ross, the Member of Parliament for Moray, stepped down as Scotland Office minister saying many people did not share the prime minister’s interpretation that Cummings had stuck to the pandemic rules.

Ross said he accepted that Cummings felt he had acted in the best interests of his family but these were “decisions others felt were not available to them”.

“While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’ interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked,” he said in a statement.

‘CAN’T SAY GOODBYE TO LOVE ONES’

“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government,” Ross wrote in his damning resignation letter to Johnson. “I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

The resignation deepens the crisis engulfing the British government, with more than 20 backbench MPs calling on Johnson to sack his chief aide and considerable anger among some ministers about Cummings’ actions.

Johnson has rallied behind the architect of Brexit and his election victory and has marshalled some of his top cabinet ministers, including chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Matt Hancock, to do the same.

Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, insisted on Tuesday that “fair-minded people” would now have to make up their own minds on what Cummings had done and his explanation.

Gove, a longtime ally of Cummings, was sent out to defend him in broadcast interviews the morning after the aide gave a statement explaining why he drove from London to Durham during the lockdown and risked spreading coronavirus.

CUMMINGS ACTIONS UNDERMINE LOCKDOWN

Police, medics and scientists continued to say that Cummings’ actions risked undermining the lockdown and public health advice.

Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said officers were frustrated by the case, which made it difficult to see the future role of the police in controlling lockdown.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s a lot of confusion and it feels like there’s quite a gap between the public narrative and narrative of ministers about the lockdown and what’s happening on the street.

“I think it’s quite hard to see the role the police have in the future – the rules about the reasons for travel are now very confused, when you see the crowds on Bournemouth and Southend beaches and other places yesterday, it’s hard to see what role the police have in trying to control that.”

Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, told the same programme: “Because of the way this story has unfolded there is certainly concern among our members, health leaders, that it could damage staff and public confidence in official guidance.

“You can’t say too often that the guidance has actually saved thousands of lives, and I think if we look forward over the next few weeks, following guidance is going to be as vital as ever and actually it’s going to be more complex because as lockdown eases the advice is, frankly, less binary and people have to exercise more discretion.”

CONTRADICTIONS REMAIN DESPITE CUMMINGS’ EXPLANATION

Key contradictions about Cummings’ story remain, with Gove pressed to explain how the government can continue to claim that the adviser acted within the rules.

In a round of broadcast interviews, Gove was asked why Cummings went back to work in No 10 Downing Street after suspecting that his wife, Mary Wakefield, could have contracted coronavirus, risking spreading the virus further among colleagues.

Gove said Wakefield was unwell but did not have official coronavirus symptoms of a cough or fever at that time.

On the journey to the northeast from London, Gove said Cummings was acting out of concern that he and Wakefield would be unable to care for their child, despite neither of them having classic coronavirus symptoms at that point. Gove said his actions had been appropriate.

On whether Cummings needed to make a 100kms round trip to a beauty spot with his family to test his eyesight before travelling back to London, Gove said it was safe for him to have driven and that the adviser had been “preparing for work”.

“I think Dominic completely understands the sense of concern people felt as the story broke,” he told the BBC. “I think the account he gave yesterday was exhaustive, it was detailed, it was verifiable. I think people will make their own mind up as they listened to Dominic’s account.

“I think most people will understand he was under pressure, and sought to put the health of his wife and son first, and took care to ensure they, as a family unit, were not in danger of infecting other people.”

TERRIBLE DISTRACTION FOR BRITONS

Opposition leaders were meeting on Tuesday to discuss the next steps in holding Cummings to account. Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has said he would have sacked Cummings if he were in Johnson’s position, while the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National party have called on the prime minister to fire the adviser.

This is a terrible distraction for Britons – and is muddying the waters just as things should be getting back to norm. And things are slowly getting back to the new normal of social distancing and changed rules for interactions and transactions.

Back in in Dubai, for example, malls have returned to their 10am to 10pm schedules.

Armed with mass testing and tracing capabilities, a growing number of European countries are expressing confidence that they can avoid a return to economically devastating coronavirus lockdowns.

While most European countries failed to contain the coronavirus outbreak when it reached them in February and March, Belgium and Poland are among those who say they are far better placed to deal with any so-called second wave.

DUTCH? BELGIAN? HOW LOCKDOWN WORKS IN A TOWN STRADDLING TWO NATIONS

How do you enforce social distancing rules in rules in a town divided between two countries with different rules, with one of the most complex international borders in the world?

As the residents of Baarle-Hertog-Nassau have discovered, with great difficulty.

People living on some streets have been ordered to stay home, while their neighbours have been free to go out.

Baarle-Hertog-Nassau sits between Belgium and the Netherlands and is renowned for its intricate border. The town is geographically in the Netherlands, but there are 22 Belgian enclaves completely surrounded by Dutch territory.

Within those enclaves are eight Dutch enclaves, together known as Baarle-Nassau, seven of which are sub-enclaves in the two largest Belgian enclaves

A relic of feudal land swaps in medieval times, this complex situation is not usually a problem: both countries’ membership of the European Union means there is a frictionless border and no barriers to trade.

“In this town, of course you have the Dutch part and the Belgium part,” said Sarah Bakker, a 19-year-old university student who is quarantining with her family in Baarle-Hertog-Nassau. “It's weird, but I'm used to it.”

BELGIUM AND NETHERLANDS HAVE DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT LOCKDOWN RULES

But Belgium and the Netherlands enforced drastically different lockdown rules, meaning that shops on the Dutch side of the border could stay open, while just yards away in Belgium, some shops had to close.

The town’s thousands of physical markers — from painted white crosses on the pavement, to the colours of the flag of either country on street signs and house numbers — suddenly became vitally important.

“Because we have the situation that Belgium has chosen the complete lockdown, in the Netherlands they have chosen the ‘intelligent’ lockdown which gives differences in thinking and acting. Well, there we have a problem,” said Willem van Gool, chairman of Tourism Baarle-Hertog-Nassau.

Van Gool explained there were already two schools, two city halls and two police forces for the people of each country. “But there’s just one tourism office and we have a single fire brigade because that's more clever.”

Some of the town’s shops actually straddle the border. Before Belgium lifted restrictions on shops opening May 11, only half of a branch of a Dutch chain store, Zeeman, was accessible to customers, ensuring a unique shopping experience.

“It’s really weird,” Bakker said with a laugh. “Only one half of the store is open, so you’re only able to get half of the products.” The same goes for seeing friends. “The Dutch part, the friends who live there, I can see. But, the Belgian part I can’t because I will get a fine.”

MASKS FOR SOME, NOT FOR OTHERS

In another strange example, Belgium requires everyone to wear masks on public transportation, but the Netherlands will only start imposing this rule June 1. So, if passengers take a bus on the Dutch side of Baarle-Hertog-Nassau, they can get on mask-free, but just a little distance down the road, they have to put one on.

Local residents have long been used to the quirks of living in a town that borders two countries, but some admit the differing lockdown rules have caused real problems.

Artist Sylvia Reybroek, whose gallery sits right on the border, had a firsthand taste of how strange life has become. in their little town. The white painted crosses dividing the two countries run across the street and through her shop's front door and into the gallery. Because her business is registered in Belgium, she decided to follow its stricter rules.

“After a few weeks, you see a big difference,” Reybroek lamented. “I closed my shop, I have a Belgian company, so I was closed. Meanwhile, the rest of the shops [on the street] were open.”

Like many countries in Europe, both Belgium and the Netherlands have started lifting their restrictions and Reybroek has since reopened.

But, she said, her shop is a microcosm of Europe’s problems and she suggests a simpler way to handle the crisis.

“I think Europe should have had one rule,” she said. “We are Europe.”

TWO MONTHS OF CLAMPDOWNS

The idea of one rule for all of Europe might seem too idealistic. The reality is that after nearly two months of clampdowns, pupils are returning to school and non-food shops or restaurants are re-opening, albeit with warnings that this easing could be stopped or even reversed if coronavirus cases start to spike. It’s a patchwork of rules across the 26 nations that together make up the European Union.

“We can rule out that we will have to go back to the tough measures,” Belgian Interior Minister Pieter De Crem told broadcaster VTM on Sunday.

This was echoed by Polish Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski who told weekly newspaper Sieci that Warsaw was well equipped, after successfully halting the spread of an outbreak in Silesia.

“One can’t do a second lockdown ... We have infrastructure, over 120 laboratories perform tests. There are tools to control this monster,” Szumowski said.

In the Czech Republic, which has had fewer than 9,000 cases, the government expects more targeted than blanket measures, while Serbia sees the possibility of local spikes, but says that reimposing a lockdown is unlikely.

STRONG PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURES

Although countries that have lifted lockdowns have experienced local spikes, such views appear to be backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has said countries such as Germany, with strong public health measures in place, should be able to suppress clusters of cases.

“We need people to stay with us, to really understand that this is going to take some time to work through. We may not get this right exactly the first time,” WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove told an online news briefing.

Germany has seen its number of new coronavirus cases continue to fall since easing restrictions in early May, although there have been outbreaks at meat processing plants, old people’s homes and at a religious service in Frankfurt in which more than 100 people were infected.

For some European states, including those hit hardest by the pandemic, there is greater caution over lifting restrictions.

Jean Castex, the official in charge of France’s exit plan told lawmakers such a plan had to incorporate a readiness to ‘re-confine’ if necessary.

And Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said he would not hesitate to reimpose a full lockdown if infections soared.

HAIRSTYLIST AT MISSOURI HAIR SALON TESTS POSITIVE AS 140 EXPOSED

The dangers of getting it wrong or of new spreads are clear as we do indeed try to reopen. One hundred-forty clients at a hair salon in Missouri may have been exposed to COVID-19 after a second hairstylist at the location tested positive for the coronavirus.

On Friday, the city of Springfield said more than 90 people after a stylist worked for eight days while showing symptoms. Now, 56 more clients have been “potentially directly exposed,” the city said Saturday, saying the second stylist at the Great Clips salon tested positive and worked for five days while “experiencing very mild symptoms.”

“At this time, this is the only other positive result we have had from those tested as a result of the previous exposure,” the city said.

Both the stylists and their clients were wearing face coverings, and health officials said they were reaching out to all of those who may have been exposed.

Hair salons are allowed to operate in Missouri under state reopening guidelines, and the city has said those who may have been exposed at the salon would be offered tests.

‘I NEVER THOUGHT THAT IT WOULD BE SO CLOSE TO HOME’

Erik Chase is one of the 84 clients whose hair was cut by a stylist who was showing symptoms.

“Now I'm someone directly affected by COVID-19, and I never thought that it would be so close to home,” Chase told NBC affiliate KYTV of Springfield. “It’s a big deal. It definitely gives me great concern.”

Chase said officials have asked him to stay home until Sunday, which will be 14 days from the date of his Great Clips appointment. He also has been told to take his temperature twice a day and to check in with the health department. He’ll be tested for the virus this week.

Chase said that from the time he went to the Great Clips to the day he was notified of his exposure, he came in contact with 15 to 20 people.

“So, I don’t think that the story is ending any time soon,” he added.

As Springfield health officials continue to trace the stylists’ contacts, the city is grappling with other workers in client-facing jobs who have tested positive for COVID-19, including at a Walmart, a gym and a discount grocery store.

THE PAIN IN SPAIN WON’T BE FORGOTTEN

As I’ve written here many times before, I spend part of the year in Spain. There, things are very gradually loosening. The need for face masks will continue as will maintaining social distance even when no dangers are evident. At the same time, residents will have to be very flexible and change their plans when the virus rears its head once more.

“There will be new outbreaks with the de-escalation, it’s inevitable,” explained Pere Godoy, the president of the Spanish Epidemiological Society (SEE). “We will have to adapt to them and the measures that will be taken to control them.”

Residents in the Valencia region and the municipality of Totana, Murcia, have had a taste in recent days of what is to come. The former saw how the regional authorities went from accelerating the de-escalation process to putting the brakes on due to an outbreak of coronavirus cases in Benidorm, Villajoyosa and Elda.

‘WE ARE GOING TO HAVE SPIKES’

“In some cases it’s going to be tough, but it’s the only way to stop the virus,” argues Santiago Moreno, the head of the infectious diseases service at Madrid’s Ramon y Cajal Hospital. “We are going to have spikes – some will be small and some will be bigger. And when the autumn arrives, if the virus is seasonal, the outbreaks will be bigger. The only way to contain them is to quickly identify cases, investigate contacts, carry out tests and isolate those who are positive. We already made mistakes once and we can’t let ourselves do it again,” he told El Pais newspaper.

The trickle of new outbreaks is being noted on a larger scale in those countries that began loosening coronavirus measures before Spain did.

Germany, for example, is investigating outbreaks that originated at a religious congregation and in a restaurant. In the first case, local media have reported that more than a hundred people have been infected after attending one of the first religious ceremonies after the end of confinement in the state of Hesse. In the second case, with 10 people infected, a restaurant in Lower Saxony was the source. But officials in the German state of Thuringia are nevertheless pressing ahead with widespread reopenings.

THURINGIA COULD BE FIRST GERMANY STATE TO FULLY REOPEN

Thuringia could become the first state to completely lift restrictions aiming to slow the spread of coronavirus. State premier Bodo Ramelow has triggered a heated debate on whether this is a sensible local response.

The number of new cases in Germany falling, debate over relaxing restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 is increasing. The current coronavirus restrictions — which are regulated by individual states — are in place until June 5. As Germany's public health institute RKI is warning of a second wave of infections, the expectation has been that they would, in some fashion, be extended everywhere in Germany — or only slightly relaxed.

But the eastern state of Thuringia is going one step further.

Thuringia State Premier and Left Party politician Bodo Ramelow has announced to lift all general restrictions on June 6.

Instead of rules, Ramelow wants only recommendations and reminders: No more compulsory mouth and nose covering, no more minimum social distance of at least 1.5 metres. A rise in the number of new cases, however, would trigger fresh restrictions.

As of Monday, May 25, Thuringia has registered only 2,882 cases and 154 deaths in connection with COVID-19, reporting 118 new cases in the last seven days.

CONCERNS OVER ‘MASS EXPERIMENT’

“Success has proven us right in introducing tough measures,” Ramelow told local papers in Thuringia over the weekend. “But it now also forces us to take realistic measures and act,” he said, calling for a more localised response to the number of new cases.

The move has prompted criticism and concerns of a “mass experiment” in the eastern state.

Once part of former East Germany (GDR), the state of Thuringia is today home to only 2.15 million people – making it the fifth smallest German state by population and one of the most sparsely populated.

Thuringia, like its neighbouring eastern states, has been less affected by COVID-19 than western and southern parts of Germany which became coronavirus hotbeds.

Hajo Zeeb from the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology has pointed out possible reasons for the slow spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Thuringia.

One factor is age: almost a quarter of Thuringia population is over the age of 65.

“We often assume that age is a risk factor for serious illnesses,” Zeeb told the German Press Agency. “That is also true, but in the beginning the spread of the novel coronavirus tended to be among younger people.”

A high proportion of older, less mobile people in a society could therefore slow down the spread of the virus.

RURAL LANDSCAPE IS AN ADVANTAGE

Thuringia’s lack of economic pull and largely rural landscape, too, has been to the state’s advantage. With just 132 inhabitants per square kilometre, it’s among Germany’s least densely populated states.

Another contributing factor could be the socio-economic status in eastern states.

In wealthier regions like Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and Hamburg, the virus was brought back by German holidaymakers from ski resorts such as Ischgl. Such reports from eastern German states were less common.

“Extensive winter vacations can be made in particular by people who have more money,” said Zeeb. On average, salaries in eastern parts of Germany are lower than in western regions.

Thuringia’s plans to drop restrictions has been largely met with criticism from around Germany.

“This is clearly a mistake,” Social Democrat (SPD) MP and epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach told regional newspaper the Saarbrucker Zeitung.

PROBLEMATIC FOR BAVARIA

In the Germany daily Bild, conservative member of the Bundesrat — Germany’s upper house of parliament — Florian Hermann spoke of a “highly dangerous experiment.” For his native Bavaria, which lies on Thuringia’s southern border, Hermann said the situation would be “particularly problematic.”

Thuringia’s eastern neighbour Saxony, however, seems set to make a similar move. “If the number of new infections remains stable at a low level, we are planning a paradigm change for the period from June 6,” Saxony’s Health Minister Petra Kopping (SPD) told local daily Leipziger Volkszeitung on Monday.

The decision to drop restrictions would largely depend on the whether “people take responsibility,” she continued.

The final decision to end social distancing or the requirement to wear masks in public places, should not be up to the individual states, but “should be decided jointly” at the national level, Kopping said.

THE LOSSES AFTER THE LOOSENING

Even when stores are reopened, the reality is that the retail sector across Europe faces a very tough environment indeed.

One report out of Ireland suggest the sector is facing huge monthly declines for the rest of 2020.

The sector-by-sector survey of 360 chief executives operating 4,500 outlets, by industry group Retail Excellence, predicts in-store revenues will be down by an average of 65 per cent across the sector next month. Some sectors, such as cinemas, face total wipeout in June.

Even after lockdown is unwound, most retailers are facing a financial disaster due to capacity reductions from stringent social distancing, as well the effects of general economic malaise and consumer fear.

Chief executives across the sector predict an average total decline of almost a quarter in the crucial Christmas shopping period of November and December.

ONLINE SALES ARE UP – BUT NOT ENOUGH

Some sectors, such as jewellery, predict declines of more than a third in sales this Christmas. Most sectors will see growth in online sales, but many are coming off a low base and it won’t come close to making up for the in-store declines.

Cinemas will also be particularly badly hit this year, with reopenings not allowed in Ireland until August 10. This contrasts with cinema reopenings across the rest of Europe from May or June. Even by November/December, Irish cinema chief executives say they are predicting declines of 36 per cent.

Garden centres and DIY stores will weather the turmoil best, due to running large facilities often with outdoor components. Garden centre sales will be down in-store between 28 per cent and 11 per cent each month for the rest of the year, but will rise online by 105 per cent, in June, and by 43 per cent each month at year end.

QUARANTINE FIT FOR A KING! COUPLE LEFT TO LORD IT UP IN LOCKDOWN AT LUXURY IRISH CASTLE

Mick blog
Ashford Castle, on Ireland’s west coast, has hosted presidents and royalty from all over the world. Credit Ashford Castle

I’m now into the ninth week of lockdown in my home in Ireland. It’s a nice house in a fishing village where there’s a long beach nearby that allows for ample exercise. But my home is my castle. It’s just nothing like Ashford Castle, a stunning luxury hotel on the west coast of Ireland.

After two months of restrictions, many people have been experiencing the effects of cabin fever in their homes. But for one couple in Mayo, the opposite is true.

Laura Jamieson from Surrey and Michael Smith from Perthshire in Scotland have described the experience of being quarantined in a castle as a once in a lifetime adventure.

They met in Ireland when they both came here to work and say it will be very hard to return to normal life in their home in the nearby village of Cross.

“It’s like being in a television reality show that’s nobody watching,” said Michael.

They are isolating at Ashford Castle where they work and have the entire estate to themselves.

The Anglo-Norman de Burgo family built the castle in 1228. A French-style chateau was added in the 18th century, after which it passed into the hands of the Guinness family which added trees and Victorian extensions.

Laura said they have many daily duties to ensure the castle remains functioning in good order, including flushing 160 toilets daily.

They also look after administration of the hotel and handle phone calls and emails as normal.

A GHOST OF A FRIGHT

Mick blog
Laura Jamieson from Surrey and Michael Smith from Perthshire in Scotland have described the experience of being quarantined in a castle as a once in a lifetime adventure. Credit RTE

There are plenty of opportunities for having fun and Michael cannot resist spooking his girlfriend at every opportunity by jumping out at her unexpectedly.

There are 83 bedrooms in Ashford Castle and without any guests they are spoiled for choice.

At the end of the day the couple usually pop over to the School of Falconry, affectionately known as The Hotel for Birds and once the owls and hawks have been settled it’s time for rest and relaxation.

The couple’s favourite date night involves a trip to the cellar where there are over 600 fine wines to choose from. Then they head to the plush private cinema to watch a film.

Michael and Laura found love on the grounds of Ashford Castle just like John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in the 1952 movie The Quiet Man.

The actors stayed in Ashford Castle and the film is shown regularly in the 32-seater theatre.

The Kennedys, the Reagans, Barbara Streisand, Johnny Cash, Brad Pitt have all stayed here but they have never had the place to themselves like Laura and Michael.

However, with the hotel planning to re-open in July, the couple will soon have to give up castle life for more modest surroundings.

A ‘PERFECT STORM’ FOR CAR BREAK-INS: VEHICLE THEFT SPIKES ACROSS THE US AMID COVID-19 PANDEMIC

The coronavirus hasn’t been kind to car owners.

With more people than ever staying home to lessen the spread of COVID-19, their sedans, pickup trucks and SUVs are parked unattended on the streets, making them easy targets for opportunistic thieves.

Despite silent streets and nearly non-existent traffic, vehicle larcenies shot up 63 per cent in New York and nearly 17 per cent in Los Angeles from January 1 through mid-May, compared with the same period last year.

And many other law enforcement agencies around the US are reporting an increase in stolen cars and vehicle burglaries, even as violent crime has dropped dramatically nationwide in the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a low-risk crime with a potentially high reward, police say, especially when many drivers leave their doors unlocked or their keys inside.

“You might as well put a sticker on the window that says, ‘come take my stuff’,” said an exasperated Alex Villanueva, the Los Angeles County sheriff.

In Austin, Texas, last month, a whopping 72 per cent of the 322 stolen vehicles had their keys nearby. The total number of auto thefts in April spiked about 50 per cent and burglaries to vehicles were up 2 per cent from April 2019.

DRIVERS ARE AT HOME AND NOT USING OR CHECKING THEIR CARS REGULARLY

The virus has created a “perfect storm,” said Austin Police Sgt. Chris Vetrano, a supervisor in the 11-detective auto theft unit that investigates stolen vehicle cases.

The elements for that storm: Drivers are at home and not using or checking their cars regularly. School's out, so teenagers are trying their luck. Criminals are out of work and have more time on their hands or need fast money to support a drug habit.

“You can get on the internet nowadays and learn how to break into vehicles just searching YouTube,” Vetrano said.

He should know: Someone broke into his locked Ford F-150 pickup truck, one of the most commonly stolen vehicles, about a year ago.

Salt Lake City Police Det. Greg Wilking said a 22 per cent spike in vehicle burglaries there could be from a few criminals working quickly on “car prowls.”

“It’s really 10 seconds," he said. “They’re not spending a lot of time in your car. It’s a smash-and-grab-and-go,” sometimes in broad daylight.

‘PEOPLE GET MORE DESPERATE AS TIME GOES ON’

Wilking worries the numbers will keep rising because “people get more desperate as time goes on.”

In Baltimore, though, a push to reduce the city’s historically high numbers of vehicle thefts and burglaries appears to have paid off. Thefts from autos plunged 24 per cent and stolen vehicles dropped 19 percent from January to May compared with the same period last year.

Col. Richard Worley, the chief of patrol, in part credits aggressive efforts to remind residents to lock their cars, take their keys home and park in well-lit areas. In this case, however, the pandemic has actually helped police.

Residents are home, driving less and keeping an eye on the neighbourhood, and officers now have time for proactive patrols because calls for service and violent crime have decreased. A thief was recently arrested with 13 stolen catalytic converters during a motor vehicle stop.

Sometimes, however, it’s just a matter of luck. Like for Lindsey Eldridge, the police department’s community outreach coordinator, who left her keys in her car's cupholder. She realised her mistake just before falling asleep.

She said she “could have been a statistic.”

MEME OF THE DAY

This was shared with me on Facebook by my friend Dave from Whitby, just outside Toronto. Sadly, there’s more than an element of truth in it.

Mick blog
Mick blog Image Credit: Supplied/Social media

TAKING STOCK

HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY

What a nice feeling indeed when everything begins to click. And that’s exactly what happened to my portfolio on the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday after trading resumed after the Whit bank holiday break.

My four picks turned green and I ended up with a nice bump in my net value.

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.

PowerHouse has been a great little buy for me. I bought it about a month ago, speculating on 1200 shares with a buy-in value of just 87p each. The green energy producer has been performing well over that while, and I have now doubled my money. That initial investment of £1,044 was worth £2,160, with PowerHouse closing at 180p a piece.

On Monday I bought 1,000 Avast shares – the company is a maker of cleaning software that’s used on smartphones at 507p (£5.07) each. It rose to 515.5p.

I had feared my 100 shares in Ocado, a grocery delivery company might fall given that the UK government has announced plans to reopen most shops by mid-June. It didn’t – but rose slightly instead. So too drinks distiller Diageo, making for a daily gain of £297. Here’s hope the rest of the trading week goes as well.

This is how things stand after Tuesday

Net worth £12,337.38

Ocado, 100 shares: £2107.00

Diageo, 100 shares: £2860.00

Avast, 1,000 shares: £5155.00

PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £2160.00

Cash in hand: £55.38

£ gain on last trading day: £297.00

% Gain overall: 23.3 per cent

£ Gain overall: £2,337.38

BELGIAN RAIL TESTS SENSORS TO KEEP WORKERS APART DURING COVID-19

One of the big issues facing us all when we do return to workplaces will be maintaining social distancing when we do begin to mingle with workers.

Management at Belgium’s railways have looked at the problems and are now testing smart cameras with sensors to ensure its workers wear masks and maintain their distance to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

From next week, so-called intelligent cameras will be installed in five strategic points in the offices of Belgian rail infrastructure operator Infrabel, where technicians would normally come together, such as the cafeteria.

A warning will sound if people are too numerous, do not have a face mask or get too close.

“We must ensure that our staff complies with the various social distancing guidelines. This is why we are setting up a number of devices based on artificial intelligence,” Benoit Gilson, Infrabel’s strategy director said on Monday.

MOVEMENTS WILL BE DETERMINED BY ALGORITHMS

Using AI software available online, Infrabel said it had developed a way to interpret camera images for the purpose of COVID-19 protection. The company will employ an algorithm to calculate if workers are too close or wearing a face mask.

In a demonstration on Monday, staff seen on camera were shown on a giant screen as stick figures whose distance apart could be measured in metres. On another screen, a camera detected if a worker entering a room was wearing a mask.

“The whole issue of distance between individuals is managed by a mathematical model that we developed,” said Daniel Degueldre, head of Infrabel’s information technology team.

The company, which has 11,000 employees, said it had already been working on ways to use sensors to protect technicians working on the Belgian railways by placing cameras on helmets that would alert staff in an accident. Responsible for Belgium’s 3,60kms of rail lines, Infrabel manages one of the world’s most dense rail networks.

COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS

Here’s my daily collection that serves as a reminder covidiocy is much more than a semi-conscious state of mind.

NO MASKS, NO SOCIAL DISTANCING AS PARTYING COVIDIOTS FLOOD LAKE OF OZARKS IN US

The coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop people from packing the central Missouri vacation hot spot of the Lake of the Ozarks for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, despite state social distancing orders.

Crowds flooded some bars and restaurants at the Lake of the Ozarks, which attracts Missouri residents, as well as people in surrounding states, including Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas and Iowa.

One video posted on social media shows a crammed pool where people lounged close together without masks.

Camden County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Chris Twitchell on Sunday said the typically crowded resort region has been even busier than normal this year. He said people with second houses on the lake moved in a few months ago to quarantine there, plus Memorial Day vacationers too worried to travel by airplane flocked to the mid-Missouri region instead.

“Our normal holiday weekend without all this COVID is ridiculously crazy,” Twitchell said. “So, add COVID to it and all the people influxing down here to get away from everywhere else, and it just adds more to it. It’s a perfect storm.”

STAY-AT-HOME ORDERS FOR MISSOURI

Missouri’s statewide stay-at-home order expired earlier this month, but an order from the state health director requires 6-foot social distancing until at least the end of May

The order leaves it up to local and state health officials to enforce social distancing.

It’s unclear what steps Lake of the Ozarks-area health officials are taking to enforce that order. Requests for comment left with local health departments were not immediately returned Sunday.

Twitchell said the Camden County Sheriff’s Department is struggling to keep up with an increase of reported crime because of the surge of people. He said there’s no way the department has enough deputies to enforce social distancing on top of that.

“We’ve had such an influx of people down here at the lake, we’re just overwhelmed,” he said.

Since the pandemic first hit Missouri, the state health department has reported 38 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Camden County and four in Miller County, which cover some of the Lake of the Ozarks area.

In total, the health department reported that the virus has sickened at least 11,988 people, up 236 cases compared to what was reported Saturday. The confirmed death toll is 681, up from 676 reported deaths Saturday.

COVIDIOTS CAUGHT RED-HANDED AT LOCKDOWN PARTY

Police in south London couldn’t help but laugh when they crashed a large party of covidiots.

When the police showed up, dozens of covidiots pretended to be exercising instead.

The young revellers laughed as they jogged on the spot, did press-ups or limbered up when the cops arrived at the outdoor gathering.

Members of the group appeared to be flouting social distancing rules to stay more than two metres apart from others. But the large crowd of youngsters carried on regardless when the officers arrived to break up the party.

A video of the mock keep-fit session, believed to have taken place in south London, was posted on Twitter with the comment: “So a block party was happening in south, the feds turn up and this is everyone’s reaction.”

The latest video sparked anger from some on Twitter, with one person tweeting: “Nah this is embarrassing, it isn’t even funny.”

Another said: “If anyone in that video that catches this virus. my sympathy is capped at 40 per cent. I can’t lie.”

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 base.d in Europe