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 evolving rules about who is allowed out, where, and under what circumstances. The rules are slowly changing as the first wave of the crisis eases.
DAY 87: Wednesday June 24, 9am
Wednesday June 24, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
. Men ‘make more coronavirus antibodies’ than women
. COVID-19 survivors ask to donate blood plasma for major trial
Men appear produce higher levels of Covid-19 antibodies than women, UK figures suggest.
Covid-19 survivors are being sought to donate blood plasma as part of a major trial assessing whether it could help some of the sickest patients.
The trial is ongoing to assess whether convalescent plasma donations can be transfused into patients who are struggling to develop their own immune response.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), which is collecting the plasma for the trial, said new analysis had found that men produce more coronavirus antibodies than women, which makes them better plasma donors.
The new figures show that 43 per cent of male donors had plasma rich enough in antibodies for their plasma to be included in the trial, compared with 29 per cent of women.
Professor David Roberts, associate director for blood donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We’d still like to hear from anybody who had coronavirus or the symptoms. More plasma donors are needed.
“But we’d especially want to hear from men. We test every plasma donation and men have higher antibody levels, which means we’re more likely to be able to use their plasma to save lives.
“Initially your immune system will try and fight off a virus with white blood cells. If you become more ill, your immune system needs to produce more antibodies that neutralise or kill the virus.
MEN MAKE BETTER PLASMA DONORS ONCE THEY’VE RECOVERED
“Our studies, and many others around the world, show men with COVID-19 are more likely to become seriously ill than women. This makes them better plasma donors once they have recovered.”
Last week it was announced that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 through the national testing programme will be asked to join a blood plasma trial.
NHSBT said people confirmed with the virus through the “pillar 2” national testing programme will receive a text message 21 days after their result to see whether they are willing to donate plasma.
The texts will now be sent on a weekly basis to anyone who tests positive through the national testing programme. People will
The plasma from former patients is rich in the antibodies that develop as a person recovers from an illness.
It is transfused into people who are seriously ill with COVID-19 and struggling to develop their own antibodies.
If the trial is successful, being treated with convalescent plasma could become a widespread practice in hospitals.
Two plasma donors have described their decision to donate as a “no-brainer”.
‘ONE-METRE PLUS’ RULE FOR ENGLAND AS ‘NATIONAL HIBERNATION’ BEGINS TO END
Families can be reunited and dinner parties will be allowed as England’s coronavirus lockdown is eased – but millions of people will still be unable to hug their loved ones.
Under the changes from July 4, indoor gatherings involving two separate households will be permitted – including the possibility of visiting reopened pubs and restaurants – but social distancing will need to be maintained.
The two-metre rule will be eased, replaced with a “one-metre plus” measure, with the protection offered by the physical distance enhanced by other mitigation measures such as the use of face coverings, increased hygiene or layout changes in premises.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the “national hibernation” is beginning to end, and “life is returning to our streets”.
Johnson told MPs that progress in tackling the virus meant steps could be taken to “safely ease the lockdown”, but “caution will remain our watchword”.
Johnson acknowledged that the two-metre rule “effectively makes life impossible for large parts of our economy even without other restrictions”.
He added: “We’re today publishing guidance on how business can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers.
“And these include, for instance, avoiding face-to-face seating by changing office layouts, reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, using protective screens and face coverings, closing non-essential social spaces, providing hand sanitiser, changing shift patterns so that staff work in set teams.”
GUIDANCE REPLACES LEGISLATION
With guidance replacing legislation, Johnson said he is relying on people using their common sense to limit the spread of the virus
Officials acknowledged that July 4 is a significant step, but remains a long way away from normal life.
Among the measures announced by Johnson, pubs and restaurants will be limited to table service, people will be able to stay overnight in hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites, most leisure facilities and tourist attractions can reopen, cinemas, museums and galleries will be allowed to admit visitors, and people will be able to go to hairdressers to trim their lockdown locks.
However, nightclubs, soft play centres and other businesses that involve close contact will remain shut – including nail bars and beauty salons.
Johnson said “difficult judgments” had to be made and “every step is scrupulously weighed against the evidence”.
“Our principle is to trust the British public to use their common sense in the full knowledge of the risks, remembering that the more we open up the more vigilant, we will need to be,” he said.
HOUSEHOLDS CAN MEET COME JULY 4
From July 4, two households of any size will be permitted to meet in any setting – inside or out.
“It will be possible to meet one set of grandparents one weekend, the others the following weekend,” he said.
Under the new arrangements, drinkers returning to pubs will be asked to provide contact details to help trace them if there is an outbreak of coronavirus.
Johnson said the measures will help restore a sense of normality after “the toughest restrictions in peacetime history”.
He told MPs: “Today, we can say that our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end and life is returning to our streets and to our shops, the bustle is starting to come back and a new, but cautious, optimism is palpable.”
But he said the virus has not gone away and the government “will not hesitate to apply the brakes and re-introduce restrictions – even at national level – if required”.
HOW THE WORLD’S HOTELS ARE ADAPTING TO WELCOME VISITORS BACK
Hotels and global pandemics do not go well together. The travel industry is creaking back into gear, but how do you run a hotel when simply putting a chocolate on a pillow requires a multi-stage disinfecting process?
Here’s how the world’s hotels are adapting to the new normal, one disinfected door handle at a time…
A contactless welcome: There won’t be many smiling faces at the check-in desk – either because they’ll be hidden behind masks, or because they won’t be there at all. Many hotels are already rolling out airport-style booking systems, in which customers register for their rooms online or via an app.
Larger chains like Marriott and Hilton are allowing members of their loyalty schemes to skip check-in entirely and unlock their rooms with smartphones – not unlike priority boarding.
Other hotels are planning a more overtly anti-germ welcome. According to Travel Agent Central, Madrid-based chain Room Mate is installing ‘diluted bleach mats’ to disinfect shoes as they cross the threshold, alongside temperature checks and complimentary sanitary kits for all new arrivals.
In Portugal’s Algarve, the Magnolia Hotel is going one step further and has pledged to launder all your clothes for you on arrival, while leaving two empty rooms on either side of yours.
The classic hotel lobby is the perfect place for lingering, but some establishments are also designing one-way routes through public areas to help keep thoroughfares clear.
Extreme cleaning: For the hospitality industry hygiene is the order of the day, and housekeepers are the new frontline. Guests the world over can expect later check-ins to give staff time to deep clean – US chain Proper has pledged to leave all rooms for 24 hours between uses – while mandatory face masks are the new normal.
Others are putting their faith in technology, and Marriott is one of several companies trialling ultraviolet light and electrostatic sanitising sprayers for high-contact surfaces like door handles and elevator buttons.
‘CleanStay’ initiatives: Trust is everything in the post-lockdown world, and it doesn’t matter how many skirting boards you disinfect if you can’t convince your customers they’ll be safe. Hilton has added heft to its response with their ‘CleanStay’ initiative, a rigorous cleaning programme devised in partnership with Lysol, Dettol, and the Mayo Clinic.
In some cases, governments are stepping into rubber stamp visitor safety. The Portuguese tourist board has debuted a ‘clean and safe’ label for hotels that adopt the proper protocols, while Savvas Perdios, the deputy tourism minister of Cyprus, has said the country will fully fund care and accommodation for any visitor contracting COVID-19 on its shores, according to the Guardian.
Absent amenities: A host of hotel institutions look likely to get the boot; the magazines on the coffee table, the notepad on the desk, the overpriced magnums in the minibar, are all in the category of ‘not worth the risk’.
The breakfast buffet has probably served its last rasher, to be replaced by table service or room service, while difficult-to-clean creature comforts like quilts and cushions are also up for the chop. Disposable toiletries look set for a triumphant return – undoing years of progress eliminating single-use plastic.
Safety in seclusion: Privacy is the new luxury, and the easiest way to inoculate yourself against your fellow guests is to remove them altogether. Some hotels are making a virtue of low occupancy by proffering entire wings or floors, with Sicily’s Hotel Gutkowski advertising “clusters of rooms… up to an entire floor.”
For something a little more off-the-wall, consider one of the Zero Real Estate suites in Switzerland – a set of ‘hotel rooms’ in the foothills of the Alps with a double bed, an exclusive butler, and no walls or ceiling. The risk from COVID-19 is low, though rain is another matter.
MEME OF THE DAY
I came across this on Facebook and though it was worthwhile sharing. I’m not the hugging type either.
END OF LOCKDOWN, MEMORIAL DAY HOLIDAY ADD UP TO INCREASE IN US CORONAVIRUS CASES
The spike COVID-19 cases in the US in Florida, Arizona, Oregon and other Southern and Western states can be traced back to around Memorial Day holiday on May 25, when officials began loosening their lockdowns, health experts say.
And in about two weeks, hospitals in those states could find themselves struggling to find enough beds for patients, one of America’s top public health experts warned.
“In some smaller Southern towns, the per capita rates of infections could be as high as New York City was at its peak," Dr. Erik Toner of the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security said.
In the last 14 days, Oregon has reported a 234.4 percentage jump in infections, Oklahoma jumped by 202 per cent, Florida's number increased by 155 per cent, and Arizona’s confirmed coronavirus cases climbed by 142 per cent, according to an NBC News analysis of state health department figures.
Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Louisiana and more than a dozen other states — as well as Guam and the Virgin Islands — had increases in the numbers of reported cases in the last two weeks.
“It’s basically the same reason for all these states: It was Memorial Day,” Toner said. “And in the last week of May, most states began to seriously relax community mitigation efforts.”
Toner said that as lockdowns are relaxed, “we will see a rise in coronavirus cases.”
“The question is how high will they rise,” he said. “Oregon, for example, has done a good job of dealing with the pandemic, and if people adhere to wearing face masks and social distancing, it may not be bad. But some Southern and Western states have gone out of their way to not wear face masks or practice social distancing, and we expect it to be much worse.”
SPIKES IN TEXAS AND LOUISIANA
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, warned Monday that “additional measures are going to be necessary” and that he may clamp down on businesses that don’t require masks if the number of cases continues to climb.
“There are certain counties where a majority of the people who are tested positive in that county are under the age of 30, and this typically results from people going to bars,” Abbott said.
Abbott last week blamed the Memorial Day celebrations, along with a rise in the number of prison inmates who contracted the virus, for the dismal new data.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, announced Monday that he would delay the next phase of the state’s reopening for 28 days.
“This remains a very contagious disease,” Edwards said. “There are a lot of people out there saying they are done with this virus. Well, the virus isn’t done with us.”
Just a couple weeks ago, the governor reported that the state had escaped from Memorial Day unscathed.
Dr. Paul Cieslak, senior health adviser to the Oregon Health Authority, said Oregon’s “recent rise in cases is due to a combination of many factors.”
“We’ve had quite a few workplace outbreaks, increased contact tracing and testing, a large outbreak in Union County and finally just more community spread,” Cieslak said. “But we still have a very low per capita case and death count and have the fifth-lowest cases per capita among states as measured by the CDC.”
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
After reorganising my portfolio on Sunday, I’m now on the plus side for the second day running.
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 shares I can buy.
Any day you make a profit is better than a kick in the pants, and I’m up more than £133 on Monday’s close.
This is how my portfolio stands now:
Net worth £12892.91
Ryanair, 500 shares: £5700.00
JD Wetherspoon, 500 shares: £5625.00
Vodaphone, 970 shares: £1565.58
Cash in hand: £2.33
£ gain on last trading day: £133.13
% gain overall: 28.9 per cent
£ Gain overall: £2,892.91
IS THIS DOUBLE-DECKER SEAT THE FUTURE OF AIRPLANE TRAVEL?
The Zephyr Seat offers a double-decker airplane interior concept for travelers in the post-COVID-19 era. Credit Zephyr Aerospace
////PLANE CAPTION ENDS////
A design that reconfigures airplane cabins with double-decker lie-flat seats in premium economy is being touted as a possible solution for fliers looking for more protection from the spread of COVID-19.
Zephyr Seat is the vision of designer Jeffrey O'Neill, who reckons the isolation from fellow passengers that his creation will offer could be a game changer in the wake of the pandemic.
“We believe that new types of travellers will require privacy or will want to pay extra for that as much as they would pay for the ability to sleep,” O’Neill, the founder and CEO of start-up Zephyr Aerospace, says.
With Zephyr Seat, airlines could provide double-decker seating in a 2-4-2 configuration which, O'Neill says, would allow the majority of global airlines to maintain the same seating density as offered by their existing premium economy cabins.
O’Neill was inspired by a sleepless flight between New York to Singapore a few years ago, on board what was then the world’s longest commercial flight.
Seated in premium economy, O’Neill realised halfway through the super long-haul journey that he wasn’t going to get any shut eye.
“I'm getting wonderful service and the food is edible, but I can’t sleep,” he recalls. “This is really uncomfortable. Why is it so difficult to find an affordable way to lie flat on a flight that’s 19 hours?”
AIRLINES DON’T WANT TO SACRIFICE SPACE
Real estate on an airplane is expensive – and airlines usually don’t want to sacrifice space.
But O’Neill found himself remembering a long-distance bus journey he’d made on a trip through Argentina. The bus utilised bunk beds, and he’d slept far better than on his ostensibly more luxurious air journey to Singapore. It occurred to him that maybe that was the solution.
This was two years ago, and O’Neill says his idea has since graduated from a back of a napkin drawing he dreamed up with his design partner, to a life-size mockup, which he says proves its feasibility.
Zephyr’s double-decker concept utilises the space that exists between a standard seat and an overhead bin.
“We basically retrofitted a whole other seat on top of another,” explains O’Neill. “So it’s essentially two levels, it’s not as tall off the ground as people might imagine, it’s only 1.3 metres off the ground from the entry point to the lower seat to the upper seat.”
The result, O’Neill says, is more passenger leg room without the airline being forced to sacrifice space or reduce passenger headcount.
The idea's still in its infancy, although O'Neill says he’s identified an engineering partner – and he’s been in conversation with four major airlines, including US carrier Delta, although there are no firm commitments right now.
He presented the idea to airline executives at the 2019 Airline Interiors Expo at Hamburg, Germany – and got some valuable feedback on how to make the seat a feasible option for the mid-range aviation market.
The next stage would be passing the product through the required safety tests, which could be a three-year process.
NEW AVIATION OPPORTUNITIES
Of course, a question mark currently hangs over aviation’s future, with no one quite knowing what air travel is going to look like over the next few months, let alone years.
There will likely be a greater demand for on board social distancing, from both passengers and airlines – recent flights have proven that current inflight set ups make this tricky.
O’Neill reckons that the new aviation landscape fits with his vision for Zephyr Seat.
The increased privacy the seat would offer, he says, could reassure travelers demanding on board social distancing. That said, the concept, like other ideas in the pipeline, doesn’t totally solve the issue of being in close proximity on aircraft and the potential COVID-19 risk.
O’Neill also points towards a future where there could likely be fewer scheduled flights and those that are operating could be busier and more expensive – something we're already seeing happen.
“The price for a business class or first class seat is going to be out of range for probably about 85 per cent of all travellers, which means a more affordable option might become a reality or a consideration for a lot of those people,” he says.
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