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.
Thursday May 28, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
I’M TURNING 60 TODAY – 60 DAYS OF LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS
WHAT I MISS MOST IS BEING ABLE TO MEET OTHER PEOPLE IN PERSON
I’m turning 60 today. That’s two full months in lockdown. And what I most now is being able to mix freely with other people – to shake their hand and say ‘hi’ – instead of social distancing and being awkward even opening my mouth.
I miss being able to travel freely. In my life before this pandemic, I travelled a lot. I was comfortable in airports, on trains, staying in strange cities, ordering from menus without fully knowing what would turn up on my plate.
I miss the interaction of talking to people, learning their stories, sharing a drink, having a laugh.
I miss writing about other things and not having to mention the word “coronavirus” or “pandemic”, “lockdown” or “social distancing”.
I dislike not being able to get into my car and drive. I don’t know where I would end up. But that was fine with me.
Now, I have put petrol in my car once over these past 60 days, I plan my trip to the main shop once a week and I avoid people – well, as we used to say before the pandemic, avoid them like the plague. Now they very well have it.
But things will get back to “normal”. And I hate even having to type the word “normal” and putting it in inverted commas.
MOURNING IN THE MORNING
This pandemic has meant that I and many, many thousands of others, have had to mourn those who have died with only the slightest public nod to their passing. There have been no proper farewells, no decent goodbyes – only perfunctory rites and web-cast rituals.
Many thousands have lost their jobs, many others cast to spurious conditions, hand-to-mouth existence by Darwinian economics.
But there are signs of new buds in the post-pandemic era. McDonalds is re-opening all of its drive-through operations across the United Kingdom and Ireland next week, a supersize happy meal providing food for thought.
Maybe a job there isn’t such a bad thing – clock in, cook, and clock out – and no need to care beyond that. Wouldn’t we all like fries with that option.
JOHNSON REJECTS CALL FOR CUMMINGS INQUIRY AMID RISING TORY ANGER
I just can’t believe the arrogance of the British government right now.
Boris Johnson is standing by his senior aide Dominic Cummings despite mounting Tory anger and plummeting poll ratings.
The British Prime Minister rejected a call for Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to investigate Cummings’ actions at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Cummings drove from London to Durham (about 430km) to isolate with his family during the lockdown and says he subsequently took a trip to Barnard Castle to see if he was fit enough to drive before returning to the capital.
Johnson, who was questioned by the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday afternoon, said: “Quite frankly I’m not certain – right now – that an inquiry into that matter is a very good use of official time. We are working flat out on coronavirus.”
Asked whether the government’s “moral authority” had been undermined by Cummings’ actions and his own defence of them, Johnson said: “I, of course, am deeply sorry for all the hurt and pain and anxiety that people have been going through throughout this period – this country has been going through a frankly most difficult time.
“We are asking people to do quite exceptionally tough things, separating them from their families.”
Johnson said he would not be adding to his previous comments on Cummings and said the public wanted politicians to focus on “uniting our message” and “focusing on their needs”.
Johnson used his appearance at the committee – made up of the chairmen and women of Commons select committees – to announce that NHS England’s test and trace system would be up and running from Thursday.
GERMANY CALLS FOR OPENING OF INTERNAL EU BORDERS BY JUNE
But things are starting to get back to “normal” with each passing day.
Germany wants to lift its travel warning on 31 European countries by June 15, if the development of pandemic figures allows for it, according to an official government proposal.
Those countries include 26 nations in the European Union, along with four Schengen Area countries that are not members of the EU — Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
The proposal, listed in a paper called “Criteria for the Enabling of intra-European Tourism,” was to be put to the nation’s cabinet on Wednesday.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued a global travel warning on March 17, as Germany headed into a nationwide partial lockdown. The lifting of the warning is set to come just in time for the holiday season, to allow for cross-border summer holidays within Europe.
TRAVEL ADVICE FOR INDIVIDUALS REPLACE TRAVEL WARNING FOR ALL
The travel warning will be replaced by individual travel advice, which intends to highlight the risks for each individual country.
“The revitalisation of tourism is important both for travelers and the German travel industry, as well as for the economic stability of the respective target countries,” the proposal says.
The possible lifting of travel restrictions was also welcomed by the German Travel Association.
“This not only gives companies in the travel industry a perspective on the future, but also the many Germans who are looking forward to their international holidays,” said Nortbert Fiebig, the president of the association. The travel industry in Germany – like everywhere else – has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
COLOSSEUM AND OTHER SIGHTS IN ITALY OPEN AGAIN
Rome’s 2,000-year-old landmark can finally be visited again from June 1, and the Vatican Museums will also reopen on that day. Ancient Pompeii, south of Naples at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, is already welcoming visitors again, but only those from within the country. From June 3, however, foreign tourists will be able to return to Italy and visit the ancient sites.
Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Tuesday called for a joint relaunch of European tourism in mid-June, referring to the day that borders open again as being a new "D-Day."
“Let’s work together so that on June 15 Europe can start anew. June 15, is a day for tourism, a little bit like European D-Day,” Di Maio said in a television interview, referring to Germany’s draft paper to lift the worldwide travel warning.
“Germany is looking at a deadline of June 15 to reopen. We are working with Austria and we will work with other European countries,” he said.
Italy wants to open its borders to tourists on June 3, but it is still uncertain whether Austria will open its borders to Italy. Northern Italy was particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, while Italy as a whole has recorded over 33,000 deaths from the virus so far.
SPAIN CALLS FOR RENEWED TOURISM
Spain has also called for renewed international tourism and a lifting of quarantine requirements for visitors from July 1. Spain — one of the world’s most visited countries — closed its borders and beaches in March, and was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“The worst is behind us,” Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya tweeted, with emojis of a bikini, sunglasses and a suitcase. “In July we will gradually open Spain to international tourists, lift the quarantine, ensure the highest standards of health safety. We look forward to welcoming you!” she wrote.
Gonzalez Laya also said that EU member states should agree to a common approach when opening borders and reestablishing freedom of travel within the EU’s Schengen Area. Restarting cross-border travel should be decided collectively, even if countries are phasing out lockdowns at different dates, she told Cadena SER radio.
“We have to start working with our European partners to retake the freedom of movement in European territories,” she said, adding that Spain is eager to welcome tourists with a view to “health, sustainability and safety.”
Spain normally draws more than 80 million tourists per year, with travel accounting for more than 12 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
EUROPE BEGINS TO OPEN UP FOR THE SUMMER SEASON
Across the European Union, countries have been seeing more freedom on a domestic level. In Spain, Madrid and Barcelona emerged from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with parks and cafes open for the first time in more than two months. Beaches in other parts of Spain were also reopened, with strict guidelines for social distancing.
Meanwhile, gyms and swimming pools reopened in Germany, Iceland, Italy and Spain, while restaurants in Greece reopened for outdoor service.
Despite successful coronavirus restrictions across Europe, however, Sweden, which took a more lenient approach to the pandemic, saw its death toll exceed 4,000 — a figure much higher than that of its neighbors. The country gained international attention for its approach in not enforcing stay-at-home measures.
Me, personally? I can’t wait to be able to get back to my home in Spain. But I’d settle right this minute – where there’s a 5 kilometre restrictions on my non-essential travels, to be able to drive through my relatively local McDonald’s. And I would take fries with that!
DEBUNKED: NO, ITALY DOES NOT WANT TO CHARGE BILL GATES WITH CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
I hate all of the rumour-mongers out there on social media. And this story explains why.
A Facebook post circulated in recent days claims that Italy wants to charge Microsoft founder Bill Gates with crimes against humanity.
Gates, one of the world’s wealthiest people, has made headlines in recent months as part of his foundation’s efforts to find a vaccine for COVID-19.
This specific claim – “Italy wants to charge Gates with crimes against humanity” – has its origins in a speech made by Sara Cunial, a member of the Italian Parliament.
On 14 May during a parliamentary session, Cunial, once a member of Italy’s right-wing Five Star Movement, addressed the Italian parliament and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
“Next time you receive a phone call from the ‘philanthropist’ Bill Gates, forward it directly to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity,” Cunial said told Conte.
During her speech, Cunial also claimed that Gates had used vaccines to sterilise millions of women in Africa and criticised his connections to telecommunications companies behind the adoption of 5G in the United States. She also claimed Gates had once said only genocide could save the world.
HECKLED AND INTERRUPTED
Towards the end of her 14 May speech in which she called for Gates to be charged with crimes against humanity, Cunial is interrupted and heckled in the chamber, suggesting there is not widespread support among Italian parliamentarians for her call.
Cunial is just one MP and her speech does not represent the Italian government’s position.
Nor many other people either.
A controversial figure in Italy, Cunial was expelled from the Five Star Movement in 2019 after accusing the party of being “agri-mafias”. Before that, in 2018, she was suspended from the party after comparing vaccines to “genocide”. She is now an independent.
In fact, the Facebook claim appears to stem solely from Cunial’s speech and nowhere else. No other member of Italy’s parliament has called for any such action against Gates in recent weeks.
This claim is false. Italy nor its Parliament wants to charge Bill Gates with crimes against humanity.
I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again – only trust news sources such as Gulf News and others. Do you honestly think that Facebook, where cat photos and funny videos are rampant along with birthday wishes from people you met once, is a credible source of news?
CANADA’S MILITARY REPORTS TERRIBLE CONDITIONS IN NURSING HOMES
I find this story so saddening. How dare senior citizens be treated in such a disgusting and deplorable manner.
The Canadian military has drawn the curtain back on horrific allegations of elder abuse in five Ontario long-term care homes, with precise, graphic reports of residents being bullied, drugged, improperly fed and in some cases left for hours and days in soiled bedding.
Within the military’s shocking catalogue of abuse, neglect and cruelty is an accusation that delinquent care led to the death of a resident.
Soldiers were called into the facilities as part of an effort to backstop the provincial system, which has been overwhelmed by coronavirus cases.
What they found has been recorded in assessments of each of the homes across the greater Toronto region — in Pickering, Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York and Brampton — and presented in a report to the Ontario government.
“It’s gut-wrenching,” said a grim-faced Premier Doug Ford on Tuesday. “Reading this report is the hardest thing I have done as premier.”
FLAWS MAY PREDATE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
According to the report, conditions in two of the seniors homes — Orchard Villa in Pickering and Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke — appeared to be nothing short of horrid and inhumane as ill-trained, burned-out and, in some cases, neglectful staff coped with the growing care needs of elderly residents.
It was in Orchard Villa that troops observed the choking death of one senior, who was lying down while being fed.
“Staff were unable to dislodge food or revive the resident,” said the report, which went on to conclude that the practice of not having patients sit up “appeared to have contributed” to the patient’s death.
In the same centre, according to the report, troops had to send a senior to hospital after the resident fractured a hip and was not cared for by staff. Other patients were “left in beds soiled, in diapers, rather than being ambulated to the toilets.”
‘COCKROACHES AND FLIES PRESENT’
“Cockroaches and flies present,” one assessment said. “Rotten food smell noted in the hallway outside. [Canadian Armed Forces] CAF members found multiple old food trays stacked inside the bed table.”
Staff members were overwhelmed and burned out, the report said.
“Respecting the dignity of patients is not always a priority,” it said.
At the Eatonville Care Centre, soldiers reported “witnessing aggressive behavior” by staff — reports that prompted an investigation by facility management. It was there that troops also reported seeing the drugging of patients whom staff claimed were “difficult or agitated.”
“But when you talk to them they just say they’re ‘scared and feeling alone like they’re in jail’ — no agitation or sedation required,” the report said.
At the Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, said the report, residents faced “inadequate nutrition” because most of them were not getting three meals a day — and when they did, “underfeeding was reported.”
It was also there that a “non-verbal resident wrote a disturbing letter alleging neglect and abuse” by a personal support worker. The letter was given to the military medic by the senior and the allegations were reported to the facility's management.
TRUDEAU CALLS FINDINGS 'DEEPLY DISTURBING'
Several of the assessments noted unsafe conditions that could help spread COVID-19, including instances where patients who had tested positive for the virus “were allowed to wander” and staff members left with inadequate personal protective equipment.
In his daily media briefing today, the prime minister said he was aware of the assessments and was saddened, shocked, disappointed and angered by what he had heard.
“It is deeply disturbing,” Justin Trudeau said.
The allegations were first reported in an online story Tuesday morning. The military compiles daily situation reports on the deployment and the allegations first surfaced in those assessments in early May, within two weeks of troops beginning the deployment.
Troops are obliged to report cases of abuse and mistreatment to the military chain of command or, if they are a nurse or a doctor, to their own health certification bodies.
The overall assessment, dated May 14, was compiled by the commander of the 4th Canadian Division, Brig.-Gen. Conrad Mialkowski, and forwarded on to National Defence Headquarters.
The Ontario government wasn’t formally notified until Sunday and the premier said he learned about the situation Monday night.
‘ANGER, SADNESS, FRUSTRATION'
The Department of National Defence refused to comment, saying that the Ontario government is responsible for the institutions.
“On reading the deeply disturbing report, I had obviously a range of emotions of anger, of sadness, of frustration, of grief,” Trudeau said. “It is extremely troubling, and as I’ve said from the very beginning of this, we need to do a better job of supporting our seniors in long-term care right across the country, through this pandemic and beyond.”
Trudeau said the report underscores the need to improve standards of care for seniors in long-term care homes across Canada and said the federal government will support the provinces’ efforts to do that going forward. Long-term care falls under provincial jurisdiction.
“We need to do a better job of caring for the people who built this country,” Trudeau said. “The greatest generation saw us through World War Two. We need to be there to support them properly through this global crisis.”
Over 1,675 troops have been brought in to backstop five long-term care homes in Ontario and a further 25 in Quebec. Their duties include helping residents with day-to-day needs, cleaning the facilities and meal distribution.
It is unclear whether similar abuse allegations have been levelled at long-term care facilities in Quebec.
What an absolute disgrace. Anyone responsible for this should face the full weight of the law. How incredibly sad.
MEME OF THE DAY
This was shared with me by Sandy in Toronto on Facebook. Yep, it’s true that a lot of people spend a lot of time in Instagram….
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
Another positive day on this shortened trading week, with my portfolio increasing by £233.50 on the day and up almost £500 two days in.
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.
Ocado did take a bit of a tumble but I made up more than enough ground to compensate and the decline seemed to be fueled by a report that Britons spent a record £1.2 billion (Dh5.3 billion) online buying groceries during a four week period in April and May as they shunned supermarket trips during the coronavirus lockdown.
The online share of 13 per cent of the grocery market in the four weeks to May 16 was up from 7 per cent at the same time last year and 10 per cent higher than in April, Market researcher Nielsen said.
Nielsen said 7.9 million British households placed an online grocery order, up from 4.8 million during the same period last year, including 1.1 million new online shoppers.
Ocado is an online grocery delivery company.
While online sales soared 103 per cent year-on-year, sales growth in stores was 6.6 per cent, despite visits to the shops being down 24 per cent.
But the amount shoppers spent on each visit they did make was up 44 per cent, with an average basket value of £21.60 pounds, reflecting a change in behaviour during the lockdown.
“Following over eight weeks in lockdown, UK shoppers are more accustomed to restricted living, and have adapted their grocery shopping habits to match,” said Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight. Online has been a clear winner ... as shoppers take advantage of retailers’ increased delivery capacity.”
Overall UK grocery sales increased by 13 per cent year-on-year, further emphasising a shift to the eat-out-of-home market to the supermarket sector as pubs, cafes and restaurants have been closed during the lockdown.
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 on Tuesday but slipped back a little on Wednesday.
This is how things stand after Wednesday
Net worth £12,570.88
Ocado, 100 shares: £2030.00
Diageo, 100 shares: £2918.50
Avast, 1,000 shares: £5040.00
PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £2520.00
Cash in hand: £55.38
£ gain on last trading day: £233.50
% Gain overall: 25.7 per cent
£ Gain overall: £2,570.88
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection that proves geography is no barrier to the spread of covidiocy.
COVIDIOTS GATHER FOR IN FRANCE FOR FOOTBALL GAME
Officials in Strasbourg have appealed for hundreds of spectators who attended an illegal football match at the weekend to be tested for COVID-19.
The authorities fear a second wave of the pandemic in one of France’s worst-affected regions. They have called on the estimated 400 people who took part in or watched the game to go to a testing centre set up at the European parliament building where they will be screened anonymously and without an appointment.
The match was played on Sunday between teams from two of the city’s districts – Neuhof and Hautepierre – in a local stadium in defiance of rules that limit public gatherings to a maximum of 10 people.
“We must absolutely avoid another virus cluster in Strasbourg and protect those who took part as well as their families,” said the local prefect, Josiane Chevalier.
She described the event as “incomprehensible, irresponsible and very serious”, but said the aim of the massive testing operation was not punishment. “This isn’t a trap. Our number one priority is health,” Chevalier added.
WANT TO PREVENT A SPREAD
Adeline Jenner, a regional health officer, added: “It’s important that the participants understand that their behaviour in the next few days can save lives. The test will not be held against them.”
Eastern France has been one of the areas worst affected by Covid-19 and remains “red” on France’s national virus map that designates regions where the virus is still actively circulating. At the height of the health emergency, the authorities were transferring patients from the Grand East region’s overwhelmed hospitals to neighbouring countries including Germany and by specially adapted TGVs to areas with fewer patients.
A second football match was held on Tuesday evening in Grigny in the Ile-de-France region, which is also red on the coronavirus map. Police said there were about 300 spectators but officers did not have the means to break up the game.
RAVING LUNCATICS, RAVING COVIDIOTS
Dozens of covidiots flocked to the mass gathering in Peterborough in the north of England which went on until 1.30am in defiance of coronavirus social distancing.
Police say they were initially called at about 8.20pm on Monday when seven or eight cars and 20 to 30 people had gathered in a road called Sheepwalk.
Then just after 10pm the ambulance service contacted the police to say a collision had occurred in on the road and a pedestrian had suffered minor injuries.
Police say when they got to the area the “sheer volume of people” present, many of whom were drunk, meant there weren’t enough officers to move people on from the area straight away.
They also said they were dealing with other incidents in the area at the time.
The Sun reports that at 11pm people gradually started to leave the area but about an hour later there were reports someone had been stabbed.
More officers arrived, including specialist units, to support ambulance crews and locate the reported victim.
But no-one with any injuries was identified at the scene and no one present themselves at the hospital.
POLICE WANT TO KNOW WHO ORGANISED THE EVENT
Superintendent Adam Gallop said officers were investigating who organised the event, how it came to be so large and if any criminal charges will be brought.
“We understand local residents were concerned, and some frightened, by the large gathering last night,” he said. “There is a line between organising community events to build morale in this challenging time, and the events of last night which very clearly were not acceptable.”
Around 16 police officers stayed at the scene to deal with any disorder or threats to life and persuade those present to go home.
Just after 1am the majority of people had left the area, with music turned off and all people cleared from the area by about 1.30am.
Police remained until about 4am and will be carrying out patrols of the area throughout the week.
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