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 9: Tuesday 7 April, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
A PRAYER FOR BORIS
Just after I had finished eating supper, just past 8pm – my television is tuned almost always to news channels – came word that the United Kingdom's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) at St. Thomas' Hospital in London where he has been receiving treatment for coronavirus. Obviously, this is a very serious development, one that brings home just how pernicious this virus is. It can hit anybody, regardless of age. And we all have the potential to be carriers or to be infected.
I pray for his recovery – and for all who have been touched or afflicted by this pandemic.
Those who are treating anyone infected with coronavirus have my fullest admiration.
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This is spring, a time when new growth begins, spurred on by the changing season and the warming sun. And for many people who have been deprived of sun for a long time – this is Europe we’re talking about here, not the Arabian Gulf after all – the first signs of a bright spring day are enough to make them forget their roles now in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Across parts of the UK on Sunday and Monday, temperatures hovered close to 20 degrees Celsius. Where I am in Ireland under social isolation and strict lockdown rules, no such luck – 12C and rain with occasion bright periods..
The warm weather will bring welcome respite but puta pressure on authorities trying to control crowds and gatherings.
However, scientists also believe warm weather could bring new insights into the virus by showing whether it reacts to the onset of spring. Flu epidemics tend to die out as winter ends; could sunshine, similarly, affect the behaviour of the coronavirus and its spread.
Initial studies of other coronaviruses – the common varieties that cause colds in Europe –do suggest a seasonal pattern, with peaks occurring during winter and disappearing in spring. Intriguingly, these peaks tend to coincide with influenza outbreaks and, by contrast, only small amounts of coronavirus appear to be transmitted in the summer.
Scientists also caution that the Covid-19 virus is a completely new infectious agent and so there has been no chance for populations to build up any immunity. As a result, it is likely to continue to spread at current rates despite the onset of summer.
But there is another point that scientists are looking at. The arrival of spring also produces changes in the human immune system.
“Our immune system displays a daily rhythm, but what is less known is how this varies from season to season,” said immunologist Natalie Riddell at Surrey University in the UK.
It’s an interesting question, with Riddell and other researchers at Surrey and Columbia Universities studying immune changes in humans at different seasons and different times of day.
It’s an interesting hypotheses.
I am no scientist, however. And I have been following the outbreak of this virus now for the past three months – doesn’t it feel so much longer?.
The warmer weather theory doesn’t make sense to me. I look at nations that have far warmer climates – across Asia and the Middle East – and this pandemic is still doing its worse there.
For me, the only realistic weapon we have right now is staying apart, following social isolation guidelines, and washing our hands very well and regularly in warm soapy water. Even the jury is out on masks. And until such a time as the threat has been diminished, keeping apart and doing our part is the only way forward for now.
Stay six feet away or be six feet under!
MY ESSENTIAL VIEWING
Tiger King. On Netflix. It’s a must see. I watched two episodes of the limited documentary series in Monday night. It is fantastic.
For starters, it is an actual documentary – which is hard to believe given the characters it covers. If this were a Cohen brothers movie such as Fargo or The Big Lobowski, then I would award an Oscar hands up to the director for his casting brilliance. No, this IS real life.
When I watch this documentary and see the thinking and people who visit the big bat parks in the southern United States, I begin to understand why Donald Trump is able to able to sit behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
It’s a true tale of a murder – my daughter reliably informs me that a new episode is about to be released in the coming week looking at the fallout from the case – and whether Joe Exotic, yes, that is his name, bumped off the victim. And she herself had been connected by some media outlets in the disappearance of her first husband – whose body is likely to have been fed to her big cats.
Do yourself a favour and watch Tiger King. Brilliant. Sad. Pathetic. Poignant. Funny. And well worth the time to take it in. Two episodes in, I’m hooked.
THE GOOD NEWS
LEADERSHIP IN ACTION
There are stressing times where medical services around the world are being tested as never before.
It’s also a challenging time for political leaders faced with fighting the virus, organising their nations’ defences, keeping the public informed and doing everything possible to limit the long-term economic impact of this pandemic.
That’s why I find it very heartening indeed that Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar has re-registered as a medical practitioner and will work one shift a week to help out during the coronavirus crisis, his office said on Sunday.
Varadkar worked as a doctor for seven years before leaving the profession to become a politician and was removed from the medical register in 2013.
He rejoined the medical register in March, and offered his services to the country’s Health Service Executive (HSE) for one session a week in areas that are within his scope of practice, a spokesman for his office said.
“Many of his family and friends are working in the health service. He wanted to help out even in a small way,” the spokesman added.
Last month, health minister Simon Harris launched a recruitment drive for the country’s struggling health service to tackle the coronavirus outbreak with a stark message: “Your country needs you”.
The HSE said it had spoken to thousands of healthcare professionals who may be eligible to return after it received more than 70,000 responses for its “Be on call for Ireland” initiative.
According to a report in the Irish Times, Varadkar is helping out with phone assessments. Anybody who may have been exposed to the virus is initially assessed over the phone.
Varadkar comes from a medical family. He is the son of Ashok Varadkar, a doctor from Mumbai who worked in the London, and an Irish nurse, Miriam Howell. They fell in love and married and moved to Ireland.
According to the Irish Times, Varadkar’s partner, two sisters and their husbands all work in healthcare.
Doesn’t that give you lift?
MEME OF THE DAY
This meme was shared with me on WhatsApp by an acquaintance, Paddy. And yes, there are Irish people called Paddy who exist in real life and not just in corny Irish joke!
THE LOCKDOWN DIET
Day 9 of Dr Joshi’s Holistic Detox: “21 days to a healthier slimmer you – for life.”
So I finally worked up the courage to have the liver-cleansing drink that I’ve been putting off for two days.
During the course of this detox, I’m supposed to take three of them evenly spaced apart. So I have two more to go in the final 12 days, no getting away from it.
It consists of fresh grapefruit juice and fresh lemon juice, two tablespoons of olive oil, two cloves of garlic and about 2 centimetres of fresh ginger root diced. Add an equal amount of water to the liquid – it should be about half-a-litre in total. You take it after a brisk walk. I blended it all so it was more like a smoothie, then downed it in one go. No point in letting the nastiness linger. Just down the hatch. It wasn’t too bad but left my lips feeling oily. That concoction is followed by a cup of green tea and a couple of hours rest. Then drink a litre of water.
The book says it will do my liver the world of good. Time will tell, I guess.
Yesterday morning was my usual starter of hot water and a slice of lemon, an organic oatmeal porridge with half a banana, cinnamon and honey. Lunch was a soup that I made using vegetable stock I saved from cooking greens two days before, two carrots, garlic, ginger, a green chilli, shallots with powered turmeric, coriander and cumin. When it was cooked, I blitzed it with a hand blender. Al little spicy hot for some gorras but good, nevertheless.
And I then made a chicken curry for supper using chicken thighs, chicken stock, the usual blend of turmeric, coriander and cumin, some cumin seeds and coriander seeds, ginger, onions, carrots and brown basmati rice I had left over, which I stir fried using some sesame oil and chopped spring onions.
I have had little dairy, no sugar, no carbs of note, no red meat, no coffee, no artificial flavourings, no packaged juices or other processed foods and no caffeine since I started this. And I have been watching portion sizes very carefully.
Yes, I can feel a difference. I’m told that I appear to have lost some weight. I am resisting the urge to weigh myself and won’t do so until I’m on the other end of this.
I will admit too that there are elements of this that I might continue on with – such as keeping it largely intact for four or five days a week, leaving the weekends for things like red meat. And I think the lesson is to avoid as much processed food as I can. It will be interesting to see how I get on when this is over.
THE STOCK SHOCK
If you’ve been reading this blog for the past while, you’ll know that I’m pretending to play the stock market with an initial investment of £10,000 – roughly Dh45,000.
Last week, I made a number of investments in stocks, selling some and adjusting others so that at the start of trading on Monday on the London Stock Exchange, my portfolio looked like:
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
And I have to say that following Monday’s business on the market, I have had a good day.
Those 500 Ocado shares traded up 1.8 per cent on the day, closing at 1389p. (£13.89). Ocado, by the way is an online grocery store, and I’ve bought it because Britons are locked in and ordering their groceries online, and are stocking up too. They are worth £6945.00.
Similarly, the 49 shares I hold in Just Eat Takeaways – it’s a company that specialises in takeout foods. I thought it might do well given that Britons are stuck at home, likely fed up with cooking – or can’t or won’t – and order food in instead. And bingo! On Monday, the shares were up nearly 2.8 per cent, meaning the 49 shares closed at 6564p (£65.64) each, worth £3216.36.
This is how my pretend portfolio now stands:
Monday’s net worth £10,169.35
Ocado: 500 shares, £6945.00
Just Eat Takeaway: 49 shares, £3216.36
Cash in hand: £7.99
% Gain: +1.69%
£ Gain: +£169.35
Needless to say, I’m happy for now. But I am watching oil closely. And here’s why, There are reports now on Reuters that Norway – a nation that has been very shrewd in the way it handles its finances from petrochemicals – has been invited to and is considering attending a meeting of top oil producers on April 9 as an observer. And it would join in with production cuts if there was broad support to do so, the country’s oil ministry said on Monday.
Production cuts mean the price of oil increases.
A deal to limit supply between OPEC, Russia and other producers, a group known as OPEC+, that had propped up oil prices for three years collapsed in March, just as the impact of lockdowns to limit the spread of coronavirus destroyed demand.
The ministry reiterated in an email to Reuters that Western Europe’s largest oil producer was ready to make unilateral cuts to production if it benefits its economy, but said there were no ongoing talks with oil companies in Norway.
“If a broad group of producers agree on significant cuts in production, Norway will consider a unilateral cut if it contributes to supporting our own resource management and economy, as we have done on previous occasions,” the ministry’s spokesman told Reuters.
Here the key paragraph in the story: OPEC and Russia have postponed a meeting originally scheduled for Monday to discuss output cuts until Thursday, but one of Russia’s top negotiators said the two were “very close” to an agreement. That’s why I’ll take a close look at oil on Tuesday because if there’s an agreement on cuts, it will rise – or should do. And that means oil company share will increase. Stay tuned.
THE IDIOTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
So, the trouble with social media is that once a rumour starts, it seems to take on a life of its own. Such is the case with misinformation circulating on social media about how Covid-19 is spread. And as to give the posts credence, they cite examples of what’s happen in places like Wuhan in China or northern Italy.
One message being shared at the moment on WhatsApp is no exception. It says:
“Doctors from Italy have warned people around the world. Take your shoes off in front of the door. Use only a pair of shoes to get out. The corona virus survives on asphalts for up to three days. That is why the Chinese disinfected the streets. Italy has begun to do so.”
Some versions of the claim have been debunked by fact-checkers around the world, and the World Health Organisation itself has said that there is zero evidence that the coronavirus can last in asphalt for nine days. It can, however, last for 72 hours on hard surfaces such as stainless steel. But researchers are looking at how it lasts on different surfaces as well.
One study, which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, specifically examined the longevity of Covid-19.
This study looked at 10 different experimental conditions involving two viruses, (SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, and SARS-CoV-1 the virus that caused SARS) in aerosols– to reproduce coughing – plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard.
The findings suggested that Covid-19could survive in aerosols for up to three hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for up to three days.
The authors specifically noted that Covid-19 can remain “viable and infectious” on surfaces for days. This echoed many of the findings the researchers had with SARS-CoV-1.
This doesn’t mean there is zero risk. The virus is spread via droplets, meaning it can be spread to and remain on surfaces for a significant amount of time. That’s why the best medical and public health advice is to wash your hands properly with soap before you leave the house and once you return inside.
The decision is up to you whether you want to remove your shoes. The WhatsApp message circulating is wrong.
And you need to think before you share such messages at this time where real advice saves lives.
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 mailto: 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