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 May 5, 9am
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
WEIGHT LIKELY A FACTOR FOR CONTRACTING CORONAVIRUS
Danish researchers say that obese people should be considered at risk from Covid-19. Credit Facebook
It seems as if coronavirus has been with us now for years. Actually, checking my diary – yes, I still use a physical diary ‘book’ and not one of the many apps that are out there – we are now 126 days into 2020 and 240 remain. But coronavirus has been with us for most of the year.
Over the past weeks we have learnt a lot about Covid-19, how it spreads, how long it stays on various surfaces, how it has affected us all, changed our lives, changed the way we work.
Until such a time as an effective vaccine is found, coronavirus will be part of our daily lives.
What’s interesting too is the way in which different countries have taken different courses in reacting to the pandemic.
In Europe, Denmark was quick to seal its borders, shut down pretty much everything and adopt a very strict line when it came to transmission risks. Now, it seems to have paid off. It was quick to flatten the curve and is now ahead of the curve in terms of the rest of Europe in resuming normal life – even if that entails strict social distancing limits and facemasks.
But it is getting back to normal.
DANISH RESEARCH TIES WEIGHT TO COVID-19
Certainly, we have all been made aware that coronavirus is particularly nasty when it comes to targeting the elderly. So too people with compromised immune systems. And there are also studies that suggest that smokers too are at higher risk when it comes to Covid-19. There is also statistical evidence that more men contract the virus than women, roughly on a 60-40 per cent split.
But it’s interesting to read that researchers in Denmark have found that a disproportionate number of overweight Danes are also being admitted due to Covid-19 complications.
Data gleaned from Hvidovre Hospital, Odense University Hospital and Aarhus University Hospital finds that 62 per cent of those admitted for the coronavirus are overweight – a group that accounts for 51 per cent of the general population.
Similarly, 35 per cent of admissions involve patients who are obese – a group that accounts for 17 per cent of the general population.
THE HEAVIER YOU ARE, THE MORE WORK YOU DO TO BREATHE
According to Professor Thomas Benfield from the Department of Infectious Diseases at Hvidovre University, significant obesity looks have as much of an impact as having a chronic condition or being elderly.”
“You have to work harder breathing when you are overweight,” he told Danish television. “And a big belly pushes the lungs up into the chest, leading to a lower lung volume.”
Here’s where BMI comes into play. BMI refers to the body mass index – the ratio of weight to height.
Currently, only the extremely obese – those with a BMI above 35 – are officially considered part of the risk groups for the coronavirus by the Danish health officials. Others in this official risk group include those over 65 years of age, people with compromised immune systems of chronic illnesses, pregnant women and the homeless.
But because of the research, those guidelines are likely to be revised to cover those who are overweight and with a BMI below that 35-point threshold.
It’s interesting work, and certainly gives me reason to try and shed as much extra weight as possible. So much for my excuse that I have “heavy bones”.
OH DEAR – THIS PANDEMIC IS TRULY HORRENDOUS!
British independent broadcaster has cancelled the latest Love Island series because of Covid-19. Credit ITV
Oh the shock! Oh the horror! Oh dear!
Britain’s largest independent television broadcaster ITV has had to cancel the latest series of Love Island over Covid-19 fears.
What is a whole generation of couch potatoes to do now that the tacky reality show has been put on ice.
The seventh series of Love Island has been pushed back to 2021 instead. Maybe they should push it all the way off a cliff.
The show has proven to be a huge ratings hit for ITV in recent years, but has also attracted controversy amid concerns for the well-being of some previous contestants.
On Monday, the broadcaster’s Director of Television Kevin Lygo said that it was not logistically possible to produce the show this year in a way that safeguarded the wellbeing of those involved.
“In normal circumstances we would be preparing very soon to travel out to the location in Mallorca to get the villa ready but clearly that’s now out of the question,” he said.
“We are very sorry for fans of the show but making it safely is our prime concern and Love Island will be back stronger than ever in 2021.”
No, honestly – just cancel it for good, please. Please!
HOSPITAL MIXES UP REMAINS OF VICTIMS
An Irish hospital mistakenly released the wrong corpse to the wrong family. Credit Facebook
This is an incredible tough time for families who have lost loved ones because of Covid-19.
I know from my extended family’s experience how difficult it is to organise a meaningful funeral service when crematoriums are busy and strict rules mean that services can only be attended by a maximum on ten loved ones.
Strict social distancing rules apply – not hugging or physical contact during a deeply moving and emotional setting. Very difficult indeed.
But now there’s word of an equally distressing situation that happened in the Midlands of Ireland last week.
Health officials have confirmed that Mullingar regional hospital – about 80-kilometres west of Dublin – released the incorrect remains to the family of a loved one who died from coronavirus.
The incident happened on Friday, April 24 and has sparked a full review into how the mix-up arose.
PLACED IN SEALED BODY BAGS
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, individuals who die from Covid-19 are placed in sealed body bags by morticians before being transferred to an undertaker.
Families do not see the body of their deceased loved ones.
The Irish Mail on Sunday reported the error was identified by a mortician who noticed a bag bearing the dead person’s name, even though their remains had been signed out.
The paper reports that the family were only informed of the error “minutes” before the funeral service was due to take place, and that the hearse had to be redirected to Mullingar hospital so the bodies could be swapped.
A spokeswoman for Ireland’s Health Service Executive confirmed that the error occurred and added that “following detection, the mistake was rectified”.
At least that’s some small comfort for that poor family. How terrible!
DEBUNKED: COVID-19 IS SPREAD AT PETROL PUMPS
A WhatsApp message is falsely claiming that Covid-19 is spread at petrol pumps.
While readers in the UAE are used to having their cars filled with petrol by pump attendants, it’s a different story across Europe and much of the rest of the world.
But even fueling up has become the domain of covidiots who believe that Covid-19 is spread at petrol pumps.
There’s a WhatsApp message being shared on the popular social media platform that health staff have been told coronavirus is spreading very quickly through petrol pump handles.
It’s simply not true.
But like any other metal surfaces, coronavirus can linger for three days. Most petrol stations across Europe are providing disposable gloves at pumps which can be thrown away when people have filled up.
The risk is no higher – or lower – than anywhere else. What’s more, some petrol stations are hiring pump attendants to fill up cars – just like in the UAE!
THE REMARKABLE LITTLE GIRL CARING FOR HER FAMILY
Eight-year-old Phoebe George cares for her mum, who has heart failure, and her two younger sisters during lockdown in the UK. Credit SkyNews
Here’s little hero who is showing remarkable fortitude beyond her age.
Eight-year-old Phoebe George cares for her mum, Charlene who has heart failure, and her younger sisters who are aged four and six.
“If I wasn't here for mummy then she wouldn’t have managed it, because these last couple of weeks I’ve been helping her a lot,” the remarkable girl told the UK’s SkyNews. “It’s a lot of work and sometimes it’s quite hard.”
Listening to her, I think that her story should be compulsory viewing for every child under 16 years of age wherever they are under current lockdown restrictions. Honestly. If you’re a parent of a teen, you know how hard it is to get them to try and help around the house.
Not little Phoebe.
“I do the washing up, and I hoover, tidy up the bedrooms, make the beds and clean the front room and bathroom, and I help the girls have a bath and run a bath for mummy as well,” she said.
The sad thing is that there are many such little carers across the UK.
STRUGGLING TO COPE
Large numbers of young carers are struggling to cope with looking after their loved ones by themselves during the lockdown and under regulations set by the UK government to tackle the Covid-19 crisis many of the obligations on local authorities to ensure those in need are cared for have been relaxed.
Phoebe says she feels a big sense of responsibility, with the family having lost the help of a carer who would usually come in to help.
The family have been self-isolating for seven weeks and, due to the severity of Charlene's condition, need to stay indoors for 11 weeks more.
But she is well prepared.
“I learnt to cook when I was six, I like cooking beans on toast and making cakes for my sisters,” she said.
The recent death of Phoebe’s grandfather has made lockdown even more difficult. Her dad is taking care of their widowed grandmother so cannot visit the girls.
On Phoebe’s ninth birthday, next month, she won’t be able to give him a hug – a wave from a two-metre distance will have to do.
What a marvelous story – her parents should be so proud. Remarkable!
JUST LIKE THE BUBONIC PLAGUE?
There are remarkable similarities between Covid-19 and the bubonic plague that struck Europe about 1,500 years ago. Credit History.com
As a life-long student of history, I am always fascinated by the lessons of the past and what they can teach us today. Does this sound familiar:
“The pandemic originated in a foreign land and extended quickly through all the ports where infected passengers arrived – whether asymptomatic or not. There was no medical cure available to stop it, all residents were confined to their homes to avoid contagion, the economy ground to a halt, the army was deployed on the streets, exhausted physicians worked themselves to the bone, and there were thousands of daily victims whose bodies went without burial for days on end, because diggers could not work fast enough...”
It’s actually from the chronicles provided by the historian Procopius of Caesarea about the outbreak of bubonic plague that befell the known world between 541 and 544, under Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The disease swept across a vast territory, from China to the port cities of Hispania, as the Romans called the Iberian Peninsula.
RESEARCH FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF BARCELONA
As a journalist writing the first draft of history, I subscribe to Academia.com to keep an eye on research materials and I am quietly amused to see my work in Gulf News cited by researches. But I also came across an interesting paper from the University of Barcelona looking at the parallels between the current pandemic and the disease that swept across the Byzantine Empire. 1,500 years ago
A new study called or The Plague of Justinian According to the Testimony of Procopius, by Jordina Sales Carbonell, a researcher at Barcelona University, adds new relevance to this ancient tale written 1,500 years ago.
“As of April 1, 2020, certain similarities and parallels observed in human behavior with regard to a virus and its consequences seem so familiar and contemporary that, despite the tragedy we are all personally experiencing, it remains a source of wonderment how history repeats itself,” writes this archeologist and historian Sales Carbonell, who works at the university’s Institute of Medieval Culture Research. It all began back in 541 under the Byzantine ruler Justinian.
‘THE INFECTION SPREAD QUICKLY AND LETHALLY’
“The alarm was sounded in Egypt, from where the infection expanded quickly and lethally.” Procopius reflected it in his book History of the Wars, where he recounted Justinian’s military campaigns in Italy, Northern Africa and Hispania, and how soldiers spread the disease throughout the ports where they stopped – fundamentally in Europe, North Africa, the Sasanian Empire (Persia) and from there as far as China.
As the legal advisor to Belisarius, Justinian’s chief military commander, Procopius tagged along on the latter’s campaigns and thus became a “privileged witness” to the effects of a pandemic that came to be known as the Plague of Justinian.
“An epidemic broke out that nearly wiped out the entire human race and which is impossible to find an explanation for with words, not even with thoughts, except to put it down to the will of God,” wrote Procopius. “This epidemic did not affect a limited portion of the Earth, nor a specific set of men, nor was it reduced to a specific season of the year [...], but instead spread and attacked all human life, no matter how different the individuals might be, without regard for nature or age.” The disease reached “every far corner of the world, as though afraid that it might miss a spot.”
REACHING THE CAPITAL OF THE EMPIRE
The bubonic plague that struck Europe about 1,500 years ago is also referred to as the Justinian plague, after the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Credit History.com
A year after first being detected, the plague reached the capital of the empire, Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul), ravaging it for four months.
“There was complete confinement and isolation,” writes Sales Carbonell. “It was absolutely mandatory for ill people. But there was also a sort of spontaneous and intuitively voluntary self-confinement, largely motivated by the circumstances.”
“It was not at all easy to see anybody in public spaces, at least in Byzantium; instead everyone who was healthy was at home, caring for the sick or crying over their dead,” wrote Procopius.
“Activity ceased and craftsmen dropped all the work they had been doing…. It seemed very hard to obtain bread or any other kind of food, so that, in the case of some patients, the end of their life was no doubt premature due to the lack of essential items,” Procopius wrote.
“Many died because they had nobody to care for them,” he added. The caregivers of the era “dropped from exhaustion because they were unable to rest and were constantly suffering. Because of it, everyone felt more sorry for them than for the sick.”
PATROLS ON THE STREETS
In light of the desperate situation, the emperor sent out groups of palace guards to patrol the streets and the bodies of people who died alone were buried at the expense of the imperial coffers, wrote the historian. Even Justinian himself fell prey to the plague, but he overcame it and continued to reign for over a decade, writes Sales Carbonell.
The mortality peaks rose from 5,000 to 10,000 victims a day and more, so that, “although at first everyone cared for their dead at home, chaos became inevitable and corpses were also thrown inside the graves of others, either by stealth or using violence.” In time, the bodies began to pile up inside the wall towers, and there were no funeral services for them…
It all makes for fascinating reading – a reminder that history all too often repeats itself. Now, however, we have the ability to find vaccines and save the lives of so many through treatment. And by the age-proven technique of social distancing. Let that be a history lesson for us all!
MEME OF THE DAY
Thanks to a former colleague of mine from Gulf News, Vanaja Rao, for sharing this with me on Facebook.
HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY
Anytime that you begin a new trading week on the plus side is a good start. And while I only made a small return after trading on Monday, I am on the plus side. As my late father would say, that’s better than a kick in the backside!
A reminder, this is all pretend, and I set out at the beginning of my lockdown more than five weeks ago with £10,000 – about Dh45,000 – to invest on the London Stock Market. I don’t pay for trades and I can any amount but only at the end of the a trading day. All play money.
Ocado, the high-street food service provider and delivery company has continued to do well for me, closing up by 4.5 per cent of so, ending the day at 1687.5p (£16.875) each. Diageo, the drinks manufacturer that owns some of the big names on the top shelves in the hospitality industry, was off the pace by 1.27 per cent, closing at 2730.5p (£27.305) apiece.
Ten days ago, I bought 1,200 shares of PowerHouse, a green energy supplier for 87p each. It rose as high as 120p (£1.20) in the middle of last week but has been slipping since. It closed Monday at 106.10p (€1.062) – I’m still up 19p or so in each share – and it will go from my portfolio tomorrow unless it rebounds.
BT had a positive day as I hoped it might after slumping on Friday to news there was a shake-up in the telecom sector in the UK. re positive together last week. It closed at an even £115 per share.
This is how my portfolio looks after Monday’s trading in what is a short week in London. Friday is a public holiday to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day – Victory in Europe Day towards the end of the Second World War.
Net worth £11,471.08
Diageo, 100 shares: £2730.50
Ocado, 100 shares: £1687.70
BT, 50 shares: £5570.00.
PowerHouse 1,200 shares: £1,273.20
Cash in hand:£29.88
£ Gain daily: £36.02
% Gain overall: 11.5 per cent
£ Gain overall: £1,471.08
COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS
Here’s my daily collection of covidiots, serving as a reminder that not every pencil can be sharpened.
GORDON RAMSAY: FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE
Celebrity chef Gordan Ramsay has been spoken to for ignoring rules lockdown rules in the UK. Credit Facebook
Television celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is said to have received a ticking off from the UK Coastguard for flouting of the UK’s lockdown rules.
Ramsay, his wife Tana and their children have been holed up at their £4 million mansion at Daymer Bay in Cornwall in the southwest of England.
But the 53-year-old star has twice been spotted buying pasties and flapjacks in Fowey, 40 kilometres away from their mansion.
Ramsay has also been spotted on other occasions in Fowey where he owns a property which was once used as a bank.
Ramsay and his family arrived in Cornwall before the imposition of lockdown but the celebrity chef’s lockdown move sparked an outcry among some local residents, who claim he is setting a bad example and putting the local population at risk.
According to MailOnline, Ramsay has been seen in Rock, Fowey, Port Isaac and Newquay – all quite a distance from his home.
“We have reports of him being seen in dozens of different places since lockdown started,” a source at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said. Agency officers and volunteers carry out patrols of the beaches and around coastal areas,.
“He does not seem to be obeying the rules regarding social distancing, exercise and staying at home,” the source said. “One of our staff spoke to him about the frequency with which he was being seen out and about, and the significant distances. After a period of reflection, he seemed to calm himself and took on board what was being conveyed in a most polite manner.”
Ramsay has also made social media posts showing him going out for long distance bike rides to train for a charity ironman triathlon.
COVIDIOCY RUNS IN SIBLINGS TOO!
Here’s living proof that covidiocy can infect siblings.
Two sisters have been jailed in the UK for attacking, coughing and spitting at police after they were stopped for breaking lockdown rules.
Danielle Pryor, 34, and 33-year-old Sarah, were approached by two police officers in Retford, about 100 kilometres north of London at 11.25pm on 27 April, following reports of a disturbance.
The officers had already spoken to the two covidiots earlier in the evening about anti-social behaviour and had told them to go straight home because of the coronavirus restrictions.
But no, they didn’t listen to that sage advice.
When the police officers tried to speak to them again they became abusive and began to encourage each other to cough and spit at the officers.
Sarah was arrested after squaring up to one of the officers, while Danielle hit an officer in the shin with a crutch she grabbed from a member of the public and scratched his face with her nails.
Four more officers arrived to assist with the arrests and were also attacked by the two women.
Danielle has been given 28 weeks in jail to cool her jets. Sarah got 14 weeks.
DUTCH POICE SWOOP AFTER WHATSAPP SCAM
Dutch police have arrested 24 people in connection with an investigation into WhatsApp-based confidence tricks in which victims have lost some €75,000 in total.
The group aged between 15 and 40 used the ‘friend in trouble’ fraud system – posing as the friend of someone and contacting them to say they needed cash in the Covid-19 emergency.
The 40 victims, all living in The Netherlands, were then asked to pay the cash into a bank account either set up specifically for the con or made available to the conmen by a third person.
The sums of money made over by the victims ranged from €500 to €10,000, police said. The police have also set up a special hotline where people can report cases of ‘friend in need’ fraud directly.
COVIDIOTS STAGE LOCKDOWN PROTEST
A coven of covidiots have stage anti-lockdown “protest” in a children’s playground claiming coronavirus deaths have been exaggerated – sparking an angry reaction from British healthcare workers.
The protesters in Basingstoke, southwest of London, have vowed to meet every week to take a stand against lockdown measures.
“We want to save our rights,” one covidiot protester said. “We believe the number of people dead from Covid is exemplified (sic). Extra numbers are being added into Covid. We don’t want to be unlawfully rejected or kept inside.”
Hampshire Constabulary attended the protest which involved more than 10 people, however no arrests were made, MailOnline reported.
One worker with the National Health Service blasted the protesters. “Why aren’t these people being arrested?” he said. “It’s out of order for people who have lost someone and NHS workers like me who leave their kids and families to work. This is outrageous to me and my colleagues.”
An anti-lockdown protest was also held at Trafalgar Square in London last week, but just seven people turned up.
PAIR HELD FOR TARGETING SENIORS WITH SCAMS
Detectives in Belfast have arrested two people in the south of the city as part of an ongoing probe into recent scams targetting vulnerable people and older members of the community.
The PSNI’s Economic Crime Unit said there have been numerous attempts to defraud members of the community so far this year.
It can take the form of fraudsters phoning victims and portraying themselves either to be police officers or employees of utility companies.
Detective chief inspector Ian Wilson said these scammers will be relentlessly pursued by police.
“Police will never make contact and ask members of the public to provide PIN Codes, divulge passwords, or hand over bank cards in relation to their finances. Even during the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is clear that scammers will stop at nothing to target people which can often result in a life changing impact to their victims.”
A good day’s work all round.
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, SkyNews, 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