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.
Monday 6 April, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
POSIVIVE SIGNS – AND STAY ON THE SOFA
So late last night, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital because his coronavirus symptoms have persisted. For 10 days now he has had a high temperature and a persistent cough. Clearly, this is a worrying development. But there are positive signs.
I have heard radio reports and read in reputable news sites that there is a study that indicates the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis could help to protect against COVID-19.
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- Coronavirus: Reach out and show you care
- Coronavirus brings flight chaos and cancellations
- Coronavirus: Are you a giver or a taker?
The research indicating that countries whose populations have high levels of BCG vaccination had significantly fewer Covid-19 deaths was the most significant development since the virus has spread, according to Professor Luke O’Neill, who has specialised in study of the vaccine at Trinity College Dublin.
While he stressed the research was largely a statistical one and so came with caveats, there was a case for authorities moving to provide a BCG vaccine top-up for everybody age over 70. Again, it needs to be stressed that this is very early and preliminary work.
The danger of even reporting this is that people might think that I’s suddenly safe to stop social distancing, stop washing hands, stop listening to the advice of authorities. Those measures MUST stay in place for as long as public health authorities.
BCG vaccine is given to protect babies against tuberculosis in many western nations.
The preliminary study suggests countries that require citizens to get the BCG vaccine are showing fewer number of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19.
Dr Gonzalo Otazu at the New York Institute of Technology started working on the analysis after noticing the low number of cases in Japan.
Right now, clinicians in six countries are running trials giving front-line health workers and older people the BCG vaccine. Much of the work involves correlating initial BCG rates in those countries and comparing those against the profiles of those who died from COVID-19.
First signs of warm weather
It’s early days. Having said that, there are some public health experts who say that the fight against coronavirus will be long and difficult, and we may be living with some form of restrictions on our movements until after the summer.
In essence, this virus has changed all of our lives for a very long time to come.
Already, the first signs of warm weather in the United Kingdom has brought thousands of people outdoors, flouting rules on limited exercise.
On Sunday morning, Matthew Hancock, the UK’s Health Secretary warned that the government may ban all outdoor exercise if people there continue to break the rules – all to catch some sun and work on their tan.
I like the comments from Ken Marsh, head of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents 30,000 officers in London who said: “Please, please, please, park your backside on a sofa and don’t get off it.”
That’s good advice for everyone to heed now.
And it works. At the start of this coronavirus crisis in Ireland, for example, one infected person passed it on to an average of 4.5 people. Now, with social distancing and the measures in place, public health experts say that transmission rate is now down to 2.5. That difference is the difference you and I make by staying home, staying apart.t.
MY ESSENTIAL VIEWING
Ok, so I am a news buff. Which is why I had to tune in to British television live last night starting at 8pm local time to see Queen Elizabeth’s historic address to the nation – and the Commonwealth – on coronavirus. Remember, she is 93 while her husband, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is 98.
It was only her fifth special televised message to the country during her 68 years on the throne, and she thanked healthcare workers on the front line and recognise the pain already suffered by some families.
“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any,” the longest-reigning monarch in British history said. “That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country.”
Britons have been told to stay at home unless it is absolutely essential to venture out to try to stop the spread of the epidemic. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is still in self-isolation, and a number of senior ministers have been among those who have tested positive for the virus.
“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time,” Elizabeth said in what was been framed as a deeply personal message.
“A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.”
In order to ensure any risk to the queen herself was mitigated, it was filmed in a big room in Windsor Castle outside London to ensure a safe distance between her and the cameraman, who was wearing personal protective equipment and was the only other person present.
She finished off her address with a reference to Vera Lynn, the singer who symbolised Britain’s resolve during the Second World War. “We’ll meet again,” the monarch said.
Stirring stuff indeed.
Last week Elizabeth’s son and heir Prince Charles, 71, came out of self-isolation himself after seven days following a positive test.
Historic times indeed.
THE GOOD NEWS
THE EASTER BUNNY IS STILL ON HIS WAY
Next weekend, billions of people around the world will be celebrating Easter. It’s normally a time for religious ceremonies and celebrations, but with coronavirus putting half of the world’s population in limited lockdown, there are fears that the traditions of chocolate Easter eggs given to children might be in short supply.
These are normally delivered by the Easter Bunny, who travels the world leaving Easter eggs filled with chocolate and other sweet things in places for children to find them on Easter Sunday morning.
Yes, travel is difficult. But there is good news. Gulf News can reveal that the traditional Easter eggs will still be available for children come Easter Sunday morning.
Parents around the world are making top secret plans to obtain supplies of Easter eggs during their limited shopping times or by ordering them online. The Easter Bunny won’t be stopped by COVID-19. Chocolate and sweet relief is on the way come next Sunday.
MEME OF THE DAY
This was shared with me on Facebook by my cousin Gus. If you’re of a certain age, Chuck Norris was a tough buy who could survive anything.
THE LOCKDOWN DIET
Day 8 of Dr Joshi’s Holistic Detox: “21 days to a healthier slimmer you – for life.”
If you read this regularly, you’ll know that yesterday, I was feeling the worse for wear after a week of detox. No sugar, no caffeine, no red meat, lots of vegetables, no carbs of note. I’m feeling a little better, but my joints are aching. Like I have rheumatism – I don’t – but that’s how it feels. Apparently, it’s normal, and the secret is to drink lots of water.
My day starts with a cup of hot water and lemon, then my breakfast was a bowl of organic oatmeal porridge, with cinnamon, half a banana and some honey. Green tea is allowed.
Lunch was a smashed banana with honey on two rice crackers, and supper was a some turkey breast stir-fried with some brown basmati rice, diced leeks and carrots, shallots, garlic and some spices. I used sesame oil rather than olive oil for flavour.
Because I’m feeling quite miserable, I again put off taking my liver detox drink, which consists of fresh grapefruit juice, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and some ginger diluted with some water, followed by two cups of herbal tea, preferably fennel but you can use dandelion root, fenugreek, peppermint, chickweed, nettle or parsley. It’ll be fennel for me when I do it.
I have to do this three times during the 21-day detox.
THE STOCK SHOCK
Suppose you had £10,000 – about Dh45,000 – to invest in the stock market. Just pretend. Have fun.
That’s exactly what I’m doing. I am not an expert but I would like to think that I’m a little savvy.
Starting last Monday, I pretended to buy shares and trade in a series of companies, mostly concentrating on the grocery sector – because people are stuck at home and are stockpiling.
I’m down £42.63 on last week.
This is how my imaginary portfolio stood on Friday:
NET WORTH £9957.37
Ocado: 500 shares, £6827.10
Unilever: 75 shares, £3020.25
Cash in hand: £110.02
% Loss: -0.43%
£ Loss: -£42.63
There was no trading on Saturday and none on Sunday in London.
But it is important in the coming week to avoid airline stocks or anything to do with travel or leisure. Obviously, industrial activity is just ticking over, while financials and insurance companies are bound to be taking a hit. Pharmaceuticals would be a risk as no one knows what stage anyone is at when it comes to developing a virus.
I was looking to cash in my Unliver shares – Ocado is doing well so I will hold them for one more day at least – and was going to go towards oil. Now, however, comes word from Reuters that OPEC and Russia have postponed a Monday meeting to discuss oil output cuts until April 9.
The delay came amid pressure from US President Donald Trump for the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries led by Saudi Arabia and its allies, a group collectively known as OPEC+, to urgently stabilise global oil markets.
Oil prices hit an 18-year low on March 30 due to a slump in demand caused by lockdowns to contain the coronavirus outbreak and the failure of OPEC and other producers led by Russia to extend a deal on output curbs that expired on March 31.
OPEC+ is working on a deal to cut the production of oil equivalent by about 10 per cent of world supply, or 10 million barrels per day, in what member states expect to be an unprecedented global effort including the United States.
Washington, however, has yet to make a commitment to join the effort and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday put the blame for the collapse in prices on Saudi Arabia – prompting a firm response from Riyadh on Saturday.
“The Russian Minister of Energy was the first to declare to the media that all the participating countries are absolved of their commitments starting from the first of April, leading to the decision that the countries have taken to raise their production,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman said in a statement reported by state news agency SPA.
Putin, speaking on Friday during a video conference with government officials and the heads of major Russian oil producers, said the first reason for the fall in prices was the impact of the coronavirus on demand.
Basically, this means I will steer clear of oil.
So, I’m cashing in the 75 Unilever worth £3020.25 and have £110.02 cash in hand as well.
Then it struck me. Not only are people staying home, they are also ordering food. Lots of takeaways. And on the London Stock Exchange, there’s a company called Just Eat Takeaway. You may have seen their very annoying advertising on some television channels. Anyway, it seems like the perfect opportunity to make up some losses. They’re at 6372p (£63.72) right now. I only have enough for 49 shares. Normally, there’s a minimum you can hold, and 49 obviously is way short of the actual. But this is pretend, after all. If it were a movie, it would have a disclaimer that no actual money was made or lost in its making. So 49 shares it is, at a cost of £3122.28.
So entering trade on Monday, this is how my portfolio stands:
SUNDAY’S NET WORTH £9957.37
Ocado: 500 shares, £6827.10
Just Eat Takeaway: 49 shares, £3122.28
Cash in hand: £7.99
% Loss: -0.43%
£ Loss: -£42.63
THE IDIOTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Some people are just idiots – and they don’t need social media to confirm that status. But there are other idiots out there like the man in Dublin who coughed on police and said he had coronavirus.
Police received reports on Saturday of a man acting aggressively and threatening staff at a retail premises on Dublin’s Dame Street.
It was reported that the man threw a shopping basket at staff during the incident which occurred at around 2.45pm. No one was injured in the incident.
The man in his 30s left the premises and was found a short time later by police.
He refused to give his name and resisted arrest while threatening to cough on officers stating he had the coronavirus.
He’s to appear in court in Monday morning – and I hope the judge throws the book at him.
I also want to warn you about a WhatsApp message doing the rounds at the moment warning people of an “extremely sophisticated” bank scam which is wiping out people’s bank accounts at an alarming rate.
There’s just one problem – it’s not true.
There are a couple of different versions being sent around, but the most common one reads:
“Extremely sophisticated scam going about this morning. Bank customers get a message saying a payment hasn’t been taken, eg O2 and to click here. As soon as you touch it, the money is gone. They already have all your details and it’s the most advance [sic] scam the banks have ever seen. Pass this on to everyone. Please. This is from work this morning – they are being inundated with calls – thousands flying out of peoples [sic] accounts!”
There is no such scam going around, and the method described in the message is not viable as a way to get money.
Other organisations have also debunked the message which has been shared in the UK and Ireland. Another version of this message names Danske Bank as being the affected bank. The bank put out a statement saying that the message is completely false, and described it as a ‘smishing’ scam.
“Smishing scams are really common,” the statement said. “If you receive a message requesting personal information under the pretence of needing to make a payment, do not click on the link or provide the information is being requested.”
You should also watch out for the following scams currently in circulation: Fraudulent WhatsApp messages offering “banking advice”; suspicious social media posts linking back to fake websites; requests to dial high costs phone lines operating as advice centres; calls from fake medical or charitable organisations asking for urgent money transfers; suspicious emails or texts asking for personal details or linking to fake websites.
Anybody who suspects a message to be false is asked to contact their bank and not to click through the link until it is confirmed by the bank that it is safe to do so.
Remember, a fool and their money are easily parted. Who is trying to fool you?
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. And stay safe.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe