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.
Tuesday June 2, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
TENSIONS CONTINUE OVER LOCKDOWN EASING AS SOME IN ENGLAND RETURN TO SCHOOLS
It was a public holiday in Ireland on Monday, with the weather now in June offering a welcome chance to get outside and bask in glorious rays of summer sunshine.
Out walking my local beach – into my 10th week of lockdown restrictions, I can only exercise within five kilometres of home – it was all too easy to forget this pandemic, its rules, those who have lost their lives and why we are still all in this together.
The government here is planning to ease some more restrictions next week as we move to the second stage of a five-stage reopening process, with three weeks before each new phase, providing the spread is contained and the science justifies more easing.
In the United Kingdom, which was slower to lockdown and quicker to ease, schools in England were supposed to reopen on Monday too. But many children simply stayed away and ignored the advice of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to head back to the classroom.
It is part of a wider easing of measures in England that will also see groups of up to six people allowed to meet in public places or private gardens and outdoor markets and car show rooms reopen.
But government leaders have stressed social distancing measures must stay in place, particularly staying two metres apart from someone outside your household.
It comes as several scientists have criticised the move suggesting it is too early to lift restrictions and could cause infections to rapidly rise again.
RATE OF INFECTION HAS BEEN CONSISTANTLY BELOW ONE
Ministers insist the time is right to ease the lockdown because the government has met its five tests to do so and the rate of infection, or R value, has been consistently below one.
The new rules allow for families and friends to meet up for picnics and barbecues and travel freely around the country, so long as they do not stay anywhere overnight that is not their primary home.
Some primary school children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England will return to class as the government and education unions continue to fight over whether it is safe to do so.
Parents are also reluctant to send their children back, according to the National Foundation for Educational Research, after its survey of more than 1,200 school leaders found headteachers were expecting 46 per of families to keep pupils at home.
While many schools have reopened, parents do not have to send their children to school if they do not wish to.
Findings from a recent survey of local authorities show that more than 20 councils across England – predominantly in the north – are also advising schools not to open to more pupils this week.
Some of those polled have claimed that the National Health Service Test and Trace system will not be “robust enough” to allay fears over the potential spreading of the virus due to difficulty maintaining social distancing.
CLASSES MIGHT SIT THROUGH JULY AND AUGUST
Meanwhile, Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield has called on the UK government to set up summer classes in July and August to help children catch up on work they missed during lockdown, with some facing up to six months off school depending on when they are able to return.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, she said summer schools could help the “most deprived” and “provide activities of all kinds, meals and potentially some learning too”.
A warm weekend across the UK too saw people flock to beaches and parks, prompting members of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), to warn that ministers are taking risks.
Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health told The Guardian the public was “not keeping to social distancing as it was”, adding the organisation was “increasingly concerned that the government is misjudging the balance of risk between more social interaction and the risk of a resurgence of the virus, and is easing too many restrictions too quickly”.
But deputy chief medical officer for England Dr Jenny Harries said the public would be safe if they were “sensible” and did not “overdo it”.
Speaking at the Downing Street briefing on Sunday, she said: “Where we are seeing that Government is easing measures, the public really, really need to stick to those messages, and it is not just about what it is possible to do, it’s about what it is sensible to do, and what is sensible to do is have as few interactions as possible as you can with other people in all settings.”
Measures are also being eased across the other home nations.
In Scotland, people can now meet others from one other household at a time as long as it is outdoors, but social distancing should continue and groups must be a maximum of eight people.
People in Wales will be allowed to meet up with others outdoors from Monday, although it is recommended they do not travel more than five miles to do so.
In Northern Ireland, more retailers can open and small outdoor weddings will receive the go-ahead from June 8 if the coronavirus infection rate remains under control.
PARTIES ARE MOSTLY TO BLAME FOR NEW OUTBREAKS OF CORONAVIRUS IN SPAIN
Here’s a maths problem that can be dangerous to your health. Take one birthday party, double the number of people allowed and add four asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus – that all adds up 20 infections. That’s what happened in the Catalan province of Lleida, which, as a result of this new outbreak, will see its healthcare area remain in Phase 1 of Spain’s de-escalation plan for at least one week more than expected. But similar stories are being repeated across Spain.
For now, no other incident has caused a scheduled change of phase to be suspended but other parties in the North African exclave city of Ceuta and the Extremadura region have put the health services on alert.
In Ceuta, a number of parties – one of which is thought to have been attended by 80 people – even threatened seeing the city returning to Phase 0, the first of the four-stage plan implemented by the government. But Health Minister Salvador Illa stated that while the outbreak is under control, that measure will not be necessary.
There have also been new outbreaks related to the meat industry. In Totana, Murcia, there have been a number of cases involving day laborers at food plants, meaning that the municipality has remained in Phase 1 while the rest of the southeastern region has moved to Phase 2. There has also been an outbreak in the province of Cuenca, although Minister Illa provided no further details about this case.
The news for Spain, however, remains very good indeed – new cases at their lowest daily levels in more than three months.
BELGIAN PRINCE APOLOGISES FOR LOCKDOWN PARTY IN SPAIN
Given that the party above caused some 20 infections, it’s no small wonder then that a Belgian prince has apologised after being caught breaking Spain’s lockdown rules by attending a party, where he became infected with Covid-19.
Prince Joachim, nephew of King Philippe of the Belgians and 10th in line to the throne, said on Sunday he deeply regretted his actions and would accept “all the consequences”.
The prince has tested positive for coronavirus, according to Belgian media, after attending a private party in Cordoba on 26 May attended by friends and family. According to Spain’s El Confidencial, which broke the story, 27 people had attended the event, at a time when gatherings with a maximum of 15 guests were permitted.
All the guests have subsequently gone into quarantine and police are investigating the event, which could result in fines of up to €10,000 for breaching Spain’s lockdown rules.
The Belgian palace said the prince had travelled to Spain on May 24 to do an internship at a company and had attended a “family gathering” on May 26. Spanish media have also reported that the 28-year old prince’s partner is from Córdoba.
The prince’s behaviour has gone down badly in Spain, which has one of the highest death tolls in the world from coronavirus and endured a strict lockdown, where children were confined to their homes without being able to go outside for exercise for 45 days.
VIRUS TRACING APPS: WHICH COUNTRIES ARE DOING WHAT
There’s a lot of talk in the UK now about the NHS Track and Trace app – and how it might allow for greater movement. Indeed, as countries emerge from lockdowns imposed to blunt the coronavirus pandemic, dozens have rolled out phone apps to track a person’s movements and who they come into contact with, giving officials a vital tool for limiting contagion risks.
The technology could help avert new surges in COVID-19 infections that might overwhelm hospitals battling an outbreak that has killed more than 350,000 people worldwide in just six months.
While many apps and related technologies are voluntary, other governments are enforcing their use, since health experts say at least 60 percent of a population needs to activate them for contact tracing to be effective.
But privacy advocates warn they give unprecedented access to personal data that could be exploited by authorities or even third parties, despite pledges that information will be kept out of reach.
The stakes are high, since only a small percentage of populations in many regions have been infected by the new coronavirus, meaning huge numbers of people are still at risk of infection.
Here is a rundown of the different approaches adopted since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in China last December, and what officials have learned from their experiences.
GEOLOCALISATION USING CELLPHONE NETWORKS
Asian countries were the first to roll out tracing apps, with China launching several that use either direct geolocalisation via cellphone networks, or data compiled from train and airline travel or highway checkpoints.
Their use was systematic and compulsory, and played a key role in allowing Beijing to lift regional lockdowns and halt contagions starting in April.
People are ranked green, yellow or red based on their travel history and exposure to infected people, to determine if they can travel or enter public areas.
South Korea, for its part, issued mass cellphone alerts announcing locations visited by infected patients, and ordered a tracking app installed on the phone of anyone ordered into isolation – aggressive measures that helped limit deaths to just a couple of hundred in a population of 51 million.
In Hong Kong and Taiwan, which have managed to limit deaths despite their proximity to China, officials use GPS and Wi-Fi to keep strict tabs on people in quarantine.
BLUETOOTH TRACKING APPS
But most other countries turned to bluetooth tracking via apps that remain voluntary and let authorities “see” when two people’s devices come into close contact.
Officials say actual identities are encrypted, and anyone receiving an alert will not know who posed the potential contagion threat, but those pledges have failed to reassure many.
Australia’s COVIDSafe app, rolled out in April, has been downloaded 6.1 million times by its roughly 15 million smartphone users, though there is no data on how many remain active daily.
India’s government launched the Aarogya Setu (“Bridge to Health”) app, with more than 100 million downloads since April – less than one-tenth of its population, since only one in four Indians owns a smartphone.
In Iran, home to the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East, the Mask app is being pushed by officials, though rights groups say the government could be tempted by surveillance possibilities after months of unrest.
Pakistan, for its part, has tapped its powerful intelligence services to deploy secretive surveillance technology normally used to locate insurgents to track coronavirus patients and the people they come into contact with.
EUROPEAN NATIONS CONCERNED OVER PRIVACY
Concerns about privacy protections are particularly acute in Europe, where officials have called for collaborative efforts that would include intense oversight to make sure users know when and how personal data is being exploited.
A nonprofit coalition, Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), was set up to offer technologies for building apps, though in many cases governments have struck out on their own.
France, for example, will launch next week a voluntary bluetooth-tracing app that it says will not disclose any personal information, with records erased once the crisis is over.
But the government declined to work with either Apple or Google, which have teamed up to give tracing app developers a way for phones to communicate across their separate iPhone and Android operating systems.
Britain’s National Health Service is also developing its own system, which is still undergoing testing. In the meantime it is relying on manual tracing, mobilising 25,000 people to contact people who test positive.
Germany and Italy opted to use the Apple-Google venture for apps to be rolled out in the coming weeks, as have Austria, Ireland and Switzerland.
Several other countries are rolling out apps as well, but Belgium and Greece remain reluctant because of fears officials and companies could be tempted to compile huge databases on people's movements and activities.
Spain has also held back on a national app so far, though Madrid and some regions have introduced them.
Sweden has also rejected a tracking app, despite having more COVID-19 cases than in neighbouring countries like Denmark and Finland, which plan to have tracking apps operational in the coming weeks.
ISRAEL’S SPIES CAN MONITOR PHONES
A number of Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain have rolled out bluetooth tracing apps – Doha has even made its use mandatory, warning that violators face up to three years in jail, prompting a rare backlash over privacy concerns.
Israel’s health service in March launched the Hamagen app, Hebrew for “the Shield,” which uses a phone’s GPS data and is available in five languages.
But the Israeli government also allowed the Shin Bet spy agency to monitor people’s phones under emergency powers, a move decried by rights groups who warned of an irrevocable setback to privacy safeguards.
This week, lawmakers extended the controversial measure until June 16, but only in “individual and unique cases.”
In Egypt, officials began urging people to use an app that sends alerts of areas with potential coronavirus contagion, though it remains unclear how many people are using it.
TRACKING INFECTIONS IN THE AMERICAS
In the United States, there is no national tracing plan under consideration, but some states have announced their own, either for bluetooth apps or, in the case of Hawaii, sending out daily questionnaires via text and email to help build a database to track infections.
Just three US states (Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina) say they have adopted the Apple-Google technology, while other states have developed their own systems, such as Rhode Island's "Crush Covid" app, which gathers GPS data.
Canada has declined to offer a tracing app so far, though the province of Alberta has its own app, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his government is studying a national app that would address privacy concerns.
In Mexico, only a handful of privately developed apps have emerged, alongside one from the state of Jalisco.
COVID-19 cases are now beginning to surge in Latin America, with Brazil the newest epicentre after the death toll surpassed 26,000 people. But so far tracking apps have not been a priority for governments racing to stave off economic disaster in populations already riven by poverty.
MEME OF THE DAY
This was shared with me on Instagram by Fred, a former colleague back in Toronto.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
So, back into trading and a loss of some £400 from where I ended up on Friday.
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.
Grocery-delivery company Ocado and software maker Avast gained solidly, as did distiller Diageo.
PowerHouse, a green energy producer, slipped back by almost 13 per cent on Friday’s close. I’ll stick with it for another day if only because I have more than tripled my initial investment in the stock. Overall, my portfolio remains marginally above the 40 per cent growth mark starting my tenth week of pretend trading.
This is how things stand after Monday:
Net worth £14,007.38
Ocado, 100 shares: £2229.00
Diageo, 100 shares: £2851.00
Avast, 1,000 shares: £5080.00
PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £3792.00
Cash in hand: £55.38
£ loss on last trading day: £415.50
% Gain overall: 40.0 per cent
£ Gain overall: £4,007.38
GEORGIA STUDENT CREATES LIFESAVING COVID-19 EQUIPMENT
Kentez Craig and his team at Georgia Tech working on designs for an intubation chamber. Credit Kentez Craig
When Kentez Craig was a teenager, he was riding in the car with his father one day when they came upon a vehicle on fire along the side of the road. Craig’s dad, a paramedic, pulled the car to a stop and rushed out to help.
It was the kind of act that didn’t surprise Craig. He grew up listening to his parents, both paramedics, tell stories of responding to burning buildings and crushed cars. They instilled in him the importance of serving one’s community and never panicking in a crisis.
Seven years later, Craig’s dad, Kenneth, is working as an emergency room paramedic, now on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis in the US state of Georgia. Craig is a graduate student at Georgia Tech’s school of mechanical engineering.
Watching the pandemic ravage Atlanta, Craig said his parents’ devotion to public service inspired him to take action. Together with a small team of Georgia Tech faculty and students, he has spent the past two months working to design and build critical protective gear and medical equipment to help first responders battle COVID-19.
“I saw nothing better I could do to give back to people like my mom, my dad — who have been working in emergency services — and first responders on the real front lines of this,” Craig told NBC News.
MKINF FACE SHIELDS AND INTUBATION BOXES
Over the past few weeks, Craig’s team has provided thousands of face shields to medical facilities across the country, as well as roughly 200 intubation boxes, a protective barrier that shields health care workers from respiratory droplets when intubating patients, to Atlanta-area hospitals. And the face shield design they created has been used to produce nearly 2 million of them.
“If I had fireworks, I would have set them off,” said Kari Love, program director for infection prevention at Emory Healthcare, recalling its first delivery of face shields created at Georgia Tech. “It was an amazing feeling to see the smiles on the faces of the Emory staff who were receiving them.”
The project began in mid-March as Atlanta was becoming a COVID-19 hot spot. An email circulated around Georgia Tech faculty members: What could they do to help?
Chris Saldana, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, connected with an Emory Healthcare staff member through a mutual colleague, and they discussed what personal protective equipment the hospital needed. The most pressing need: face shields, plastic coverings that protect health care workers from respiratory droplets and extend the life of N95 masks.
“When we were talking with health care workers, we realized that the need was in the order of millions, and the need was in the order of weeks, if not days,” Saldana said.
EASY TO BUILD AND EASY TO MASS PRODUCE
After talking with Love and other health care professionals, Saldana gathered a team of Georgia Tech faculty members and student volunteers to get to work on a design for a face shield that could be built quickly but also easily mass produced to help with the national supply.
“Being a university, we’re very nimble. We can jump on the machines fairly quickly and actually produce components,” Saldana said.
Georgia Tech is home to one of the most robust student-run engineering makerspaces in the country, the Flowers Invention Studio, which Craig helps run during the school year. When Craig heard Saldana was looking to open the studio to build face shields, he immediately emailed Saldana that he wanted to be involved.
Together, over the course of three days, the team worked around the clock to produce a face shield using a laser cutter and water jet cutter. Craig said the days were long but the team’s camaraderie powered them through.
“It was wild,” Craig said. “We would get there at 7 or 8 in the morning, then look up and it was 5 pm. You would lose track of time.”
Craig, who specializes in water jet machining, said the process is much faster than 3D printing, which some other universities had been using to create face shields.
“Because of the capability we have, we were able to crank out a lot more early on and get them into the hands of health care providers to make sure we got their feedback,” Craig said.
SCALED UP TO PRODUCE THOUSANDS DAILY
They worked closely with local health care workers at Emory University Hospital and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to create a design that was comfortable, easy to clean and fully protective. A nonprofit affiliated with Georgia Tech, the Global Centre for Medical Innovation, also provided input to ensure the design was scalable to mass manufacture.
Within one week, the team had built more than 5,000 face shields and personally delivered them to hospitals across Atlanta.
Dr. Jeremy Collins, executive vice chair of anesthesiology at Emory, said the face shields have been “huge” in protecting his colleagues as they treat people with the coronavirus.
“At the start of the pandemic, there was quite a lot of fear and concern that, as anesthesiologists, we were putting our heads into the lion’s mouth because we were the closest to the danger,” Collins said. “We quickly realised we needed to have more coverage on our faces.”
Collins said the unique face shield design is not only fully protective, but also comfortable to wear and durable enough to sustain several weeks of use and rounds of disinfectant.
Since the first deliveries to Atlanta-area hospitals, Georgia Tech’s unique design has taken off.
In April, after the Food and Drug Administration released an emergency use authorisation for the mass production of face shields, the school partnered with manufacturer Siemens to begin mass producing its design. To date, Siemens has supplied the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency with 100,000 face shields to distribute across the state.
PASSED ON THE DESIGN TO MANUFACTURERS
GCMI passed the design on to other manufacturers — including Delta, ExxonMobile and Kia Motors — that are now helping produce the shields and distribute them across the country. Large corporations, including Coca-Cola, have donated supplies to manufacture the shields.
Georgia Tech has also posted the design on its repaid response website for open use. Since April 13, the designs have been downloaded roughly 1,400 times, the school said. Saldana estimates there have now been almost 1.8 million face shields delivered to health care workers in the past few weeks.
Craig’s work hasn’t stopped with the face shield. Over the past two months, he’s been involved with multiple COVID-19 projects at Georgia Tech, including an intubation box and ventilator.
Working again with Saldana, Craig helped create a foldable intubation chamber, a clear barrier device that protects health care workers from respiratory droplets while intubating critically ill people who have the coronavirus. More than 100 of the devices have been shipped to Emory University Hospital. Other Atlanta-area hospitals say they are also considering using the boxes, which received FDA emergency use authorisation at the end of April.
LOW-COST PORTABLE VENTILATOR
Collaborating with another Georgia Tech faculty member, Shannon Yee, Craig also created a low-cost, portable emergency ventilator that the team hopes will be a solution for developing countries that are responding to COVID-19.
“Kentez has been a huge asset for all our efforts,” Saldana said. “He’s one of the most capable in this space. He’s someone you can rely on and has threaded every project that has come out of the Flowers Studio.”
Craig said seeing his work make an impact for health care providers has been “an honour.”
“They’re the silent heroes. They’re looked up to, but I feel like they don’t often get the support they deserve,” Craig said. “If I can make their day a little bit better and a little bit safer, I’m grateful for the opportunity to do such a thing.”
Craig’s parents, Jackie and Kenneth, say they couldn’t be prouder of their son.
“It brings me to tears, joyful tears,” said Jackie, who worked as a paramedic for 27 years. “Whatever joy he’s brought us is far greater than we could have ever given him.”
Kenneth, who currently works as a paramedic at Eastside Medical Centre, said he’s “ecstatic” to see his son giving back to the community.
“Words can’t express how proud I am,” Kenneth said. “It makes me feel wonderful because he’s saving my colleagues in the field.”
Craig, who will be pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering next year, said the experience of using his passion for engineering to honour his parents was incredibly rewarding.
“It makes you feel honored and like I’m doing something important and worthwhile,” Craig said. “I look forward to any work we get to do in the future, getting back to my email and figuring out what’s next.”
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection that proves covidiots follow the money
MILLIONS OF SUB-STANDARD FACE MASKS SEIZED AT HEATHROW SINCE PANDEMIC BEGAN
Millions of sub-standard face masks and thousands of fake hand sanitisers have been seized at Heathrow since the coronavirus pandemic started.
London Trading Standards said the majority of masks seized had been labelled with false claims or fake safety certificates and around 4.25 million had to undergo label amendments before they were released.
A total of 2.25 million masks were found not to comply with legal safety standards.
Trading standards teams examined a further 1.5 million face masks and no issues were found.
Many of the consignments were referred to trading standards by Border Force teams at the airport.
The teams also seized 8,000 fake hand sanitisers, branded Andrex and Comfort, at the airport.
Suspicions were raised as they had identical packaging and labelling, except for the brand name, and the same batch code on the entire consignment.
Identical fake sanitiser products have been found on sale in London stores by trading standards officers, officials said.
HAND SANITISERS WITH FALSE LABELLING
A further 4,500 hand sanitisers with false labelling were seized at the airport, according to LTS.
As well as stopping dodgy imports, trading standards are increasingly concerned about the sale of unsafe UK-made hand sanitisers that fail to meet safety standards.
In east London, Tower Hamlets trading standards have recently found UK-made hand sanitiser on sale online from a local shop that contains the banned substance Triclosan and Ealing Council’s trading standards team recently detained 454,500 face masks described as “anti-virus” where fake safety certification was supplied.
In west London, Ealing also seized 60,000 face masks that failed to have the necessary importers’ details, batch, declaration of conformity or test certificates available to demonstrate compliance.
The borough also seized 3,390 hand sanitisers, which lacked any legally required information regarding ingredients, batch, traceability, warnings or instructions.
Trading standards teams at Heathrow Airport and around London play an important role in protecting consumers from unscrupulous businesses seeking to bypass EU and UK safety laws.
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