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 June 11, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
LOCKDOWNS MIGHT BE FRUSTRATING BUT THEY DO SAVE LIVESLockdowns might be furstrating but they do save lives
3 MILLION SAVED FROM CORONAVIRUS ACOSS EUROPE, STUDY SAYS
As things stand now, I will be living under some form of restrictions of my movements for weeks to come. It’s a state of limited movement that I have been in since I returned to Ireland from a month away in Bali. There’s little point in complaining and the experience has been enlightening if a little frustrating at times. But with the death toll globally north of 400,000 and with some seven million people infected by coronavirus, I and many, many more people have a lot to be thankful for.
Two-thirds of the world’s population have been placed at one time or another since the end of January in some form of lockdown or with restrictions on out movements. It’s only now, four months on, that we are beginning to see lockdowns lifted and restrictions being eased.
Has it all been worth it?
Yes. Lockdowns have saved more than three million lives from coronavirus in Europe, a new study in the United Kingdom estimates.
The team at Imperial College London said the “death toll would have been huge” without lockdown, but they warned that only a small proportion of people had been infected and we were still only “at the beginning of the pandemic”.
Another study argued global lockdowns had “saved more lives, in a shorter period of time, than ever before”.
ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF RESTRICTIONS ON 11 EUROPEAN NATIONS
The Imperial study assessed the impact of restrictions in 11 European countries – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK – up to the beginning of May. By that time, around 130,000 people had died from coronavirus in those countries.
The researchers used disease modelling to predict how many deaths there would have been if lockdown had not happened. And the work comes from the same group that guided the UK’s decision to go into lockdown.
They estimated 3.2 million people would have died by 4 May if not for measures such as closing businesses and telling people to stay at home.
That meant lockdown saved around 3.1 million lives, including 470,000 in the UK, 690,000 in France and 630,000 in Italy, the report in the journal Nature shows.
“Lockdown averted millions of deaths, those deaths would have been a tragedy,” said Dr Seth Flaxman, from Imperial College.
Their equations made several assumptions, which will affect the figures. They assume nobody would have changed their behaviour in response to the Covid threat without a lockdown – and that hospitals would not be overwhelmed resulting in a surge in deaths, which nearly happened in some countries.
The study also does not take into account the health consequences of lockdowns that may take years to fully uncover.
ONLY THE BEGINNING?
The model also predicted that the outbreak would be nearly over by now without lockdown, as so many people would have been infected.
More than seven in 10 people in the UK would have had COVID-19, leading to herd immunity and the virus no longer spreading. Instead, the researchers estimate that up to 15 million people across Europe had been infected by the beginning of May.
The researchers say at most, 4 per cent of the population in those countries had been infected.
“Claims this is all over can be firmly rejected. We are only at the beginning of this pandemic,” said Dr Flaxman. And it means that as lockdowns start to lift, there is the risk the virus could start to spread again.
“There is a very real risk if mobility goes back up there could be a second wave coming reasonably soon, in the next month or two,” said Dr Samir Bhatt.
Meanwhile, a separate study by University of California, Berkeley, analysed the impact of lockdowns in China, South Korea, Iran, France and the US.
Their report, also in Nature, says lockdown prevented 530 million infections in those countries.
Just before lockdowns were introduced, they said cases were doubling every two days.
Dr Solomon Hsiang, one of the researchers, said coronavirus had been a “real human tragedy” but the global action to stop the spread of the virus had “saved more lives, in a shorter period of time, than ever before”.
PANDEMIC IS DR FAUCI’S WORST NIGHTMARE
I think it’s fair to say that for many people, particularly those living in the United States, Dr Anthony Fauci has been a voice of reason during this pandemic, making sense of the science and putting things in perspective for us.
I have tremendous respect for his views, which is why I am concerned after hearing him speak on Tuesday night. He’s US’s top infectious disease expert and warned that the coronavirus pandemic was far from over, calling COVID-19 his “worst nightmare”.
“In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world,” Dr Fauci told executives at a conference of the Biotechnology Innovation Organisation. “And it isn’t over yet.”
Many countries, including the US where more than 110,000 have died, are now relaxing quarantine rules despite rising rates of infection in some areas.
“That’s millions and millions of infections worldwide. And it isn’t over yet. And it’s condensed in a very, very small time frame,” said Dr Fauci.
SURPRISE AT HOW RAPIDLY VIRUS SPREAD
In a videotaped discussion Dr Fauci said he had known that an outbreak like this could occur but he was surprised by how “rapidly it just took over the planet”. Dr Fauci attributed the rapid spread to the contagiousness of the virus and extensive world travel by infected people.
The top White House infectious disease adviser said the coronavirus pandemic differed significantly from other recent public health crises including Ebola and HIV.
“I mean, Ebola was scary. But Ebola would never be easily transmitted in a global way,” he said. “HIV, as important as it is, was drawn out over an extended period of time. I mean, I think the ultimate impact of Aids almost certainly will be greater than anything we’re talking about now.”
The coronavirus just “took over the planet,” he said.
RESEARCH ON COVID-19 ‘IS A WORK IN PROGRESS’
Dr Fauci described research on the disease as “a work in progress” and said there were still questions about whether or not survivors who were seriously ill would fully recover. The disease has been shown to have a wide range of effects on people – leaving some without symptoms while others suffer lung damage, strokes, clotting disorders and severe immune responses.
He was speaking after the World Health Organisation (WHO) rolled back guidance that it was “very rare” for the disease to be transmitted by people who have the virus but no symptoms.
“Oh my goodness,” Dr Fauci said. “Where is it going to end? We’re still at the beginning of it.”
But Dr Fauci said he was “very heartened” by the pharmaceutical industry, which he said, “stepped up to the plate”. There are more than 124 COVID-19 vaccines under development as of June 2, according to the WHO, and Dr Fauci said he was “almost certain” that more than one would be successful.
“The industry is not stupid. They figured it out,” Dr Fauci said. “There’s going to be more than one winner in the vaccine field because we’re going to need vaccines for the entire world. Billions and billions of doses.”
WIDESPREAD MASK-WEARING COULD PREVENT COVID-19 SECOND WAVES, STUDY SAYS
Given Dr Fauci’s words and concerns, the world debate about face masks continues in Europe, particular when it comes to fears over a potential second wave.
Population-wide face mask use could push COVID-19 transmission down to controllable levels for national epidemics, and could prevent further waves of the pandemic disease when combined with lockdowns, according to a British study released on Wednesday.
The research, led by scientists at the Britain’s Cambridge and Greenwich Universities, suggests lockdowns alone will not stop the resurgence of the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, but that even homemade masks can dramatically reduce transmission rates if enough people wear them in public.
“Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public,” said Richard Stutt, who co-led the study at Cambridge.
He said combining widespread mask use with social distancing and some lockdown measures, could be “an acceptable way of managing the pandemic and re-opening economic activity” before the development of an effective vaccine against COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
The study’s findings were published in the “Proceedings of the Royal Society A” scientific journal.
At the onset of the pandemic, scientific evidence on the effectiveness of face masks in slowing transmission of respiratory diseases was limited, and there was no data on COVID-19 since it was a previously unknown disease.
RECOMMENDED TO WEAR FACE MASKS IN PUBLIC
Prompted by some new research in recent weeks, the WHO said at the end of last week it now recommends that everyone wear fabric face masks in public to try to reduce disease spread.
In this study, researchers linked the dynamics of spread between people with population-level models to assess the effect on the disease’s reproduction rate, or R value, of different scenarios of mask adoption combined with periods of lockdown.
The R value measures the average number of people that one infected person will pass the disease on to. An R value above 1 can lead to exponential growth.
The study found that if people wear masks whenever they are in public it is twice as effective at reducing the R value than if masks are only worn after symptoms appear.
In all scenarios the study looked at, routine face mask use by 50 per cent or more of the population reduced COVID-19 spread to an R of less than 1.0, flattening future disease waves and allowing for less stringent lockdowns.
Experts not directly involved in the latest British study were divided over its conclusions.
Brooks Pollock, a Bristol University infectious disease modelling expert, said the likely impact of masks could be much smaller than predicted. Trish Greenhalgh, an Oxford University professor, said the findings were encouraging and suggested masks “are likely to be an effective population measure”.
BRITAIN TO PERMIT OPENING OF NON-ESSENTIAL SHOPS FROM MONDAY
Gladly, things are getting back to normal – slowly but surely.
In Britain, all non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen from next Monday but restaurants and bars will have to wait until next month before they can offer outdoor service.
Zoos, safari parks and drive-in cinemas will also be able to reopen from next week but the government has abandoned plans to bring all primary school children back to classes before the summer break.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson told the House of Commons that the government still hoped to bring all children back to school by September and for next year’s state exams to go ahead.
“I know that students who are due to take exams in 2021 will have experienced considerable disruption to their education this year, and we are committed to doing all we can to minimise the effects of this,” he said. “While these are the first steps, they are the best way to ensure that all children can get back into the classroom as soon as possible.”
MPs expressed concern about the impact on poorer children of missing out on six months of education and Labour said the government should continue to provide free school meals throughout the summer.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons education committee, was among those calling for a greater focus on the impact of missed classes on disadvantaged children.
“Why can we turn a blind eye to thousands of demonstrators and campaign for pubs and garden centres to open, yet it is so hard to reopen our schools? We know that about 700,000 disadvantaged children are not doing school homework and 700,000 do not have proper access to computers for the internet, so what are the government doing to help those disadvantaged children to learn again and avoid an epidemic of educational poverty? Can we have a long-term plan for a catch-up premium for education to look after those left-behind children?” he said.
Some secondary school pupils in England are due to return on 15 June, but plans to get all primary pupils in England back before the summer holidays have been dropped. Meanwhile Wales has announced a return for all ages of pupils at the end of June.
In England, secondary schools in England can reopen for Years 10 and 12 from Monday 15 June.
But only a quarter of eligible pupils will be allowed in school at any one time.
SOME COUNCILS HAVE ADVISED SCHOOLS NOT TO REOPEN
In England, some nursery and pre-school children – plus pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 – started to go back on June 1.
But not all schools have reopened, some due to local council advice and some because they don't have the staff or space to safely accommodate eligible pupils. Some parents have chosen not to send their children back.
On Thursday June 4, just 659,000 children in England – or 6.9 per cent – are estimated to have been in classes.
Plans to get all primary school children back in class for four weeks before the summer holidays have been dropped, but ministers hope that some schools will try.
Summer exams have been cancelled in England, Wales and Scotland. This includes GCSEs and A-levels in England and Wales, plus primary school Sats national curriculum tests in England. In Scotland, Highers and Nationals will not be going ahead.
FRANCE MAY END COVID-19 EMERGENCY HEALTH MEASURES ON JULY 10
The French government is considering whether to end emergency health measures imposed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic on July 10, the Prime Minister’s department said on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s office said the possible date of July 10 was one of several options being examined at present.
France has eased many of its earlier, strict lockdown measures as data has shown signs that the virus may be fading away in the country, with shops, holiday resorts and tourist attractions slowly re-opening.
Nevertheless, the public is still being encouraged to wear face masks when outside, and to maintain distances of at least one metre apart from one another, while most employees are continuing to work from home rather than the office.
Official data published on Tuesday showed that France’s coronavirus death toll had risen by 87 to 29,296. This marked the highest daily toll since June 2, but remained under 100 for the seventh day in a row.
CORONAVIRUS PATIENTS MOST INFECTIOUS WHEN THEY FIRST FEEL UNWELL: WHO
Studies show people with the coronavirus are most infectious just at the point when they first begin to feel unwell, the WHO said on Tuesday.
This feature has made it so hard to control spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, but it can be done through rigorous testing and social distancing, they said.
“It appears from very limited information we have right now that people have more virus in their body at or around the time that they develop symptoms, so very early on,” Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist and technical lead on the pandemic, told a live session on social media.
Preliminary studies from Germany and the United States suggest that people with mild symptoms can be infectious for up to eight or nine days, and “it can be a lot longer for people who are more severely ill,” she said.
Earlier, some disease experts questioned her statement on Monday that transmission of COVID-19 by people with no symptoms is “very rare”, saying this guidance could pose problems for governments as they seek to lift lockdowns.
STILL INFECTING OTHERS
Van Kerkhove, citing disease-modelling studies, clarified on Tuesday that some people do not develop symptoms, but can still infect others.
“Some estimates of around 40 per cent of transmission may be due to asymptomatic (cases), but those are from models. So I didn’t include that in my answer yesterday but wanted to make sure that I made that clear,” she said.
Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, said that the novel coronavirus lodges in the upper respiratory tract, making it easier to transmit by droplets than related viruses such as SARS or MERS, which are in the lower tract.
“Now as we look at COVID-19, we have an infectious pathogen that is present in the upper airway for which the viral loads are peaking at the time you are just beginning to get sick,” he said.
“That means you could be in the restaurant feeling perfectly well and start to get a fever, you are feeling ok, you didn’t think to stay home, but that’s the moment at which your viral load could be actually quite high,” he said.
Ryan added: “And it’s because the disease can spread at that moment that the disease is so contagious, that’s why it spread around the world in such an uncontained way, is because it’s hard to stop this virus.”
But some countries have shown that transmission can be brought down to “an acceptable level or even to no level”, as New Zealand had recently demonstrated, he said.
MEME OF THE DAY
This was shared with my on WhatsApp by Shyam Krishna, a Senior Associate Editor at Gulf News.
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:
- I live alone and I wish people would call or text to check on me.
- I have more Clorox/Lysol wipes than I need. I’m preparing for round two.
- My mother-in-law has dementia. I’ve resented how much we’ve had to sacrifice, now I resent that we have to sacrifice for all elderly people.
- I'm an introvert. My mom thinks she's an introvert. Lockdown is nonstop hell. She's a social butterfly who needs a spotlight.
- Since this entire COVID-19 has started my mom has been unbearable. I'm disabled & she keeps insulting me. I wish I was dead.
- My duty as a parent is to be both protector and a clown. Kids must be educated but spared from having emotional baggage.
- Grateful for being essential. Otherwise, the quarantine would've sent me spiraling down into dangerous levels of my depression.
- There are other ways than death that COVID-19 can tear a family apart, I should know it's doing it to mine.
- How can you not hoard if you are feeding so many mouths that need your help?
- A group of friends – I considered them family – hasn’t invited me to their Zoom game nights and I feel deeply sad.
- Quarantine has my ex missing me. I miss him too and glad we reconnected.
- At 40 I thought about trying for my first baby. Now I’m SO glad I’m childless and did not bring a child into this world.
- Stay at home. We hear that all day. But how can I not help two senior citizens in another house who can't help themselves?
- So scared to visit friends or just leave my room because the halls are filled with people hanging out without masks.
- I'm a therapist working with first responders. It is painful to hear their resigned fears while my neighbours deny the threat.
- I cannot deny any longer that I am completely alone. That realisation is terrifying.
- Hate being alone.
- Lost dad to COVID. I've suffered with severe anxiety and depression. Can't sleep and have heart palpations. I'm hooked on the news.
- 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.
- Working as a cashier full time in a very busy market has worn me down emotionally and physically.
- Because of COVID-19, I’ve been able to get that spark back with my husband.
- My new roommate moved in the day my state shut down. Nothing like being stuck in a house with a stranger 24/7!
- I'm terrified that my elderly parents will catch the virus. Dad on chemotherapy.
- I have been alone for three months now with four kids and a husband quarantining himself.
- 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.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
Another poor day for me, suffering a little more than £200 in losses on trading in London.
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.
I’ll stick with my choices for the rest of the trading week, and will hopefully make up some ground as markets were generally down while they awaited announcements from the US Federal Reserve Bank in Washington.
This is how things stand:
Net worth £13,551.68
Ocado, 100 shares: £2079.00
Diageo, 100 shares: £2870.00
PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £4200.00
Ryanair, 350 shares: 4168.80
Cash in hand: £233.88
£ loss on last trading day: £203.20
% gain overall: 35.5 per cent
£ Gain overall: £3,551.68
WILL PEOPLE EVER GO THE MOVIES AGAIN?
While Britain is reopening drive-in cinemas, regular cinemas are used to screening nail-biting endings, but are they now looking at their own?
Cinemas have been shuttered since mid-March, and in the months since the curtain came down, thousands of staff have been furloughed or laid off, rent on cineplexes has gone unpaid, and movie studios have canned premieres for their multimillion-dollar productions.
While box office receipts have hovered at a healthy $11 billion for North America alone for the past five years, analysts predict that ticket sales will plunge to $5.5 billion in 2020 — a 52 per cent decline — according to MoffettNathanson, a media research company.
AMC Theatres, the world's largest cinema chain, said last week that it had substantial doubt that it could continue its operations for an extended period.
“In life, change is inevitable, of course. But in recent months, indeed, in recent weeks — whoa, Nelly, has there been a lot of change,” said Adam Aron, chief executive of AMC Entertainment, the parent company of AMC Theatres. His comments came during an investor call Tuesday afternoon after the company reported its earnings, which included a steep first-quarter loss of $2.2 billion.
Public health officials in California — the largest movie market in the US — said Monday that they will allow cinemas in some counties to open Friday, with 25 per cent of capacity for the first two weeks. But there is no guarantee that moviegoers will return en masse — and lockdown habits may have changed the industry for good.
COVID-19 VACCINES OR TREATMENTS NEEDED FIRST
Katie Suter, a schoolteacher in New Jersey, said she won’t feel comfortable going back to the cinema until “a vaccine or treatments for COVID-19 are made available on the same level as the winter flu season.”
Mason Frith, a student at the University of Denver, said streaming services made cinemas less important.
“It’s special to go to the movie theatre and see stuff for the first time — but after this pandemic, I’m definitely wary of being in closed spaces. There are all the OTT platforms, so I definitely prefer to see stuff in my own house,” he said, referring to over-the-top streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.
Cinema executives believe there will still be demand for movies, even with concerns about COVID-19. Their hopes are pinned on the July 17 release of Warner Bros. Entertainment's ‘Tenet’, followed by Disney’s ‘Mulan’ and the Warner Bros. superhero flick ‘Wonder Woman 1984.’
“We very much believe in the value of theatrical experience,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said on the company’s earnings call last month. “But we also believe that either because of changing and evolving consumer dynamics or because of certain situations like COVID, we may have to make some changes to that overall strategy.”
DOUBTS ABOUT SITTING IN CONFINED SPACES
MT Carney, a former Disney executive, said: “Maybe the coronavirus crisis can bring back the drive-in theatre, or maybe it’s a projection on a wall by a food court in the mall rather than in a movie theater.” Carney, a film buff who typically sees multiple movies a week, said that she doubts people want to sit in a confined space with strangers but that she believes the cinema experience can be replicated.
But if consumers do prove risk-averse, then the industry is looking for ways to fill seats on other days of the week.
“They may hold job fairs during the week, have social gatherings or church services on a Sunday,” said John Partilla, chief executive of Screenvision Media, which sells advertising that runs ahead of movie trailers. “They are all are having discussions about being more central to the community.”
Whether the theatrical business can survive COVID-19 is a question some smaller, independently owned cinemas can’t answer. Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse filed for bankruptcy protection for three of its movie theatres in Arizona last month.
‘THE BUSINESS IS BASED ON VOLUME’
Jim Billek, 62, operates Cinema North in Phillips, Wisconsin. He is having a hard time seeing a way out of the predicament. When asked about his losses, he said he has been too depressed to even look at his books. “We're in a Catch-22. The business is based on volume.”
If he seats fewer people to accommodate social distancing, then financially “it just isn't worth showing a movie,” he said. Another question is whether Hollywood will release its big movies until there’s enough of a market.
Rene Broussard, who runs Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Centre in New Orleans, said, "We'd like to do an outdoor screening on the side of a building and invite people to come for a crawfish boil." The cinema, which includes a bar, has remained open, limiting seats to 20 out of a possible 80 — even though his biggest night so far has been eight people. He has also been offering virtual screenings of new releases for a fee.
Broussard said he believes there are two types of customers, ones who will return quickly with few concerns about risks and a second group who will take their time.
“We’ve had cleaning crews come in every day, we're going to have employees sanitise arm rests, and we’re installing hand sanitiser stations,” he said.
PENT-UP DEMAND FOR GETTING OUT
Hamid Hashemi, former chief executive of iPic, which pioneered an upscale moviegoing experience, said there is pent-up demand for getting out. However, with cinemas offering much less capacity, the question for the operator becomes “can you survive doing that?” he said.
“Seventy-five per cent of their business is Friday and Saturday night,” Hashemi said. “Given that a lot of theatres have taken seats out to reduce that to 25, 30 per cent capacity, there is no way the business is going to work. But from a long-term perspective, things will get back to normal. This is a short-term challenge.”
Indeed, AMC told Wall Street on Tuesday that its busy cinemas in Norway are a strong indication that its US customers will return — it expects to be almost completely reopen by July — and that it can still make money even with lower capacity. But it said it is relying on Hollywood to stick to release dates.
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