For illustrative purposes only Image Credit: Pexels

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 61: Friday May 29, 9am



Working mothers
Working mothers Image Credit: Twitter

Nobody ever said lockdown was pleasant. It’s not. Nine weeks in and I’m grumpy. So, I have great empathy for a new study from London that finds working parents locked down because of the pandemic do not share childcare and housework duties equally. Mothers do most of the work.

More than 3,500 parents in two-parent households were surveyed in England between late April and mid-May by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and University College London.

Researchers stressed in their report released on Thursday that “several of our findings suggest that there is a risk of reversing some of the progress made in narrowing the gender wage gap over recent decades.”

They found for instance that working mothers confined at home are spending less time on paid work and more on household responsibilities and now work two fewer hours a day.

The difference in work patterns have also been exacerbated by the health crisis. In the 2014-2015 UK tax year, mothers were in paid work at 80 per cent the rate of fathers; now this rate stands at 70 per cent.

Mothers and fathers also used to be interrupted during the same proportion of their work hours, but now mothers are interrupted over 50 per cent more often.


The survey found that working mothers confined at home manage to do only one hour of uninterrupted paid work for every three hours their male partner does.

It also flagged that mothers are more likely to have quit, lost their jobs or to have been furloughed since the start of the pandemic and that those who have stopped working for pay during lockdown while their partner continues now do twice as much childcare and housework as their partner.

“In the reverse situation, in families where the father has stopped working, the parents share childcare and housework equally, while the mother also does five hours of paid work a day,” the report states.

Researchers do flag as worthy that there has been a “substantial increase in the time the average father spends on childcare” but note that “whether this change creates the impetus for longer-lasting change in how many parents share childcare is an important open question”.

“The way that couples divide paid work and household responsibilities during this crisis could have an effect that lasts long after the lockdown is lifted,” they added.

They cited evidence that paternity leave reforms across Europe suggest that even small increases of fathers’ time at home “can have long-run effects” including a reduction in gender gaps in the division of home labour.


On Monday, schools up and down England are supposed to reopen. That’s what the government says. Parents and teachers, however, believe otherwise.

I spoke with my sister-in-law Ju, about this. Her daughter, Milly, is supposed to return to the class on Monday.

Do you know what?” she says, “I don’t feel very comfortable about this. Milly has stayed at home and stayed away from her friends and done her homework. Milly is 15 and she can make up her own mind as to whether she believes it’s safe to go to school or not. It’s her decision. I’m not happy with the government advice. I don’t think coronavirus is under control. So, It’s Milly’s decision”.

There’s a lot who feel the same way.

Ten weeks after most British classrooms were shuttered, the question of when kids can return has become one of several storms battering Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He faces outright revolt from many schools after pressing ahead with plans to send some children back June 1 — partly so they can continue learning but also so their parents are freed up to help kick-start the economy.


Small social gatherings will also be permitted from Monday, Johnson announced on Thursday

He said groups of up to six people from outside one household can meet in private gardens, “provided those from different households continue strictly to stick to social distancing rules” by staying two metres apart.

He said groups can meet on private and public land for events such as barbecues, but they would not be allowed to stay overnight, or go indoors other than to gain access to a garden, he said.

The move will be a welcome boost for families and friendship groups, who until now have only been able to meet with one other person outside their household, in public spaces such as parks, while obeying social distancing rules.

But Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, told anyone planning such gatherings it was “absolutely critical” to maintain strong hygiene standards, including washing hands and keeping to social distancing rules.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press briefing, he said: “If you were to do something like a barbecue, remember that passing things from one person to another, if you haven’t washed your hands you can transmit the virus that way.”

On social distancing, he said that if people are meeting in these new, slightly relaxed social distancing guidelines in terms of meeting outdoors, it is essential that people maintain two metres, and that is really important.

“If you are going to do things like this you have got to be scrupulous and careful, otherwise you risk transmitting that disease again,” Johnson said.

He also urged people to avoid “seeing too many people from too many households” in quick succession, but said further guidance would follow. He also said those who were shielding for health reasons should continue to do so.

The PM said he wanted people to be able to see friends and family and enjoy events like barbecues.


As many as 1,500 schools in England may disobey the government come Monday when it comes to schools reopening. That’s the number covered by the 18 city and regional councils saying they are willing to defy any such order unless there is further assurance that teachers, parents and kids aren’t at unnecessary risk from COVID-19.

There are around 24,000 schools and 343 councils in England.

For many Brits, trust in the government declined further last weekend when Johnson resisted mounting pressure to fire his top adviser, Dominic Cummings. It emerged that Cummings had made a round trip of more than 900 kilometres to a second family home at the height of the lockdown — while his wife was sick with coronavirus symptoms.

The revelation provoked fury in the United Kingdom, which has the second-highest death toll in the world, with at least 47,000 recorded deaths involving COVID-19.

Johnson has been accused of failing to introduce social distancing measures as soon as he should have, not stocking enough personal protective equipment for health workers, needlessly exposing nursing homes to the virus and bungling his testing strategy.


Some point to Germany, South Korea and New Zealand, which are beginning to reopen classrooms. But many experts point out that they are far better placed because their aggressive “test, track and isolate” policies squelched the outbreak early.

The British government launched its own nationwide testing system Thursday, although at least one senior regional health officials warned it is “not at a state of readiness” to avoid risking a “second peak of infections” if schools were to reopen next week.

The health minister also faced accusations he was rushing the test and trace programme early to try and deflect from the furious row still raging over Cummings’ action. More than 40 MPs have said he should resign, and one junior cabinet minister has quit Johnson’s government to protest the reckless actions of the top aide.

Johnson has the power to speak only for England. Schools in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have outlined more cautious plans. All UK schools have remained open to the kids of health care workers and other essential workers, although few have attended in practice.


The fears will be familiar to parents and teachers around the world.

In the United States, where President Donald Trump has been urging a reopening despite warnings from public health officials, governors in most states have ordered public schools closed for the rest of this academic year at least. But few places have had quite the level of opposition as the UK.

“I would rather any child repeat a year than go back too soon and have to lose a child,” Howard Fisher, the principal of St. George’s Church of England Primary School, in Kent, wrote in an open letter to parents. “There is no such thing as social distancing in a school — it does not exist and would never exist.”

Children rarely become seriously ill with the coronavirus, but some British teachers, unions and parents worry about infectious children exposing vulnerable family members. Some studies suggest that reopening schools would greatly increase transmission. In France, a flare-up of 70 cases was linked to schools a week after a third of the kids went back.


South Korean schools have deep-cleaned buildings, fitted desks with barriers and checked pupils’ temperatures. Likewise, British schools are being advised to stagger breaks and pickup times and to reduce class sizes from an average of 22 to 15. But that raises logistical problems.

Smaller classes mean more teachers and rooms — which many British schools, already stretched by a decade of austerity, don’t have.

Few deny that schools are a priority. But teachers and parents are still divided over whether the risks are too great. A recent survey by the pollster YouGov found that 50 per cent of people were against reopening some classes June 1, compared to 36 per cent for.

“It’s an absolute keystone and the first stage that needs to happen if we are going to get out of this,” said John Dickson, 48, a clinical scientist who lives in Watford, north of London, and whose two teenage children have been learning from home.

“We appear to have gone to some kind of cave mentality where we don’t want to leave the cave because it’s dangerous outside,” he added. “But we forget that, you know, risk is everywhere.”


In the early days of the lockdown, it almost felt like a novelty for parents like Claire Collins as she and her friends swapped home schooling tips on WhatsApp.

“There was an influx of people passing around, quite excitedly, things you could do with your kids at home: links on Pinterest, that sort of thing,” said Collins, 37, who has children ages two and five and lives in the town of Abergavenny in Wales.

“Now I think that enthusiasm has died. It’s fizzled out,” she said, struggling to speak over her children, Amber and Romy, who were vying for her attention in the background. “It sounds fun, but it’s actually been quite taxing and draining.”

Collins said there is “no easy answer, and things really do need to be thoroughly considered before a decision is made.” She added that “we will never know if things work until we try them out — this is something we can't stand still on.”

But the nuanced debate appears to have been hijacked by more polemic forces.


Image Credit: Twitter

Mainly right-leaning newspapers and commentators have accused the teachers’ unions of cowardice or of politicising the argument to hurt Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party.

“Time for teachers to show the same bravery!” columnist Isobel Oakshott tweeted. One Daily Mail front page read: “Let our teachers be heroes,” blaming “militant unions” for “standing in their way.”

It’s just one symptom of a country in which 90 per cent of the people were initially united in supporting lockdown measures but are now lurching back into their adversarial ways, said Tim Bale, a politics professor at Queen Mary University of London.

“The initial rally-around-the-flag effect that boosted many governments globally has begun to dissipate,” he said. “We are beginning to see there is quite a lot of unhappiness on the part of the British population about aspects of the government’s handling of the crisis.”

One pollster, Savanta ComRes, has Johnson crashing from a plus-44 percentage-point net approval rating March 25 to a minus-1 percentage-point net approval rating two months later.

Robert Colvile, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, a London think tank, said: “Lockdown was overwhelmingly popular, but it was also quite a simple thing to say and do. Whereas coming out of it, we’re in a much more complex situation.”


For even the happiest of families, frustration has built up as they have spent weeks crammed into small homes. It’s common to hear complaints — voiced in the most loving but exhausted way possible — from parents feeling drained after months shut inside with their progeny.

In WhatsApp message groups, a very British type of dark humor is rife. “Catching COVID-19 is probably preferable to looking after your own kids for eight weeks,” one dad joked grimly, asking to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

Moreover, kids who lose a third of study time in one school year will on average receive around 3 per cent to 4 per cent less income over their professional lives, according to a projection by the ifo Institute, a research group based in Munich.


For many, the lockdown is more serious still. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a British charity, has recorded a surge of almost 20 per cent in calls related to concerns about physical abuse. “Many feel anxious without school, many are trapped in unsafe homes,” it says, “and some are having suicidal thoughts and feelings.”

I discuss this story and its connotations fully with my sister-in-law Ju. She also happens to be a social worker attached to schools. She’s been busier than ever during the lockdown at a time when schools were closed except to the children who parents were emergency care workers.

“Honestly, Mick,” she says. “You have no idea. There are children out there who are living in very dangerous homes where their physical, sexual and mental wellbeing is at risk while they’re at home. This lockdown has been terrible in that regard. Some of the cases I’m dealing with are absolutely horrific.”

That being said, Ju remains adamant that it’s still not safe enough for most children to return to the classroom. “Like I said, Milly is old enough to make up her own mind – but she knows where I stand.”


If the challenge facing those trying to get schools reopened and business back up and running aren’t real enough, there are now reports that suggest that “silent” COVID-19 is much more prevalent then though, according to two studies published on Wednesday.

The first study, published in Jama Network Open, found that 42 per cent of cases from a group of people in Wuhan, China, were asymptomatic. The second study, published in Thorax, found much higher rates of asymptomatic individuals: 81 per cent of cases on a cruise to Antarctica.

The study from Wuhan looked at 78 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 and found that 33 of the individuals had no symptoms of the illness. These patients were more likely to be women, and more likely to be younger, in their 20s, 30s and early 40s.

Meanwhile, the second study, from Australian researchers, looked at 217 people on a cruise bound for Antarctica. The ship set sail in mid-March, just after the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus pandemic


The first fever on board was reported eight days into the voyage. Over the following two weeks, eight people had to be evacuated from the ship because they fell ill.

All of the 217 people who remained on board were tested for COVID-19. More than half – 59 per cent – tested positive, but just 19 per cent of those patients had symptoms. The other 81 per cent were symptom-free.

“Many people still haven’t grasped the notion that asymptomatic people can be so common, and they wonder why it is they have to wear the mask when they’re feeling well, or why they have to keep doing this social distancing stuff,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said.

“Simply exhaling can send out viral particles,” said Schaffner, who wasn’t involved with either study.

That’s why the US Centre for Disease Controls (CDC) and other public health agencies globally encourage everyone to wear face coverings or masks in public to help prevent the spread of the virus. The CDC’s estimate of the prevalence of asymptomatic cases, based on mathematical modelling, is lower, at 35 per cent.


There was one positive finding, however, from the study in China: Asymptomatic individuals may not spread the virus for as long as symptomatic patients do. The patients without symptoms shed the virus for about eight days, compared with 19 days among those who did have symptoms, the researchers, from Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, found.

Still, asymptomatic COVID-19 cases remain a concern.

“This is very important because, theoretically, you can spread the infection when you’re shedding the virus because it’s so highly contagious,” Dr. Aditya Shah, an infectious disease fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said.

Though COVID-19 has proven it has the ability to sicken anyone at any age, people over age 65 and those with underlying chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, appear to be most vulnerable.

“I don't know of a single person, no matter how independently-minded they are, who has any desire to give this virus to anyone else,” Schaffner said. “But they have to recognise that they could.”


This was shared with me by John who lives all the way down there on the North Island of New Zealand. We had been speaking about travelling and what things will be like, and he shared this with me on WhatsApp.

Mick meme
Image Credit: Twitter



Oh, if only all stocks could be like PowerHouse. I bought this green energy provider about five weeks ago for 87p each, buying 1,200 in total. Since then, that initial investment has climbed very steadily, and yesterday, it took off, up by 33.33 per cent. It closed at 280p a share, more meaning I have more than tripled my investment. The rise has been due to the fact it had a green generation station approved by Cheshire council, midway between Manchester and Liverpool.

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.

Both grocery-delivery company Ocado and drink distiller Diageo also gained solidly on Thursday, while Avast dropped slightly.

Now, basically two calendar months into this experiment during lockdown and my pretend portfolio has increased by more than one-third in value.

This is how things stand after Thursday

Net worth £13,445.38

Ocado, 100 shares: £2102.00

Diageo, 100 shares: £2954.00

Avast, 1,000 shares: £4974.00

PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £3360.00

Cash in hand: £55.38

£ gain on last trading day: £874.50

% Gain overall: 34.4 per cent

£ Gain overall: £3,445.38


I feel for the younger generations who will have to pay much of the economic price tag for the coronavirus pandemic down the road.

Across Europe, governments have spent billions protecting people’s jobs and subsidising their incomes as the continent’s economy suffered a sudden sharp stop. Now Brussels says the way through the economic crisis from the coronavirus pandemic is a €750 billion (Dh3.03 trillion) fund they’re calling Next Generation EU.

They are pinning their plan on dividing it into €500 billion to be distributed in grants and €250 billion in loans.

It’s a massive shift for the EU – the suggestion is the EU Commission will raise money on international markets with its triple-A rating and give it out to member states hardest hit.

Countries in the bloc have never pooled their debt together in this way before.

The plans are now being trawled over by Europe’s political factions.


While MEPs largely welcomed the emphasis on grants that don’t need to be paid back, some thought it lacked ambition.

“The overall volume might not prove sufficient in time but in any case, what we need to make sure is that we don't lessen the ambitions,” said MEP Ska Keller, a member of the Greens from Germany.

The fund along with the budget it is proposing will total €1.85 trillion.

French President Macron and the Spanish, Greek and Italian prime ministers all took to Twitter to welcome the proposal.

Now the Commission and its supporters will enter into battle with the so-called ‘frugal four’ countries – Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark – who are staunchly opposed to shouldering debt with already heavily indebted southern neighbours.

“It is not only a matter of solidarity, it is a matter of how we can survive and make sustainable the internal market and the very existence of the euro,” argues MEP Iraxte Garcia Perez, a member of the Socialists from Spain.


Economists back this proposal to work if leaders can agree.

“It will do wonders,” says Rebecca Christie, an economics expert at Bruegel, an EU economics think tank. “It will allow businesses to keep people on their payrolls that they would otherwise have to lay off, it will allow municipal districts to go ahead with replacing bridges and digging holes for things even when their tax revenues are down. It’ll keep Europe going.”

However, Christie warns that if leaders are worried about how it looks to their electorates and what is being paid in an abstract way, the proposals will have a much harder ride.

Europe’s businesses are reopening and the fund is being placed into the EU’s seven-year budget.

The pressure is on for EU countries to work this out. A summit is set for mid-June where leaders expect to start negotiations will look set to be tough, and the plan will also have to be passed by the European Parliament.


There are two main parts to the commission’s proposal. The first is a joint EU budget of €1.1 trillion. The EU budget must be agreed every seven years and was already overdue, as it needs to come into force in 2021.

It had been held up by disagreements over its financing and breakdown.

The second is a recovery programme. This has been described as a “once-off” response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has triggered an economic slowdown feared to be the worst in a century.

The commission has proposed €500 billion in grants and €250 billion in loans for member states for this.

If the recovery programme is approved, it would represent a significant change for the EU because it would involve borrowing by the commission that is jointly guaranteed by member states. If it doesn’t get paid back, the member states are on the hook for the debt.

That kind of shared debt is a step towards further integration and is seen by some economists as a measure that could smooth out economic imbalances in the euro zone that have led to crises in the past.


For the plan, the commission has asked to be allowed to borrow up to 2 per cent of the EU’s total gross national income on financial markets. This would need to be approved by votes in all 27 national parliaments of the EU, potentially a difficult task.

The provision of the grants to member states is also a sea change from the EU bailout era. Unlike loans that must be repaid with interest and are tied to requirements for reforms, the grants do not need to be paid back by member states.

The money would not be automatically given out. Governments would need to apply for grants to pay for specific investments or reforms.

The commission would check the applications to see if they help achieve common EU goals, such as cutting emissions or digitalising the economy, and will issue the money if so.

The total amount of grant money member states can apply for will depend on a calculation based on how badly their economy was affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and how able they are to respond to the damage on their own.

The largest amounts will be available to the countries needing the most help: €81.8 billion for Italy and €77.3 billion for Spain.


The commission has proposed that it should be allowed to raise money itself to pay back the borrowing. It has suggested it could do this through taxes designed to pursue its political aims of more equitable taxation and combating climate change. It has laid out ideas for a tax on imports into the EU based on the carbon emissions involved in their production, a digital tax, or a tax on large companies.

Other ideas such as a tax on plastics have been floated in the past.

If member states do not agree to this, the debts could be repaid through their contributions to the common EU budget.

But there may be issues of contention lurking in the details of the programme, as well as in the joint EU budget, including a potential levy or digital tax, or even a common corporate tax across the EU.

Subsidies for farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy might also face cuts down the road.


The proposal requires unanimous approval by the European Council, which is made up of the leaders of the 26 national governments that make up the EU. (Only 19 of these use the euro – “the eurozone” as their common currency).

Opposition is expected from the so-called “frugal four” of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, who strongly opposed jointly guaranteed debt in the past and have pushed for loans that oblige member states to implement economic reforms.

As things stand now, the four remain far apart from that of the commission, but welcomed a proposal to make access to EU funds contingent on upholding the rule of law – a reaction to concern about the erosion of democratic norms in countries such as Poland and Hungary.

The European Council is set to meet on June 19. The leaders hope to be able to meet in person rather than over video conference if travel restrictions allow it, because in-person negotiations are viewed as essential to broach the differences between member states.


Here’s my daily collection that proves covidiots thrive in damp and crowded conditions.


The FBI has received more than 240 reports of people disrupting Zoom sessions by broadcasting videos depicting child sexual abuse, the agency said Wednesday.

The FBI is now enlisting the public’s help in identifying more such incidents, known as “Zoom-bombing.” The agency provided an online questionnaire to be filled out by anyone who has been exposed to child abuse videos during a Zoom session.

“The FBI considers this activity to be a violent crime, as every time child sexual abuse material is viewed, the depicted child is revictimized,” the agency says. “Furthermore, anyone who inadvertently sees child sexual abuse material depicted during a virtual event is potentially a victim as well.”

The FBI said the reports of the incidents came from within the US and across the globe.

The use of Zoom and other video-conferencing platforms has soared during the coronavirus outbreak. In recent months, the FBI has received a range of reports of Zoom “hijackers” broadcasting pornographic or hateful images during video conferences.


The agency’s Boston field office says two schools in Massachusetts were “zoom bombed.”

One incident took place in late March when an unidentified individual dialled into a high school teacher’s Zoom session, yelled a profanity and then shouted the teacher’s home address in the middle of the instruction.

In the other case, a person accessed a school Zoom session and displayed swastika tattoos.

To avoid such incidents, the agency recommends requiring a password or using Zoom’s waiting room feature to screen guests, and never making teleconference links available on public social media posts. Users can also set the screen sharing option to “Host Only.”

“These incidents are truly devastating and appalling, and our user policies explicitly prohibit any obscene, indecent, illegal or violent activity or content on the platform,” a Zoom spokesperson said. “Zoom strongly condemns such behaviour and appreciates the FBI’s efforts to raise awareness around how best to prevent these kinds of attacks as well as their important work to help bring these offenders to justice.”


A has been arrested and charged after threatening the life of a police officer at a COVID-19 checkpoint close to the borders between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The incident happened while Irish police were conducting a checkpoint near Dundalk.

During the incident, a 4×4 drove towards the checkpoint at speed causing police to take evasive action to avoid being hit. The vehicle then fled across the border to Northern Ireland.

A man in his 30s was later arrested after Garda liaised with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Court proceedings are underway.


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

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