20200604 dublin
People cross the tram tracks in Dublin City centre in Ireland, as Ireland cautiously begins to lift it's coronavirus lockdown. Image Credit: AFP

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 67

Thursday June 4, 9am




I can’t remember the last time I shook someone’s hand. And I miss shaking hands. My work normally involves going places, doing things, meeting people. This COVID-19 lockdown has stopped all of that.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they shake hands – heaven knows enough time was spent checking and analysis just how President Donald Trump greets leaders at the White House. There were column inches spend on how French President Emmanuel Macron disarmed Trump with a two-handed grab, or how Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used a semi-wrestling move to avoid the hand-breaking hand-shaking slapdown.

But all that is a thing of the past.

I always had instant suspicions of person if there was a limp, sweaty paw offered heart-heartedly. Clammy hands too made my want to squirm, while a grip that was secure and strong put me at ease.

I don’t think the elbow bump some people are using how quite has the same appeal. It’s hard to get an instant impression when funny bones are bumped.

Shoe tapping has also been suggested. I think it just looks silly – like trying to dance with someone when you’re both left footed, there’s no music, and you’re waltzing while they’re jiving. It doesn’t work.

And that one reason why it’s going to be strange going back to places that were closed for so long during the pandemic. And now that they’re starting to reopen, we’ll need to rethink how we feel about those places.


As the Foreign Correspondent for Gulf News based in Europe, travel is part of life both professionally and personally. And I love picking up phrases or trying to learn smatterings of languages. And since Monday, many tourists will be trying their hand at “buongiorno” – “good morning” – all over again.

Italy has reopened to travellers.

It has been a long three months since the nation went into coronavirus lockdown. The tourism sector is vital to Italy economy, and a lot will depend on how visitors react – minus those handshakes of course.

Gondolas are ready to punt along Venice’s canals, lovers will be able to act out Romeo and Juliet on Verona’s famed balcony, and gladiator fans can pose for selfies at Rome’s Colosseum.

But there were fears many foreign tourists would be put off coming to a country still shaking off a vicious pandemic.

“Come to Calabria. There’s only one risk: that you’ll get fat,” the southern region’s governor Jole Santelli said as the race began to lure big spenders — or any spenders — back to Italy’s sandy shores.


With Italy facing its deepest recession since the second World War, it needs foreigners to return, and quickly. So too the rest of the Southern European nations, where beaches, history, culture and good eating brings millions every summer.

And air travel is crucial to getting things back up and running. On Monday, international flights resumed to Milan, Rome and Naples. But there are fears that those who usually come in by car, train or ferry from neighbouring countries would go elsewhere on their holidays.

Switzerland has warned its citizens that if they go to Italy, they will be subject to “health measures” on their return. The country will open its borders with Germany, France and Austria on 15 June, but not with Italy.

Austria is lifting restrictions in mid-June with Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – but again, not Italy, described last week by Vienna’s health minister as “still a hotspot”.

Other countries, such as Belgium and Britain, are still advising against, or forbidding, all non-essential travel abroad.


Here in Ireland, the Department of Foreign Affairs is continuing to advise against all non-essential travel to Italy. In response to perceived anti-Italian sentiment, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has warned countries not to treat Italy “like a leper”. He said he would be travelling to Germany, Slovenia and Greece to persuade them Italy is safe for foreign tourists.

Arrivals in Italy from Europe will not be required to self-isolate unless they have recently travelled from another continent.

But Di Laio’s country has reeled as the tourism sector – it was worth 13 per cent if Italy’s gross domestic product last year – and everything else went into a sudden and deep hibernation.

Historic sites were shut, restaurants closed, and hotels were used to care for coronavirus sick.

Restaurants, cafes and beach establishments have slowly reopened over the past two weeks – although the government has said it reserves the right to impose localised lockdowns if it sees contagion numbers rise.

Spain too is the same, and it will reopen fully to foreigners come July 1. Last year, more than 80 million foreign tourists visited Spain. Personally, I can’t wait to be able to get into my car and drive to my Spanish island home then. Bring it on!


One of the benefits of living in the European Union is that most laws are the same or very similar, and it’s possible – in normal times – to travel freely without the need for restrictions on movement or security checks at frontiers. COVID-19 has changed all that – for now.

It’s hard to make sense of the patchwork of reopenings that are occurring across the EU as a while, and when officials look back on this, they’ll likely regret that the EU didn’t act as a whole in fighting coronavirus – or indeed when it comes as to how the EU reopened.

Germany plans to lift a travel ban for European Union member states plus Britain, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland from 15 June provided coronavirus infection levels in those countries allow it to do so, government sources said. A further condition is that the countries concerned open their borders to holidaymakers.

Germany will likely issue country-specific guidelines on the coronavirus situation in the European countries concerned.

But then there’s Britain, where the government seems determined to go ahead with a much-criticised quarantine plan for all arrivals there except those from the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.


The mandatory 14-quarantine is supposed to take effect on June 8 – next Monday. Everyone arriving in the UK will be required to self-isolate for 14 days except those on a list of “limited exemptions”, which the government said it would publish later.

Those exempt will include road haulage and freight workers, medical professionals who are travelling to help with the fight against the coronavirus, anyone moving from within the Common Travel Area, which covers Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and seasonal agricultural workers – who will be able to self-isolate on the property where they are working.

The government said it would also continue to look at the option of things such as air bridges – agreements between countries who both have low transmission rates to remove the need for quarantine measures.


All arriving passengers will have to fill in an online contact form providing details and travel information so they can be contacted if they, or someone they may have been in contact with, develops the disease.

This will include giving details of their self-isolation accommodation and if it does not meet the necessary requirements, they will be required to self-isolate in facilities arranged by the government, at the passenger’s expense.

The government said people should use personal transport, such as a car, to travel to their accommodation where possible.

Once there, they should not go to work, school, or public areas, or use public transport or taxis.

They should not have visitors, including friends and family, unless they are providing essential support.

They should also not go out to buy food or other essentials where they can rely on others.


The new regime will be in place across the United Kingdom, although enforcement measures will be set individually by each of the devolved nations.

In England, a breach of the self-isolation rules would be punishable with a £1,000 (Dh4,616) fine or potential prosecution and unlimited fine. The level of fine could increase if the risk of infection from abroad increases.

The Border Force may refuse entry to any non-British citizen who refuses to comply with these regulations and is not resident in the UK.

Failure to complete the contact form is punishable by a £100 (Dh461) fine. The government said public health authorities would conduct random checks in England to ensure compliance and removal from the country would be considered as a last resort for foreign nationals who refuse to follow the rules.


The rules will come into force on Monday and will be reviewed every three weeks.

The government said the first review would take place by June 29 and would look at factors such as the rate of infection and transmission internationally, the measures international partners have put in place, levels of imported cases in other countries where there are more relaxed border measures, and the degree to which antibody and other testing methodologies prove effective in minimising the health risk.

There are many critics of the programme and there are many loopholes.

As things stand now, I have booked to take my car on a ferry from Dublin to Wales on June 19 and won’t face any quarantine regulations when I go to visit friends and family up and down Britain.

One of the biggest loopholes is that if you really want to get into the UK, all you have to do is fly into Dublin, Shannon or Cork. Then fly onto to the UK.

I’ve said it here before about this, and I’ll likely end up saying again – it’s too little too late and is like closing the stable door after the horse has long bolted.


Many critics of the way nations shut down to fight COVID-19 have long cited the example of Sweden as a country that didn’t – and things were good there.

Not so.

And sadly, a lot of elderly Swedes paid with their lives for their nation’s non-conventional approach.

That’s why on Wednesday, the man behind the Public Health Agency’s pandemic strategy came straight out and said that Sweden should have done more to combat the coronavirus and prevent a much higher national COVID-19 death rate than in neighbouring countries

Nearly 4,500 Swedes have died in the outbreak, a higher mortality rate than in Denmark, Norway and Finland, and criticism has been growing over the government’s decision not to impose lockdown measures as strictly as elsewhere in Europe.

Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency, said that in hindsight Sweden should have done more.

“If we were to run into the same disease, knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would end up doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell told Swedish radio. “Yes, I think we could have done better in what we did in Sweden, clearly.”


While most of Europe, including Norway, Denmark and Finland, closed schools, shops and businesses, bringing much of society to a halt, Sweden has relied more on voluntary measures, social distancing and common-sense hygiene advice to stem the outbreak.

It shut care homes to visitors in late March, but around half of the deaths in the country have been among elderly people living in care facilities.

Tegnell said it was hard to know which measures taken elsewhere might have been the most effective in Sweden.

“Maybe we will find this out now that people have started removing measures, one at a time,” he said. “And then maybe we will get some kind of information on what, in addition to what we did, we could do without adopting a total lockdown.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the government would launch an enquiry into the handling of the pandemic.

Personally, I think it borders on criminal behaviour if governments and officials didn’t take every reasonable measure to protect and safeguard their citizenry. Lives are too precious to be used as guinea pigs in some giant social or epidemiological experiment.

People don’t live in petri dishes.


One of the many things this pandemic has thought us is the value of medical research. It’s forcing us and experts to look at what we have and see if it can be used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or indeed treat those who contract the bug.

A new trial has been launched in the UK to assess whether ibuprofen may hold the key to preventing severe breathing problems in COVID-19 patients.

Experts are assessing whether a special formulation of the cheap drug could help reduce the serious side effect seen among patients infected with the novel coronavirus.

It is hoped that the special formulation of the cheap anti-inflammatory drug, to be delivered at a certain point in illness among hospital patients, will reduce severe respiratory illness.

This could potentially lead to shorter hospital stays and fewer patients needing help in intensive care units (ICU).

Mitul Mehta, professor of neuroimaging and psychopharmacology and director of Centre for Innovative Therapeutics at Kings College London, told the PA news agency: “It’s a trial for patients with COVID-19 disease to see if giving them an anti-inflammatory drug – a specific form of ibuprofen – will reduce the respiratory problems they have.”


Prof Mehta stressed that the trial was for hospitalised patients – not those who have mild or suspected COVID-19.

Participants will be drawn from those who are hospitalised, but not so ill they are in need of intensive care.

“And if we can reduce their symptoms at that stage we have a number of benefits: we could reduce the amount of time that someone spends in hospital – they might recover quicker and go home, that’s obviously a fantastic outcome; we also might be reducing the degree of respiratory distress so that it can be managed in the hospital setting, without needing to go to ICU. And that is a fantastic outcome as well.

“Theoretically, this treatment, given at this time, should be beneficial.

“But of course, this is based on animal studies. It’s based on case reports, we need to do a trial to show that the evidence actually matches what we expect to happen.”

Professor Mehta said that animal studies into acute respiratory distress syndrome – a symptom of COVID-19 disease – shows that around 80per cent of animals with this condition die.

But when they are given this special formulation of ibuprofen the survival rates increase to 80 per cent.

“This is very promising,” he said. “But of course it is an animal study, so we want to translate that really compelling result into humans.”

The Liberate trial is a joint effort between experts from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London and the pharmaceutical organisation the SEEK Group.


Half of the patients enrolled in the trial will receive standard care and the other half will receive standard care plus the special ibuprofen formulation. It is hoped that the way the drug has been formulated will reduce potential gastric side effects linked to ibuprofen.

Professor Matthew Hotopf, director of the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre said: “This highly innovative therapeutic approach seeks to rapidly advance a potentially important new treatment. If successful, the global public health value of this trial result would be immense given the low cost and availability of this medicine.”

Early on in the pandemic, there was controversy over the use of ibuprofen after a French health minister advised against the use of it.

Scientists in Britain launched a review to assess ties to the drug and COVID-19.

The Commission on Human Medicines’ expert working group concluded: “There is currently insufficient evidence to establish a link between use of ibuprofen and susceptibility to contracting COVID-19 or the worsening of its symptoms.”


Even before COVID-19 changed all of our lives forever, medical experts were warning about the dangers of over-prescribing antibiotics. Indeed, when I move to Dubai, it was possible to buy antibiotics over the counter in chemist shops – something that I hadn’t seen for many decades. Thankfully, that practice has been long prohibited by UAE health officials.

But now the World Health Organisation has warned that the increased use of antibiotics to fight the COVID-19 pandemic will strengthen bacterial resistance and lead to more deaths during the crisis and beyond.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a worrying number of bacterial infections were becoming increasingly resistant to the medicines traditionally used to treat them.

As a result, the organisation has issued guidance to doctors not to provide antibiotic therapy or prophylaxis to patients with mild COVID-19 or to patients with moderate illness without a clinical suspicion of bacterial infection.

“It’s clear that the world is losing its ability to use critically important antimicrobial medicines,” Tedros said. “The threat of antimicrobial resistance is one of the most urgent challenges of our time.”

He said there was an overuse of antibiotics in some countries, while in low-income states, such life-saving medicines were unavailable. “This leads to needless suffering and death,” he said.


Meanwhile the WHO said the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) had been severely disrupted since the COVID-19 pandemic began in December, following a survey of 155 countries.

“This situation is of significant concern because people living with NCDs are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 -related illness and death,” WHO said.

The survey, during a three-week period in May, found that low-income countries were most affected.

Some 53 per cent of countries reported partially or completely disrupted services for hypertension treatment.

The figure was 49 per cent for diabetes treatment and related complications; 42 per cent for cancer treatment, and 31 percent for cardiovascular emergencies.

The most common reasons for discontinuing or reducing services were cancellations of planned treatments, a decrease in available public transport and a lack of staff because health workers had been reassigned to COVID-19 treatment.


One of the pluses from this coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown of more than two-thirds of the world’s population under some form of regulations over the past three months is that nature has had a chance to rebound – without us pesky humans being there to interfere

Such is the case with an endangered species of seahorse that has returned to its former stronghold in the southeast coast on England, marine conservationists say.

The Seahorse Trust says during one regular dive at Studland Bay, it found 16 spiny seahorses, its largest daily discovery there since 2008, and the first sighting for two years. The conservationists discovered pregnant males – yes, you did read that right – and a juvenile that had been born this year.

The charity believes it is down to fewer people and boat traffic in the area – with less noise associated with anchors – since COVID-19 measures were introduced more than two months ago.

Founder Neil Garrick-Maidment says the ecology of the site has made a “remarkable” comeback, Sky News reports.

“We have seen so many seahorses because the food chain has recovered, giving seahorses plenty of food to eat, and crucially, somewhere to hide,” he said. “The seagrass has started to repair itself, and the spiny seahorses have taken advantage of this.”


Both of the UK’s native seahorse species – the spiny and the short snouted – were granted protected status in 2008 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

After years of campaigning, Studland Bay was finally designated as a Marine Conservation Zone last year in recognition of the importance of its seagrass habitat and seahorse population.

“The question is how we go forward,” Garrick-Maidment added, saying they “do not want boats and divers banned”, but that the tiny marine fish and seagrass “do need their legal protection enforced”.

“The 16 seahorses discovered on a single dive are an amazing discovery, but we now need the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Natural England to enforce the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Marine Conservation Zone and put in place measures such as environmentally friendly moorings,” he said. “The seahorses need protection to stop them being disturbed again as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and to stop them vanishing from this legally protected site. We have a unique opportunity to help nature and to restore the balance of our planet.”


A leading scientist has warned that animals harbour almost two million viruses with the potential to infect humans.

Dr Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, told Sky News that we must learn the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic and stop the next outbreak at source.

“We analysed the number of unknown viruses that could emerge in future and we estimate there are about 1.7 million of them, of the type that could infect people,” he said. “It’s a really significant future threat. We only know of a couple of thousand viruses so the vast majority are waiting to emerge in future.”

The virus that causes COVID-19 is believed to have jumped to humans from bats in China. Studies of people living near bat caves in Asia have shown that other viruses have also infected humans but not evolved to spread further.

Dr Daszak said every effort should now be made to unravel the genetic code of viruses living in animals.

“We estimate you could do that over a period of 10 years. You could then develop drugs and vaccines. You would also find out where they are, and that helps local communities living on the front line of these diseases to change the behaviour that puts them at risk.”


Science has been applied to the new virus in ways that would have been thought impossible just a few years ago.

The coronavirus emerged in Wuhan just five months ago. But already scientists have unravelled its genetic code and worked out its structure, and there are 10 possible vaccines in clinical trials.

At the University of Liverpool scientists are looking for mutations in the genetic code, subtle changes that are passed on to all the copies it makes of itself as it spreads. It allows them to track the virus from China to Europe, and then its rampage across the continent. Multiple different genetic variants were introduced to the UK, particularly from Italy, Spain and France in February and March.

Such detailed understanding of the pandemic is only possible with real-time decoding of the 30,000 chemical letters that make up the virus's genetic blueprint.

Machines made by Oxford Nanopore can unravel the genetic material in a couple of hours – work that just five years ago would have taken many months.

“Genomics these days is absolutely central to everything in biology and everything in healthcare,” said Steve Paterson, a professor of Genetics at the university. “The first tool you reach for is to sequence the genome of the pathogen that you have got. “From there you can look at the proteins, you can decide what vaccines might be useful for it, you can design diagnostic tests and the rest follows on from that. It’s absolutely embedded in the way in which we do science now.”


In the fight to protect ourselves from COVID-19 and all of the other viruses out there, technology and artificial intelligence are vital. So too supercomputers, which are also helping scientists to catch up with the virus.

University College London is using a machine millions of times more powerful than a home PC to rapidly test chemical structures to see if they block the virus.

Only those highly likely to work will go into clinical studies.

Professor Peter Coveney, who is both a chemist and computer scientist at the university, said it shortcuts what used to take the pharmaceutical industry many years.

“It’s really a question of being able to do things bigger, better and faster than anything you could do with lower end computers,” he said. “The accuracy of predictions is increasing all the time with the power of the machines we have available.”


Thanks to Sandy in Oakville, just west of Toronto on Lake Ontario, for sharing this with me on Instagram.



After two days of losses on Monday and Tuesday, my portfolio turned things around with a gain of £93.50.

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.

Avast, the software maker slipped while my other three stocks posted moderate gains. I will likely rebalance everything once the trading week is done on Friday. Still, overall, my portfolio has gained my more than one third in a little over nine weeks of trading.

This is how things stand after Wednesday.

Net worth £13,739.38

Ocado, 100 shares: £2185.00

Diageo, 100 shares: £2894.0

Avast, 1,000 shares: £5180.00

PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £3600.00

Cash in hand: £55.38

£ gain on last trading day: £93.50

% Gain overall: 37.3 per cent

£ Gain overall: £3,739.38


Here’s my daily collection that proves covidiocy has mutated in the sickest of ways.


Paedophile hunting groups have seen a five-fold increase in the number of sex offenders trying to make contact with children online since the lockdown.

Several groups have told Sky News in the UK that the decoys they use to pose as underage girls and boys in online chat rooms, are being messaged up to 200 times a day by adults.

It comes as police chiefs warn of a likely increase in vigilante action against suspected sex offenders once the lockdown is lifted.

Across the UK, around 90 named groups are active in tracking down online paedophiles.

On average, the groups carry out more than 100 sting operations a month, where they confront and detain suspects they have gathered evidence on.

The number of stings has fallen to just a handful during the lockdown. But Assistant Chief Constable Dan Vajzovic, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for online child sex exploitation activist groups, said so-called paedophile hunters were still active and may be sitting on about a 160 cases.


Vajzovic said: “During the first month of the lockdown, just 16 incidents were recorded, with 15 of those limited to 'e-activism', where evidence gathered in chat logs is passed to police.”

Jo Stubbs, who has helped run a paedophile hunting team in Nottingham for several years, said she “expected a lot of teams to be picking up where they left off” once the lockdown is lifted.

But she also said hunters had been working increasingly with law enforcement and passing on evidence of criminality.

“A lot of the cases have been handed over to the police,” she said. “And a lot of them have been worked by the police. As always, there's a backlog and some cases that haven't been worked on, so I would expect that our teams would go out and get those. There is one case at the moment with another colleague, which was sent to the police more than a week ago and it still hasn’t been acted on.

This individual is still out there and has access to children. That's frustrating.”


One woman, who acts as an online decoy for a paedophile-hunting group in Nottingham said there had been a massive increase in the number of adults making contact with her in chat rooms, believing she was a 14-year-old girl.

“It was very bad before lockdown, we were getting maybe 40 men messaging me on a chat site each day,” she said. “Two days ago, I had over 208 messages in 24 hours. And that was just on one chat site.”

The woman, who has children of her own, said she uses multiple false names online and always tells those who make contact with her that she is just 14-years’ old.

But she said the vast majority of men continue to seek contact with her.

“I’d have about 10 at a time replying back. By the time I’ve messaged them back, there’s another 10 messages coming through, so it’s just never ending. When I tell them I’m 14, only a small number are blocking me. Most still talk to me in a sexual way, even though I keep saying I’m just 14.”


The activities of online activist groups are not illegal but have occasionally resulted in allegations of assaults and a number of people targeted have gone on to commit suicide.

Last year, six members of the Predator Exposure group were cleared by a jury at Leeds Crown Court of charges including false imprisonment and common assault, after prosecutors said they “overstepped the mark” when they confronted two men.

David Baker, 43, took his own life days after he was confronted by the Southampton Trap group, who alleged he had been planning to meet a 14-year-old girl in a supermarket car park in October 2017.

Assistant chief constable Vajzovic said: “Activist groups can produce some positive results, but our overall assessment is they are more harmful than they are good.”


Figures released by An Garda Siochana – Ireland’s police force – show that there have been 88 incidents of people spitting or coughing on Garda members since 8 April.

Between that date and this weekend, Garda1 have had to use anti-spit guards 63 times.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said although the number of incidents were reduced, they were “unacceptable”.

“An Garda Siochana will continue to treat any such incident against a member of An Garda Siochana or any citizen very seriously,” he said.

Police said they had invoked enforcement powers under the COVID-19 Public Health regulations 289 times since that same date – and 13 times in the last week.

An Garda Siochana invoked the Public Health regulations on six occasions over the June Bank Holiday weekend out of “thousands” of interactions with the public in open spaces and at checkpoints.

In order to implement the guidelines issued in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, An Garda Siochana has an aim to “engage” first with members of the public, “educate, encourage and, as a last resort, enforce”.

Gardaí said “the vast majority” are continuing to adhere to the public health guidelines, but “a small minority of cases across the country” wouldn’t comply with public guidelines despite receiving warnings.


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