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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 70

Sunday June 7, 9am

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?

I THINK I KNOW HOW PRISONERS FEEL WHEN THEY’RE GETTING CLOSE TO THEIR RELEASE DATE

I can smell freedom coming down the line. Starting my 11th week of restrictions here in Ireland, come Monday there will be greater ability to move around.

Since I returned from Bali towards the end of March, I – and everyone else living in Ireland – have been restricted to within an initial two kilometres, then five kilometres, from home. Shopping had to limited too.

But come Monday, restrictions are being eased a little.

All retail shops will reopen, groups of six allowed are allowed meet, and travel within my own county of Wexford will be allowed then.

Ireland is moving from lockdown at an accelerated rate from the previous roadmap, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar calling next week’s stage “Phase Two Plus”.

At the start of May, Varadkar announced a five-step plan for lifting the measures put in place by the government to slow the spread of COVID-19. That five-step plan has been condensed down to four and a number of measures have been brought forward.

First off, public health advice is still for people to avoid unnecessary journeys and to continue to work from home if possible.

As part of the accelerated roadmap, people will be permitted to travel anywhere within their own county, or up to 20 kilometres from home, whichever is greater from Monday.

The government is stressing that, while restrictions on travel and on many activities have been eased, people should “stay local”.

In terms of social visits, up to six people from different households can meet up both indoors and outdoors for a short period while maintaining strict social distancing. This is a change from the original government roadmap where just four people were allowed to meet.

WEARING FACE MASK VISITING SENIORS

Social visits also apply to the over 70s and medically vulnerable who can welcome a small number of people to their home. People are advised to wear face coverings and gloves during these visits.

There is to be a phased reintroduction of visiting at nursing homes, starting on June 15 in homes that put in place required protocols

This is the first time since lockdown measures were introduced in Ireland that people can visit their family in their respective homes. Social distancing must still be adhered to. The advice is to respect the two-metre distancing which we have all become accustomed to over the last 12 weeks.

Up to 25 immediate family and close friends may attend funeral services for loved ones from Monday. A maximum of 10 people were permitted to attend a funeral since mid-March.

Organised outdoor exercise, sporting, cultural or social activities of up to 15 people may also take place.

People should only use public transport if they absolutely need to, and public transport capacity is limited because of social distancing requirements. It is still recommended that face coverings be worn on public transport and in public places, such as shops.

SHOPPING CENTRES TO OPEN FROM JUNE 15

Most retailers will be able to open their doors from Monday, while shopping centres will also be able to open from 15 June.

Opening times will be staggered to relieve pressure on public transport and retailers will also provide dedicated hours for those who are over 70 or in an at-risk group.

The government is asking that people shop locally, shop safely and support businesses in their community.

All businesses that are reopening will have to comply with the government’s mandatory return-to-work health and safety protocols and ensure strict adherence to social distancing rules. In terms of cultural and social measures, public libraries with limited numbers can reopen.

Some good news for children too as the country’s playgrounds are due to reopen Monday. However, Dublin City Council has said it won’t be reopening any of its facilities until it receives further clarification from the government as it “does not operate supervised playgrounds”.

Outdoor summer camps will also be allowed to operate for secondary school children – once there are no more than 15 people involved.

A RETURN TO SOME SPORTING ACTIVITIES

In terms of sport, groups of up to 15 people, including trainers and coaches, may return to non-contact outdoor training activity (but not matches) while maintaining social distancing at all times.

High-performance athletes and their support staff will also be permitted to resume training at specific locations.

Greyhound racing and horse racing is to resume behind doors from Monday. The Irish Greyhound Board confirmed they have arranged a schedule of trials to commence on Monday 8 June at all 14 greyhound tracks

Pubs will remain closed for Phased Two but will be able to reopen on June 29 once they serve food. For pubs to open on this date, they must operate a table service and adhere to social distancing rules.

All other pubs can reopen on 20 July – three weeks earlier than originally planned. Restaurants and cafes will reopen as originally planned on 29 June.

I STILL CAN’T GET A HAIRCUT!

Barbers, hairdressers, and nail salons will remain shut until July 20 as their work involves “almost face-to-face contact” which makes it a “high-risk engagement’.

Couples hoping to get married will also have to wait a little longer for news of when weddings can resume. The original government roadmap stated that small weddings would be permitted by July 20.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said there were no specific recommendations around weddings for Phase Two, but they will be under consideration for either phase three or four.

Tourism and hospitality sectors are planned to return on June 29 in an effort to see the return of domestic tourism in the country.

Varadkar said he hoped that all going to plan, hotels, restaurants, hostels, caravan parks, galleries and museums will reopen on June 29. It is anticipated that places of worship will also be able to reopen from this point.

Although the final phase of the easing of restrictions has been brought forward to July 20, the ban on mass gatherings may remain “well into the autumn.”

PEDAL TO THE METAL

As previously mentioned, Varadkar announced the acceleration of the roadmap on Friday evening, meaning there will now be four phases of easing restrictions, rather than five.

Phase Three will begin on June 29 and Phase Four will start on July 20. It’s planned that all travel restrictions will be scrapped on June 29.

As always, the beginning of each phase will be kept under constant review and there is a chance that restrictions that have previously been lifted could be re-imposed.

Looking ahead to June 29, in order for the country to move into Phase Three the five “trigger criteria” laid out in the government’s roadmap must be met.

Decision-making on these transitions will be based on the latest data regarding the progression of the disease, the capacity and resilience of the health service in terms of hospital and ICU occupancy, the capacity of the programme of sampling, testing and contact tracing, the ability to shield and care for at risk groups, and an assessment of the risk of secondary morbidity and mortality as a consequence of the restrictions.

Varadkar said the decision to accelerate the easing of restrictions was made based on the medical evidence and the recommendations of its medical advisers and government reports on the economic and social impact of COVID-19.

DEBUNKED: NO, LEAVING HAND SANITISER IN YOUR CAR DURING HOT WEATHER WON’T CAUSE IT TO CATCH FIRE

Mick blog Fire
Image Credit: Facebook

Here we go again – rumour-mongers peddling fear. A post widely shared on Facebook has falsely claimed that hand sanitiser can catch fire if left in a hot car.

The post says that on a warm day, a car’s interior can reach temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees Celsius in direct sunlight, which in turn could “set the bottle of sanitiser alight”.

The post also features an image showing serious damage to the side door of a car that was allegedly caused by hand sanitiser combusting in a hot vehicle

Given the growth in demand for hand sanitisers during the pandemic, the ‘warning’ reads: “With temperatures creeping up, please don’t forget alcohol-based hand sanitiser is flammable.

“Your car’s interior can reach temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees Celsius in direct sunlight and set the bottle of sanitiser alight, like in the picture. ” Brazilian fact-checker Estadao first investigated the photo back in April, noting that the full image has some Portuguese writing in the background.

The picture has since done the rounds accompanying similar claims online. In the US, a Wisconsin Fire Department used the image to warn motorists against leaving hand gels in their cars.

MEDIA OUTLETS PICKED UP THE IMAGE AND STORY

The May 21 post was deleted from the Western Lakes Fire District of Oconomowoc Facebook page, but not before the New York Post and the Daily Mail ran stories on it, the latter warning that hand sanitiser ‘could explode’.

Factcheckers around the world have not been able to ascertain where the image originates from. However the facts about the claim itself are clear.

It is true that hand sanitisers are flammable, given they generally contain anywhere from 60-70 per cent alcohol. But in order for a fire to start at a temperature below several hundred degrees Celsius, there would need to be a spark or source of ignition involved.

The flashpoint of antibacterial gels – the temperature at which it gives off sufficient vapour that can be ignited by a spark or other source of ignition – is around 21 to 24 degrees Celsius. For example, the brand Carex, its antibacterial hand gels have flash points of between 22C and 23C

So, while hand gels are flammable and release vapours at these flashpoint temperatures, without a spark, the flammable ingredient in hand sanitiser – ethanol – would need to be exposed to a much higher temperature than 40 to 50 degrees Celsius as claimed.

For the ethanol to auto-ignite – the temperature needed for a substance to ignite without an ignition source – the inside of the car would need to reach 360C, give or take a few degrees either side.

A recent study by Arizona State University in the US analysing cars parked in the summer heat found that temperatures mostly peaked at 71.11 degrees Celsius inside the car. So, unless you’re planning on driving into a volcano any time soon, your hand sanitiser won’t be posing any explosive threats. However, it should be noted that leaving sanitiser in a hot car may not the best idea as the active ingredient can evaporate and make the sanitiser less effective!

WHO CHANGES TACK AND RECOMMENDS FACE MASKS WHERE SOCIAL DISTANCING NOT POSSIBLE

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is now recommending the use of face masks where social distancing is not possible.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the change in recommendation on Friday, saying the organisation is now recommending people wear masks in areas where there is widespread COVID-19 transmission.

He said people should wear them in places such as public transport or shops, where social distancing is not possible.

People over the age of 60 or those with underlying medical conditions should specifically wear a medical mask where social distancing cannot be maintained, he added.

Countries around the world have adopted the use of face masks, despite WHO previously saying they were not effective.

Britons using public transport must wear face coverings from 15 June after Boris Johnson changed his mind about their effectiveness.

Previously, the WHO only recommended healthcare workers, those with COVID-19 and their care givers wear masks.

Tedros said the widespread use of face masks is still not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence.

However, he said a growing amount of observational evidence from several countries who are recommending the use of face masks, plus the difficulty of social distancing in many settings, is enough for WHO to change its advice.

He emphasised that masks on their own will not protect people from getting COVID-19 and hand washing, social distancing and other measures are still important.

AREAS WITH WIDESPREAD TRANSMISSION RISKS

The director-general added that health workers in areas with widespread transmission should now wear medical masks in all areas of health facilities, not just where confirmed COVID-19 patients are.

Doctors working in cardiology or other wards, for example, should continue to wear a medical mask even if there are no known coronavirus patients, he said.

The UK government has also said all staff in hospitals in England will be expected to wear surgical masks from June 15, and all visitors and outpatients will have to wear face coverings at all times in hospital.

Everyone in public settings such as stores, at work, social or mass gatherings, and in closed settings such as schools or places of worship, or people living in cramped conditions, such as in refugee camps or slums and on public transport.

Because of the risk of diverting critical resources from health workers, the WHO says medical masks should be reserved for healthcare professionals and people in at-risk groups. Everyone else should use what it terms non-medical or fabric masks.

WHO says to Choose materials that capture droplets but remain easy to breathe through and avoid stretchy materials, because stretching may increase pore sizes, and preferably use a fabric that can be washed at 60C or higher.

A minimum of three layers is needed, including an absorbent inner layer, touching the mouth, and a synthetic outer layer that does not easily absorb water. Wash them frequently, at the highest temperature possible – and don’t share.

MEME OF THE DAY

Mick meme
Meme of the day Image Credit: Social media

This was shared with me on Instagram by a former neighbour just outside Toronto. Thanks, Sandy.

GARGLING WITH BLEACH? AMERICANS MISUSING DISINFECTANTS TO PREVENT CORONAVIRUS, SURVEY FINDS

More than a third of Americans misused cleaners and disinfectants to try to prevent infection by the coronavirus, according to a survey taken shortly after President Donald Trump publicly asked whether injecting such products could treat COVID-19.

Washing food with bleach, using household cleaning or disinfectant products on bare skin, and intentionally inhaling or ingesting these products were some of the most commonly reported “high-risk” practices in a May 4 online survey of 502 U.S. adults, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.

The survey’s lead author said it was undertaken following a “sharp increase” in calls to poison control centers for exposure to cleaners and disinfectants during the pandemic.

In late April, President Trump asked scientists during one of his coronavirus task force briefings whether inserting disinfectant into the bodies of people infected with the virus might help clear the disease, horrifying health experts. Makers of household cleaners were compelled to urge people not to drink or inject their products.

Some 39 per cent of people surveyed reported intentionally engaging in at least one high-risk practice not recommended by the CDC to prevent coronavirus infection, including using bleach to clean food or misting the body with a disinfectant spray. Four per cent drank or gargled with diluted bleach solutions, soapy water or disinfectants.

A quarter of those surveyed reported having at least one adverse health effect during the previous month that they believed resulted from using these products.

The CDC suggested that official COVID-19 prevention messages that currently focus on hand hygiene and frequent cleaning should also include instructions on proper usage of cleaners and disinfectants, and storing chemicals out of reach of children.

Limitations to the survey included that it was for a single point in time and was opt-in rather than a random sampling, the agency said.

CONFESSIONS FROM LOCKDOWN

I came across and interesting element on NBC where those under lockdown posted their one line confessions from lockdown. What they thought, what they did, their fears and other worries or concerns. The comments show that we’re pretty much the same the world over.. You can always share yours to Readers@gulfnews.com and mark it for the Going Viral blog.

Here are today’s 25 confessions:

1: It’s been a week since we last spoke and feels like 10. I miss you and still love you, hope we’re strong enough to make it through this.

2: Working as a cashier full time in a very busy market has worn me down emotionally and physically.

3: Because of COVID-19, I’ve been able to get that spark back with my husband.

4: My new roommate moved in the day my state shut down. Nothing like being stuck in a house with a stranger 24/7!

5: I'm terrified that my elderly parents will catch the virus. Dad on chemotherapy.

6: I have been alone for three months now with gour kids and a husband quarantining himself.

7: I get more money per week on unemployment now than I earned weekly in my job. I have zero desire to return.

8: My kids are so ready to go outside, to parks, see friends but I’m afraid to let them. I wish the news wasn’t so conflicting.

9: I'm 62 cashering in a grocery store and have only a small savings. I wish I could quit.

10: I hope teachers get a raise

11: As a hardcore introvert/loner I’m enjoying not getting pressured into to “hanging out”.

12: Anyone who won't social-distance or wear a mask when they go out to the grocery store deserves to spend the rest of their life alone.

13: Since the coronavirus, I haven't been able to see my boyfriend. We live apart and it's too risky to see each other. I miss him.

14: I don’t understand how Norway opens the whole country. I’m scared of getting the virus because it will probably spread more.

15: My manager has become verbally abusive to myself and my team during this time. HR is working remote and is unresponsive.

16: COVID-19 showed me just how empty and false one of my relationships was. It often felt like playing make believe. Turns out it was.

17: Health care coordinator, we get no thanks, no appreciation, no hazard pay. We are essential, we run the show!

18: I am hypertensive but would rather take my chances than stay home with my husband. The stress knows no bounds.

19: I'm embarrassed to live next to so many self-righteous, money-grubbing idiots. If there is a vaccine you get it. Stay home.

20: She's so stressed from getting laid off due to covid, now I feel like she's pushing me away. She has distanced herself. I miss her .

21: Staying home lead to figuring out husband involved with a coworker. They returned to work this Monday. Stressed and depressed.

22: Overall, teaching remotely stinks. Not having to deal with behavior problems sure is nice though.

23: I think we're both using each other and that when this is all over, we'll never speak to each other again.

24: Refuse to wear a mask? I don’t want your money in my business or your friendship in my life. You don’t care if my husband dies.

25: There are more important things than flattening the curve.

ARE PUBLIC WASHROOMS SAFE?

I came across this piece and thought it was worthwhile sharing, as the same thoughts and concerns are valid regardless of the geographical location.

As provinces across Canada begin to reopen their economies, more facilities and businesses are opening their doors again, leaving questions around how people can stay safe from the virus while using public restrooms.

Accessibility to public washrooms has been a long0-standing issue for people who are homeless or living with disabilities. But the urgent need for a place to go when nature calls has become even more clear with the onset of pandemic closures that gave even fewer options once places like restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses shut down.

So as more people start to venture out of their homes and spend more time in public places, should people be more worried about using a public washroom given the current global health crisis?

The short answer is no. The risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus from using a public restroom is really no higher than with any other virus or bacteria, which is fairly low, says Claire Cupples, an emeritus professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “On a scale of one to 10, I’d put washrooms at maybe a three or four,” she told CTV News.

FEWER GERMS THAN A RESTAURANT SEAT

Cupples said previous research she conducted on washroom cleanliness showed that high-contact surfaces like door handles and toilet seats proved to carry fewer germs than a restaurant tray or seat, and even her own toothbrush. Other research carried out over the years has offered similar findings.

But that’s not to suggest concerns over cleanliness in public washrooms are being taken lightly. ONroute Service Centres, a Canadian company that operates 23 rest area locations for drivers along the 400 and 401 series highways in Ontario, was deemed an essential service and has been delivering most of its regular offerings, but with the addition of some enhanced safety measures to deal with COVID-19, according to the company’s CEO, Melanie Teed-Murch.

Teed-Murch said changes include limiting the number of people allowed inside at one time and requiring all employees to wear masks and gloves. Workers also have to undergo temperature checks at the beginning of each shift and answer a number of screening questions in line with federal and provincial health guidelines.

According to Teed-Murch, the ONroute facilities were already adhering to high sanitation standards before the pandemic, noting facilities were being cleaned on the hour. “Now, we’re sanitising all surfaces every 20 minutes using anti-microbial cleaners,” she said. Other changes include adding stanchions to direct people in and out of washrooms, and demarcation lines on the floor to help people keep a safe distance

HANDWASHING STILL THE GOLDEN RULE

Incorporating physical distancing requirements and increasing the frequency of cleanings are good ways to help limit the risk of picking up any germs in a public washroom. But Cupples points to other things that could go even further to help keep people safe. “Using every other sink, that makes more sense,” she said. “Masks are going to help a lot, at least for preventing transmission,” Cupples added. It may not always be possible, but she also suggests avoiding crowded washroom facilities.

But Cupples thinks the most important tool to protect yourself from catching any virus is plain and proper hand-washing. While the jusry is still outon whether drying your hands with a paper towel is more sanitary than using a hand dryer, Cupples encourages the use of a paper towel, even your own sleeve, to turn taps off and open doors once you’re done.

Cupples also believes having to touch a door on your way out of a public washroom is another potential flaw in the user experience. “Washrooms need to be redesigned so we don’t need contact getting in and out. The last thing you want to do after you wash your hands is open a door,” she said. Making doors and stalls easier to get in and out of, installing automatic taps, soap dispensers and toilet flushers are other good things for businesses to consider in helping minimize the spread of germs in a public washroom, she said.

If the fear of catching COVID-19 has heightened people’s overall awareness of their hygiene habits, Cupples says that can only be a good thing. “One of the key things to think about in general, is to be conscious of where you put your hands. It’s so easy to do one thing carefully, and the next thing sloppily,” she added.

TAKING STOCK

There’s no trading on Saturday and Sunday on the London Stock Exchange.

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.

This is how things stand now:

Net worth £14,184.38

Ocado, 100 shares: £2123.00

Diageo, 100 shares: £2900.00

PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £4416.00

Cash in hand: £4745.38

£ gain on last trading day: £305.00

% Gain overall: 41.8 per cent

£ Gain overall: £4,184.38

I’ll decide later today on how to invest that £4745.38 cash in hand. I need some more time to think before committing. But I am staying with grocery ordering company Ocado, green energy producer PowerHouse, and drinks distiller Diageo for now.

COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS

Here’s my daily proof that covidiocy actually increases during sunny days….

THE BEACH AND WATERFALL REVELLERS

Resisting the temptation to party when temperatures rose at the end of May proved too difficult for some people as scenes in North and West Yorkshire over two separate weekend shocked residents and passers-by, Lees Live reports.

On Bank Holiday Monday, it is thought up to 100 people gathered at Richmond Falls in northeast England, with dozens of people spotted drinking and sunbathing at the picturesque beauty spot. Teenagers were apparently flinging stones at each other and inhaling laughing gas in scenes likened to something from Ibiza, according to concerned people on social media.

Similar hedonistic scenes were filmed at Ilkley on the same weekend as hundreds of revellers descended on the River Wharfe to soak up the sun.

Videos showed people clearly ignoring social distancing rules and the aftermath of both parties left a trail of devastation with residents having to clear up litter abandoned by those who carelessly partied with little or no concern for the environment.

THE THOUGHTLESS DRIVERS

When the lockdown was first introduced, the UK government’s message was clear – stay at home and only make essential journeys.

However, it appeared that some people did not get that message with scores of drivers caught making ridiculous trips across Yorkshire for an array of bizarre and frankly unnecessary reasons.

There were the bikes from Rochdale who went on a 300-kilometre to Whitby for fish and chips, the Huddersfield driver who was stopped in Rochdale after breaking lockdown to buy a kebab and the Rotherham pair who went on 300-kilometre-round trip to pick up a dog in lockdown.

Police shared dozens of stories like these to encourage people to stay at home but for some, the temptation to drive was too much.

Other notable examples included the Huddersfield dad who ran out of fuel after breaking lockdown rules to visit his daughter 100 kilometres away in Liverpool, and the couple who travelled from Leeds to Whitby to “look at the sea”.

THE SHEFFIELD BRAWLERS AND THEIR NOSEY NEIGHBOURS

Since lockdown was introduced, one housing estate in Sheffield has been in the limelight for the wrong reasons after constant breaches which have required police intervention.

People are so disobedient in Page Hall, which has been dubbed the Jeremy Kyle estate, that police were forced to send in a violent crime taskforce to tackle disorder.

This came not longer after a shocking video emerged of 50 neighbours crowding around to watch a fight between two residents in disturbing scenes which revealed a long-term problem with lockdown law breakers in the area.

Residents who follow the rules and stay inside their homes have called for the army to get in and it has now got to the point where a huge protest will be staged unless improvements are seen.

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