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 71: Monday June 8, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
- 11 weeks into my lockdown, when will the covid-19 pandemic be declared over?
- Things start to ease, but the end of coronavirus restrictions is a long way off
Of all the questions surrounding the unprecedented spread of the novel coronavirus, this one remains the most pervasive—and, unfortunately, the hardest to answer. When will this pandemic be over?
When will things get back to the way they were? Will they ever?
How will the loosening of these restrictions affect infection rates and community transmission and how will the virus change as more people are exposed, are just two of the unknowns facing public health officials.
From today, I am permitted to travel within 20 kilometres of my home while still avoiding unnecessary journeys. Up to six people will be allowed to visit homes of friends and family for a short period while maintaining strict social distancing. A few people will also be allowed to visit the homes of the over-70s or other vulnerable people – so-called cocooners – for a short period of time.
That expanded 20 kilometres range is so exciting to me after 10 weeks of living within two and then five kilometres of my home. It’s all so exciting, so new.
But when will it be over?
PANDEMIC WAS DECLARED BY WHO ON MARCH 11
Understanding how a pandemic might end begins with understanding how it’s declared in the first place.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11 – which seems so long ago now. Back then, I was holidaying in Bali.
But the WHO move was largely superficial, indicating that the disease is not containable within a specific region or regions.
The highest declaration level in an infectious disease outbreak is called a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC), which the WHO declared on January 30. In order to make that declaration, the WHO emergency committee considers four key questions: Is the public health impact of the event serious; is this an unusual or unexpected event; is there risk for international spread; and is there a significant risk for international travel or trade risk?
A WHO emergency still meets regularly to advise if the outbreak still constitutes the PHEIC.
During the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak, the most recent pandemic in history, the health authority released a “pandemic phrases” framework outlining the characteristics of the outbreak, including signs of the “post-pandemic” phase. However, the WHO says this phasing system is no longer in use.
‘AS LONG AS THERE IS COMMUNITY TRANSFER, THE REALITIES CONTINUE’
Beyond the official declaration of pandemic status, experts say the true end of the pandemic will come with a significant decrease in transmissions or the development of an effective vaccine.
“The pandemic will be considered 'ended’ when there are only occasional traces of localised cases that are quickly contained in specific locations,” Tom Koch, professor with the University of British Columbia’s Department of Geography, says. “These very localised outbreaks will be quickly contact traced and treated with both clinical care and contact-tracing to assure spread is limited.”
But, as Koch notes, as long as there is community transmission the current reality remains.
Historically pandemics have seen their end both medically — via herd immunity or immunisations — and socially, when populations declare the pandemic over themselves by forgoing restrictions.
But experts say it’s still too early to predict how quickly either scenario may play out.
Although the rate of infection may seem high, Moore warns that only a small percentage of the population has actually been exposed to the virus.
In other words, we have a long road ahead before achieving the herd immunity experts say will provide some respite from the spread of the disease. And as restrictions are loosened, community transmissions will continue.
In other words – this isn’t going away for a long time yet.
JOHNSON TO SET OUT PLANS TO 'REBUILD BRITAIN' AFTER PANDEMIC
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will soon set out plans to “rebuild Britain” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, amid reports he wants to ease lockdown restrictions quickly to save millions of jobs.
Johnson is expected to use a major speech to effectively re-launch the Conservative’s domestic agenda after the UK government’s attention turned to the COVID-19 crisis, during which the Tories’ poll rating has plummeted.
Johnson will this week chair a meeting of his Cabinet to update them on the next lockdown-easing steps for a number of sectors, which are expected to take effect from June 15.
The Sunday Times reported that Johnson will unveil plans to ease restrictions on weddings and funerals from next month, as well as possible measures to reopen hairdressers before July 4.
The paper reports that Johnson has told Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to secure “travel corridor” deals with holiday hotspots by June 28.
Downing Street announced on Saturday night that churches and other places of worship are set to open for private prayer from June 15 – but worship groups, weddings and other services will still not be permitted.
BRITISH HOSPITALITY SECTOR COULD LOSE 3.5 MILLION JOBS
Johnson is said to have signed off on plans to reopen the economy after being warned by Business Secretary Alok Sharma that a failure to reopen the hospitality sector could cost 3.5 million jobs.
However, there are concerns that the reproduction rate of the coronavirus is dangerously high – with a report by Public Health England and Cambridge University placing the R value just above 1 in the North West.
If R is 1 or higher, the virus will spread exponentially through the population, while a value less than 1 indicates the virus is in decline.
The Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, reported that the prime minister would outline plans to accelerate major infrastructure projects – including pledges to build 40 new hospitals and key road upgrades – in a speech in the coming weeks.
Johnson is also said to want to fast-track recruitment campaigns for doctors and nurses to increase the National Health Service resilience before the winter.
A Whitehall source told the paper that “getting the immediate crisis under control remains Johnson's main focus”, but said the government is also preparing for tough economic times ahead.
VITAMIN K LINKED TO COVID-19 COMPLICATIONS
There appears to be a relationship between serious coronavirus complications and patients with a low level of vitamin K, doctors at the Canisius Wilhelmina hospital in Nijmegen have found.
Vitamin K, which occurs naturally in foods like eggs and spinach, plays a part in the coagulation of the blood and in the protection of the elasticity of the lungs, both of which are compromised in some coronavirus patients.
In order to make a protective protein, the body needs vitamin K.
“We found that people who died from the virus or who had to go into intensive care because of complications had much lower levels of vitamin K compared to healthy people. We think there is a relationship between vitamin K and how the illness progresses,” lung specialist Rob Janssen told Dutch media.
The hospital, which is looking for outside funding to continue the research into vitamin K and coronavirus, is investigating ways to give vitamin K supplements to coronavirus patients.
“It would be great if vitamin K could help in alleviating the symptoms,” Janssen said. “ But it has to be done safely. Patients who have thrombosis and take blood thinners cannot take it, for instance.”
DEBUNKED: NO, ‘COV 19"’WAS NOT FOUND INSCRIBED ON A CIRCUIT BOARD FOR A 5G MAST
A viral video that claims circuit boards with the letters ‘COV 19’ are being installed in 5G masts has been shared thousands of times on social media.
In the video, a man who says he has been employed to erect 5G masts describes how he opened some of the equipment which was due to be put into a mast and found the letters COV 19. The video is the latest in a series of claims falsely linking coronavirus and 5G.
The claim in this case is a hoax: the circuit board shown in the video is from an old set-top TV box. It has nothing to do with 5G and it never had the letters COV 19 inscribed on it when it was distributed to customers.
In the 55-second video, a man wearing a hard hat, a mask and high-viz clothing is standing on a residential street in front of a large tower.
His accent is difficult to place at times, but seems to be from northern England. Given that, and the right-hand drive cars and the architecture of the street, it is likely that the video was taken in England.
He says that he has been “working erecting 5G masts on towers like the one behind me for the past few weeks” and has opened some of the equipment he has been given, despite being asked not to.
He shows a circuit board to the camera which has the letters COV 19 inscribed in a corner on a silver component. “I’m not an [expletive] conspiracy theorist,” he says. “Obviously I’ve read all that stuff online about coronavirus and COVID-19, but why the [expletive] are they putting circuitry like that in towers like that.”
CURCUIT BOARD DATES BACKS TO 2011
The man’s claim is false. The circuit board comes from an old Virgin Media TV box which would have been distributed from around 2011 and has been discontinued for a few years.
The circuit board in question also never had the letters COV 19 on it, suggesting that they were added at a later date.
A photograph below shows a photo of one of the circuit boards. The letters COV 19 are not shown on them.
Virgin Media said that circuit board looked like a Cisco 4585 HD card which they began distributing to customers around 2011.
There have been a large number of conspiracy theories connecting 5G with the coronavirus pandemic in recent months.
The theories, which generally either suggest that Covid-19 can be transmitted by 5G or that 5G makes people more susceptible to catching it, have no basis in truth but have been widely shared on social media.
But people still believe them. Please, don’t buy into this nonsense. I’ve said it here before and will say it again, only trust reputable news outlets such as Gulf News and government public health information. There are too many people out there with too many cuckoo theories.
Don’t be conned!.
MEME OF THE DAY
This was shared with me on Facebook by my neighbour Craig. Bonus points for touching your face in a restaurant, Craig.
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:
1: I’m feeling symptoms of COVID-19 and I’m afraid I’m going to die and my boyfriend won’t be able to see me before I die.
2: My seven- and three-year old get so much screen time now and they love it, but they love family walks and bike rides even more!
3: My late mom had chronic lung issues and became anxious in her last years. I'm relieved she doesn't have to experience all this.
4: I love having an acceptable reason to do only what I want, eat, sleep, read, watch, whenever I want! If only it were NFL season!
5: After physical distancing strictly for over two months, I gave in to temptation and slept with a friend. Feeling super guilty now.
6: I hate my husband for his careless selfish ways. He has shown his true colours during this crisis.
7: Terrified to get too close to my mother who is up in years – 91. Hope this blows over so I can hug her soon. Really miss that.
8: I want to have an affair with a real man. Laugh, have good conversations, feel free to be me. Rather than walking on eggshells.
9: Family and friends who are willfully ignorant and selfish during the pandemic make me feel so angry and discouraged.
10: I was nearing the end of my internship and was about to get hired for 35 hours a week. It fell through. I'm heartbroken and broke.
11: I had a nightmare about people coming into the small shop I work at. We aren't open for business, but they refused to leave.
12: Having a double whammy of depression and anxiety is really challenging during this time.
13: I live alone, work at home, and am an introvert; quarantining hasn’t been that hard. But it’s taught me I miss and need people.
14: I am one of the lucky ones who is able to work full-time from home without kids but it’s so hard to stay motivated and concentrate.
15: My wife and I are together 24/7. We give each other our space and we get along great. Once in a while we get a little frustrated.
16: The air has never smelled fresher, and the skies have never been bluer. Going to miss it when everything is reopened.
17: Quarantine has allowed me the time to puzzle out and start to fix the issues in my marriage. It's the bright spot in all this.
18: Doctor here: Worried there will be an outbreak and heartbreaks this fall.
19: I'm having bad dreams from the stress of it all and I'm scared to return to doing hair. I want to wake up from it all.
20: Homeschooling my 13-year-old hasn't been so bad. It's his fear and anxiety that I struggle with. He expects adults to fix all of it.
21: March 2020 I was looking for ways to get out of my job teaching toddlers at a daycare center. April 2020 I worry about them daily.
22: I have all the symptoms of COVID-19 yet tested negative. 30 per cent of testing results are false negative. This is so stressful.
23: I don't need bathroom tissue but it still angers me to see those shelves empty a month in to this mess. Stop. Hoarding.
24: I was laid off but husband is working. I’m pulling most of the childcare duties with a toddler – it is exhausting and lonely.
25: I'm an introvert. My hobbies and interests can be enjoyed solo. I don't feel the need to interact. I wish I could quarantine alone.
A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES: MADRID REOPENS ITS MUSEUMS
Madrid residents wearing face masks queued two metres apart to be among the first visitors back in the city’s famed galleries on Saturday, as the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums reopened after nearly three months of coronavirus lockdown.
“I was really looking forward to coming back. To see how it has come back to life makes me very emotional,” said masters student Alejandro Elizalde, who wiped away tears while viewing Diego de Velazquez’s “Las Meninas”, one of the Prado’s most famous paintings.
The government shut state-run museums on March 12 as it locked down the country to curb the coronavirus spread. Curbs have been lifted gradually, with Madrid one of the slowest places to ease restrictions as it was among the worst hit.
The Prado and Reina Sofia are not yet fully open, but many masterpieces, including works by Velazquez and Goya in the Prado and Picasso’s “Guernica” in the Reina Sofia, are on display.
Health measures are in force, including social distancing, reduced capacity and timed tickets for visits. Staff took visitors’ temperatures as they entered the Prado.
MUCH QUIETER THAN BEFORE THE PANDEMIC
Many people noted how quiet the museums were. As one of Madrid’s major tourist draws, a usual Saturday would have seen them packed with visitors.
“It’s a really weird feeling and at the same time it’s really good because I’ve never been in the Reina Sofia with so few people,” said business developer Elena Vázquez.
Spain has so far recorded 27,134 deaths and 240,978 cases of the coronavirus. It will further ease the lockdown in Madrid and Barcelona from Monday, when bar and restaurant patrons will be allowed to sit inside rather than just on outdoor terraces.
And in over half the country, nightclubs will be allowed to reopen, but dancing will not be permitted, the government instead suggesting dance floor space be used for tables.
My friend Tommy, who opened his dream café in Lanzarote last December, has had to close down for three months. Now, he’ll reopen and can’t wait for the usual tens of thousands of tourists to flock to the Canary islands once more.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
After cashing in my holdings in Avast, and with some cash in hand from previous activities over the past 10 weeks, I have £4745.38 to invest now before trading openings 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.
My editor back in Dubai suggested that the stock market would make for an interesting element in this daily blog – and as you do with editors back in Dubai, you happily oblige. Global markets had tanked, and this project was an opportunity to see what would happen if I “invested” when the market was at a low point.
I have invested in delivery companies and others that might benefit from the lockdown imposed on some two-thirds of the world’s population.
But things are opening up, and in Europe, people are looking at ways to travel again this summer.
That’s why I’m investing in Ryanair – Europe’s largest budget airline. My thinking is that the stock is down right now based on only being able to fly less than 1 per cent of its flight these past three months. But now things are opening up. Yes, people will want to travel but, being short on funds, Ryanair is a cheap option. And as things pick up, so will its business.
It’s at £12.89 a share, so I’m buying 350, costing me £4511.50 – leaving me with £233.88 in cash.
This is how things stand now:
Net worth £14,184.38
Ocado, 100 shares: £2123.00
Diageo, 100 shares: £2900.00
PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £4416.00
Ryanair, 350 shares: 4511.50
Cash in hand: £233.88
£ gain on last trading day: £305.00
% Gain overall: 41.8 per cent
£ Gain overall: £4,184.38
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO REOPENS AS FLORIDA'S THEME PARKS BEGIN THEIR COMEBACK
Once upon a time we didn’t have to wear masks, social distance, or wash our hands ten times a day – and hopefully we can live happily ever after when COVID-19 is done.
Spider-Man and Captain America were not the only ones wearing masks when Universal theme parks reopened in Florida for the first time since being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Locals with a pent-up desire for high-speed thrills descended on the Orlando resort on Friday, more than two months since they were last allowed entry due to COVID-19.
Major theme parks in the US are beginning to follow in the footsteps of Shanghai Disneyland by getting back up and running with new safety measures in place, including hand sanitiser stations and temperature checks.
Even Shrek and Princess Fiona had to keep two metres apart to adhere to social distancing rules.
Guests and staff in all three of the resort's parks – Universal Studios, Islands Of Adventure and Volcano Bay - have to stick to the new requirements, which extend to the attractions and queues.
People had to scream through their face coverings on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, which was among the rides to leave spaces between rows to keep different groups away from each other.
NO MASKS ON WATER RIDES – BUT THE QUEUES ARE MOVING QUICKER
Water rides like Jurassic Park River Adventure were the only ones that allowed guests to take their masks off.
Despite the restrictions, one benefit for those in attendance was that the limited capacity being enforced made for quicker queues and less crowded walkways.
There are also said to be increased cleaning and disinfection procedures, and guests are encouraged to use their smartphones to order food and reserve times on rides.
SeaWorld and Busch Gardens are due to reopen on 11 June, but Walt Disney World won't be back until next month despite the closure inflicting an enormous hit on the company's profits.
Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom will reopen on 11 July, followed by Hollywood Studios and Epcot four days later, with Disney also needing to consider its nearby hotels, golf courses and shopping venues.
Neither Universal or Disney have yet been given the all-clear to reopen their locations in California, but both are preparing to reopen their Japanese parks in the next few weeks.
Theme park fans in the UK will have to wait until 4 July at the earliest to get their fix, as they fall into parts of the hospitality sector that the government hopes to begin reopening next month.
'DIE-IN' OUTSIDE DOMINIC CUMMINGS'S HOUSE OVER COVID-19 RESPONSE
Protesters staged a "die-in" outside Dominic Cummings' house over the UK government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Holding signs and wearing face masks, about 20 campaigners lay on the street outside the north London home of the prime minister's controversial adviser on Thursday evening.
Cummings, and his boss Johnson, have faced questions over him travelling to Durham days after the lockdown was announced to stay at a house on his parents' property after his wife displayed COVID-19 symptoms.
He also drove 30 minutes to beauty spot Barnard Castle, claiming he needed to test his eyesight after being ill to check if he could drive back to London.
Last month Durham Police said Cummings' trip to Barnard Castle "might have been a minor breach" of the lockdown rules, but added they had no intention of taking retrospective action.
PROTESTER UNABLE TO ATTEND AUNT’S FUNERAL
Protester Sita Bilani said she was unable to attend her aunt's funeral after she died with COVID-19 in April due to lockdown and social distancing measures.
“It’s insulting to hear Boris Johnson say we should ‘move on’,” she said. “The lack of remorse, not just for Cummings' disregard for the rules but for the thousands of preventable deaths is a disgrace.”
Campaigners said they all remained two metres from each other during the 30-minute protest.
They said the response from the street was largely positive, with about 15 neighbours joining them and one leading a chant of "Black Lives Matter".
The protesters called on the government to sack Cummings and implement a strategy to tackle the pandemic based on World Health Organisation recommendations.
And they demanded Public Health England publish the “full findings” of its review which found black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are at significantly higher risk of dying from COVID-19.
The protesters said they intend to carry out more demonstrations on the issue.
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily proof that covidiocy is bigger than any game.
PREMIER LEAGUE TO CRACK DOWN ON COVIDIOTS
I’m missing live sports in television – I’m an Everton football fan – and can’t wait for the return of the game next week.
Now Premier League chiefs are set to crack down on football’s covidiots with big fines and possible points penalties.
The top-flight’s rulers want to protect Project Restart against sloppy behaviour by clubs and players which could lead to a coronavirus spike.
And emergency powers will be brought in to give Premier League ‘police’ the power to hand out fines of around £200,000 for offences.
A second coronavirus ‘crime’ would mean double punishment, while repeat offenders will face limitless penalties — including points deductions.
A number of Prem stars have already breached Government lockdown rules — including Kyle Walker, Jack Grealish, Serge Aurier, Jordon Ibe and Alexandre Lacazette, while Spurs boss Jose Mourinho was accused by British Members of Parliament of “putting lives at risk” by hosting a training session in a public open space.
Officials are desperate to avoid an increase in COVID-19 infections which could result in the season being ended before all 92 games are completed.
Checks will be made on the cleanliness of matchday stadiums AND whether players stick to social distancing rules.
Some clubs have been told their grounds need urgent attention to provide the ‘zones’ needed to minimise infection.
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