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Going Viral: Summer, COVID-19 and the return to normality

Gulf News logo Gulf News 30/05/2020 Mick O’Reilly, Foreign Correspondent

a man wearing a hat and sunglasses: 200423 mick blog

200423 mick blog
© Provided by Gulf News

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 62

Saturday May 30, 9am

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?

HOW EUROPEAN COUNTRIES ARE OPENING THEIR BORDERS AHEAD OF THE SUMMER HOLIDAY SEASON

I am starting to make plans about returning to my other home in Spain come July 1. I’ll take a leisurely drive from the Channel ports in the north of France, then head south to Cadiz at the foot of Spain. It’s an 1,800 kilometre journey and I might take a week. The only deadline is catching the once-weekly ferry from Cadiz to the Canary Islands.

I’m not alone in starting to think about moving again. As European countries begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions, many others across the continent are wondering whether they can have a holiday this summer.

There is a mixed picture across Europe, with the usually easy travel across the Schengen Area restricted. Almost every country has its own rules in place and its own timetable for reopening to tourists, both from its EU neighbours and further afield.

TOP EU AIRLINE OFFICICIAL SAYS IT’S SAFE TO FLY

The executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) says it is now safe for airlines to return to the skies of Europe.

Speaking to Irish broadcaster RTE on Friday morning, Patrick Ky said that while prevention could not be 100 per cent guaranteed, “people can go back flying,” if specific measures were implemented. “We believe that it is safe to fly if these measures are implemented.”

The measures include the wearing of masks at all times, a reduced food and drink service, no hot food, physical distancing measures where possible along with hand hygiene and air filtration.

He said that families travelling together should be able to sit together, but that other passengers should be seated as far apart as possible.

However, he acknowledged that there will be “full rows of strangers” sitting next to each other. He said that the risk would be reduced as they would not be sitting face-to-face, there will be face masks and there will be cabin air exchange.

‘WE BELIEVE THAT IT IS SAFE TO TAKE FLIGHTS’

Anyone who suspects they may be ill should not travel, Ky added. “We believe that it is safe to take flights, but if you have any suspicion of being sick, or if you have been in contact with someone who might have been sick, please don’t travel.

“If you are not sick, we can reasonably guarantee, but not 100 per cent, that you will not get the disease on board an aircraft or in an airport. But if you are sick, we would like to prevent you from flying.”

Ky said he was optimistic that in Europe “or at least in the Schengen area”, which excludes Britain and Ireland, it would soon be possible for people to fly for their summer holidays.

If you’re intending on coming to the European Union for a holiday, it’s worth knowing the bloc’s external borders are set to be closed until June 15. But that only applies if you’re a non-EU citizen coming from a non-EU country.

Bear in mind that it is all changing quickly and rules do change depending on whether there’s a risk of a second wave of infections.

WHAT’S HAPPENING ACROSS EUROPE

Austria: The nation has closed its land borders with Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Vienna plans to fully reopen its frontier with Germany on June 15. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he was optimistic similar understandings could be reached with other neighbouring countries by June 1. For anyone who does arrive in Austria, for example by air, a medical certificate must be produced proving a negative COVID-19 and it cannot be more than four days’ old. Entry by air is prohibited to citizens coming from countries outside the Schengen Area.

Belgium: The nation’s borders are closed and the country has banned non-essential travel abroad.

Bulgaria: It is set to open borders with Serbia and Greece from June 1.

Croatia: It reopened its border with Slovenia in mid-May and was set to do the same with Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia on Friday. People arriving are only asked to self-isolate for 14 days if they have found to have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

Cyprus: It has outlined plans for the phased resumption next month of commercial flights from a select number of countries with low COVID-19 infection rates to jump-start its vital tourism sector. Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos said flights will begin in two phases — June 9 and 20 — from two groups of countries selected by an advisory body of medical experts. The first group is comprised of Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Norway, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Israel, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia and Lithuania. The second group is made up of Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic. The list excludes the country’s two main tourism markets – Britain, and Russia. Karousos said starting June 9, passengers arriving from countries in either group must obtain three days prior to departure a health certificate confirming that they are virus-free. Starting June 20, passengers from the first group of countries won’t need health certificates, but those from the second group will still be required to obtain them.

Czech Republic: From May 26 borders opened with Germany and Austria. From May 27, the country opened its frontier with the Slovakia and Hungary, but with restrictions. Residents of EU member states able to enter to perform economic activities, to visit relatives or to study at a university. Everyone will have to prove themselves with a negative test for COVID-19 upon entry.

Denmark: Borders are closed for foreign travellers. Only citizens or residents of Denmark, Greenland or Faroe Islands can currently enter, or those with a “worthy purpose”. From May 25 people with a permanent residence in one of the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) or Germany can re-enter if they are in a relationship with someone in Denmark, have grandparents there, or if they have a business trip. The Danish government was to re-assess the temporary border controls on Friday.

Finland: Its land borders have been closed until at least June 14. They were reopened to workers from the Schengen Area in mid-May.

France: Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced plans to reopen France’s border to EU countries and the UK from June 15, following the plans of other EU countries. For the time being travel into France is restricted with only essential travel allowed for those who don’t live in the country. Travellers arriving from the UK or Spain will be subject to a voluntary quarantine. Those from outside the EU or UK will still not be able to travel to France except for in limited circumstances, while EU countries are still to decide when they will reopen external borders.

Germany: Travellers are expected to have a valid reason for entering Germany. However, restrictions at the borders have been loosened. Checks at the frontier with Austria, Switzerland, France and Denmark and for passengers arriving by air from Italy and Spain remain in effect until 15 June. EU citizens and citizens of the United Kingdom, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, and the family members of these citizens, are permitted to return to their home country or to their place of normal residence in Germany or to reach their country travelling through Germany if they need to.

Greece: Borders are set to reopen on June 15, but only to citizens coming from Germany, Cyprus, the Balkan and the Baltic countries. Tourists will be allowed to enter Greece without taking a COVID-19 test or remaining in quarantine when international flights restart on July 1, but health officials will conduct spot tests when required.

Hungary: Borders are open with Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Serbia, albeit with restrictions. Frontiers are also open with Croatia with a holiday reservation. The border with Austria is closed.

Iceland: Iceland is set to reopen on June 15. Tourists will be tested upon arrival. A few hours later, they will get the result on their phone, after downloading a tracking app. Authorities are yet to clear procedures for those who test positive.

Ireland: The Irish health authorities currently require anyone coming into Ireland, except from Northern Ireland, to self-isolate for 14 days, upon arrival, including Irish residents. Arrivals have to complete a passenger locator form, although exemptions are in place for providers of essential supply chain services such as hauliers, pilots and maritime staff.

Italy: It plans to reopen its borders on June 3 to EU, UK, Schengen area, Andorra and Monaco citizens, following the nationwide lockdown which came into force on March 9. Some regions are taking precautions to ensure that the sudden reopening doesn’t create new infection clusters. Sardinia’s governor has suggested he might require visitors to the island to certify they had tested negative for the virus within the past week, or submit to a test on arrival. The Tuscany regional government says on its website that any visitor from abroad or another Italian region must undergo quarantine for 14 days. It’s unknown if Tuscany will revise that rule by June 3.

Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia: The Baltic trio opened their borders for each other on May 15. Only citizens and permanent residents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can travel between the three countries – But their external borders remain closed. Estonia says it won’t be opening up until at least June 15. Latvia’s state of emergency is currently set to end on June 9. Lithuania is also allowing entry to citizens of Poland for business and studies. Its quarantine currently runs until May 31.

Luxembourg: Its border with Germany reopened on May 15.

Netherlands: Borders are open for those travelling within the Schengen Area. However, the government has strongly advised against non-essential trips. “The Dutch government is discouraging travel of any kind and calling on everyone to stay at home as much as possible,” it declares multiple times on its website.

Norway: It has closed its borders. Foreign travellers will be turned away at the border. Those who live or work in Norway are able to enter and airports are open. The country’s ministry of foreign affairs advises against all international travel that is not strictly necessary until August 20. By June 15, the government is considering exemptions for the Nordic countries. By July 20, exemptions for some nearby European countries will be considered. Norway has a 10-day quarantine for those returning from international travel.

Poland: It has closed its borders with several countries, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany.

Portugal: Workers and supplies are being allowed across Portugal's land border with Spain, but it is closed to tourists until at least June 15. Border controls have been in place since March 16. There is currently no requirement for arrivals to go into quarantine, except in The Azores. Eduardo Cabrita, Portugal’s minister for internal administration, said no decision had been made on when to lift the restrictions.

Romania: It has reopened its border with Hungary.

Slovenia: It reopened borders to EU citizens on May 15. Prime Minister Janez Jansa boasted the country had “the best clinical situation in Europe”.

Slovakia: Its border will be open to Hungary and the Czech Republic from last Wednesday, but with some restrictions. No quarantine will be required if the stay is less than 48 hours.

Spain: Borders will reopen to tourists on July 1. Currently, only Spanish citizens, residents of Spain – who must prove their habitual residence – cross-border workers, health or elderly care professionals who are going to work and people who can prove force majeure or a situation of need, are allowed to enter via Spanish ports and airports. The exceptions also include diplomatic personnel and everything related to the transport of goods in order to avoid shortages. Since March 17, the borders with France and Portugal have been closed, allowing access to Spanish citizens, people resident in Spain, cross-border workers and those who can provide documentary proof of force majeure or a situation of need.

None of the regulations are applicable to Andorra or Gibraltar. Currently, people who enter the national territory from abroad must stay in quarantine for 14 days after their arrival, but this will end on July 1 according to officials.

Sweden: It has introduced border restrictions – but it only applies to non-essential travel from countries outside the EU and European Economic Area, except the UK and Switzerland. That restriction came into effect on March 19 and has been extended until June 15.

Switzerland: The Alpine nation, which brought in border controls on March 13, will reopen its frontiers with Germany, Austria and France on June 15 if the situation allows. All travel restrictions at the border with Italy will remain in place until further notice. Any foreign nationals who wish to enter Switzerland and do not hold a valid residence or work permit will be refused entry. Air passengers from abroad are currently only able to enter the country through the airports at Zurich, Geneva and Basel. The Swiss authorities have not imposed any quarantine measures on persons entering the country. However, you must comply with the government’s hygiene and social distancing rules.

United Kingdom: Borders are currently open. From June 8, visitors from abroad will be required to quarantine for 14 days. Those exempt from these measures include people travelling from Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. As in other countries, certain professions are exempt from these rules, such as healthcare workers travelling to deliver healthcare in the country. Upon arrival, those who are required to self-isolate need to provide their journey and contact details. The government says these measures will be reviewed every three weeks.

DEBUNKED: NO, BILL GATES, MELINDA GATES, ANTHONY FAUCI AND THE WHO ARE NOT BEING CHARGED WITH GENOCIDE

Really, how much more of this twaddle are people going to have to put up with?

There has been a massive increase in the number of social media posts in the past two months suggesting that billionaire tech founder Bill Gates either helped plan the coronavirus pandemic or else stands to profit from it.

One post being shared a lot this week goes a step further: it falsely claims that Bill Gates and other high-profile people and organisations are to appear before a human rights tribunal “for war crimes with intent to commit mass genocide”.

The post on Facebook includes a note from ‘The Human Rights Tribunal International’ purporting to be an acknowledgment of court documents which have been filed to initiate the case.

The note says that the case is between ‘the Government of The United States of America v Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, Anthony Fauci, Christine Grady, Tedros Adhanom, National Governors Association, CDC, WHO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’.

It includes a case number, a website address for the full documents, and says the case will be heard on 5 June 2020.

The note highlights the alleged crimes: “All Articles of UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights], war crimes with intent to commit mass genocide.”

POPULAR TARGETS OF INTERNET HOAXES

Many of the people and organisations mentioned are popular targets of internet hoaxes. Melinda Gates is a co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private charitable organisation, and is married to Bill Gates; Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US; Christine Grady is the head of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Centre in the US and is married to Fauci; Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus is the director-general of the World Health Organisation.

The National Governors Association is a political organisation made up of the governors of all US states, while the CDC is the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, a health protection agency.

The post and the note are false.

None of the people and organisations mentioned have not been charged with war crimes.

The Human Rights Tribunal International, where the document purports to originate, does not exist.

War crimes are heard by the International Criminal Court [ICC], of which the US is not a part of and has refused to join.

The document gives its date of publication as the 49th Day, Year of Yahweh, 6022.

Additionally, the two websites given for accessing the full list of court documents contain conspiracy theories rather than official court documents.

It’s all just bunkum. Really, we have enough on our plates right now without having to put up with this absolute nonsense.

PUBLIC SHAMING IN INDONESIA FOR THOSE WHO IGNORE RESTRICTIONS

Indonesian officials are forcing social distancing violators to recite Quran verses, stay in “haunted” houses and submit to public shaming on social media as the country battles to contain surging coronavirus infections.

The Southeast Asian archipelago began deploying around 340,000 troops across two dozen cities to oversee enforcement of measures aimed at halting transmission of the disease, such as wearing facemasks in public.

But provincial leaders are buttressing these efforts with their own zealous campaigns to fight the virus.

Police in western Bengkulu province have assembled a 40-person squad to find lockdown scofflaws and force them to wear placards with promises to wear masks and keep their distance from others in future.

Pictures of the perpetrators are then uploaded to social media for maximum shaming effect, according to an official.

LACK OF AWARENESS OVER RULES

“People in Bengkulu still aren’t aware of the importance of following the rules, especially when it comes to wearing masks and not gathering” in big groups, said Martinah, Bengkulu’s public order agency chief, who goes by one name. “This is for the sake of themselves and their families.”

Some of those singled out by police have bristled at the punishment, including fisherman Firmansyah, who was punished for failing to abide by the mask rule while alone on his boat.

“It's silly to wear a mask when I’m out at sea,” he said, after he was nabbed returning to shore. “There’s no regulation to wear a mask in the water. If there was, I’d comply with it.”

Farther north in conservative Aceh province, those flouting public health regulations have been forced to atone by reading passages from the Quran.

The area’s tiny non-Muslim minority are spared from the punishment. “If we find them not wearing face masks they’ll just be reprimanded,” said local government spokeswoman Agusliayana Devita.

RULE BREAKERS MADE TO CLEAN TOILETS

Capital city Jakarta announced new rules this month that could see residents who break social distancing rules forced to clean public facilities – including toilets – while wearing vests that label them as rule-breakers.

To the east in Sragen regency, offenders have been jailed in repurposed abandoned houses that local residents believe are haunted – tapping widespread beliefs in the supernatural, which play a key role in Indonesian folklore.

Indonesia has confirmed around 24,000 cases of Covid-19 and 1,496 deaths, but the country of more than 260 million has some of the lowest testing rates in the world.

Researchers estimate the true number of virus fatalities is several times the official toll.

PLASTIC BUBBLE BRINGS JOY TO FRENCH NURSING HOME

Here’s a heart-warming development that seems so simple – it’s one of those things that make you wonder why didn’t they think of that sooner. In the northern French town of Bourbourg, Nathalie Szczepaniak caresses the hand of her husband Joseph, a care home resident, as the couple reunites after weeks without a visit because of the nation’s coronavirus lockdown.

But this is no ordinary reunion.

The couple meets in an anti-virus “bubble” at Joseph’s nursing home in Bourbourg separated by a clear plastic sheet that allows them some physical contact, face-to-face, without the risk of infection.

Nathalie holds up the couple’s dog, a white fluffy creature named Valco, so that Joseph, who has Parkinson’s disease, can press his palm to its paw through the plastic.

“You are eager to see your dog? Well, look, here he is,” she says, smiling tenderly as Joseph reaches out weakly, his eyes shining as Valco tries in vain to climb onto his master’s lap on the other side of the sheet.

The new coronavirus has proved deadliest for older people, and France imposed a strict no-visit policy at retirement homes when the country was placed in lockdown in March in a bid to curb infections.

So far, the virus has killed 10,336 people at French care homes, authorities say, more than a third of the national toll of almost 30,000.

But the lack of contact has been hard to bear for nursing home residents, many of whom are battling dementia, and psychologists have warned that the trauma of perceived abandonment can be fatal for some.

CONFUSED RESIDENTS OF CARE HOMES STOP EATING

Confined to their rooms, the residents suffer tremendously and some “just let themselves die, they stop eating, they no longer find meaning in life,” said Audrey Bernard, director of the Bourbourg nursing home.

The separation has been hard on loved ones too.

“We couldn’t visit him for two months... This week I called for an appointment, and voila, the surprise!” Nathalie Szczepaniak said, pointing to the plastic reception tent she discovered upon arrival.

She had been expecting to see her husband only from a distance, but instead the igloo-like contraption allowed them to experience something as close as possible to real contact.

“We can touch each other, you can feel the body heat through the plastic... It is very, very, very nice,” Szczepaniak said, a big smile on her face.

Erected just last week, the inflatable tent comprises a central bubble that acts as the reception area, connected to an entrance on either side that can be closed airtight.

RENEWED ENERGY BY BEING ABLE TO VISIT

“You can see an improvement in the people who’ve already had visits... there is renewed energy, a newfound interest, you can see the smiles on the faces both of the families and the residents,” Bernard told AFP of the innovation.

“The families really feel like they’re with the resident, there's no feeling of separation, it allows them to touch each other safely... They are both inside, safe and secure, they can hear each other easily, as if they were in the same room.”

Before the bubble, the home had tried to facilitate family access by placing residents in the on-site restaurant, with visitors waving and talking to them through the windows, from outside.

But they had trouble hearing each other, and many found the experience frustrating.

“Today, with this bubble... they can talk, see each other without masks and almost touch,” said Bernard, who recounts seeing one couple kiss through the plastic.

BUBBLE VISITING BRINGS LONG-MISSED SMILES

“It is excellent. Excellent!” exclaims Nathalie. “He did not even notice the plastic. And I saw him smile, something that I haven’t been seeing any more.”

After she leaves, the bubble is disinfected before the next visitors to arrive: a woman coming to see her father, his granddaughter in tow.

The bubble tent receives between six and eight visits a day, each lasting 30 to 45 minutes, and there is already a long waiting list.

“We wanted to restore a humane dimension to a totally inhumane situation while guaranteeing safety, the non-transmission” of the virus, said Pierre-Stephane Dumas, of BubbleTree, the company that designed the tent.

A prototype was erected at the Bourbourg site without cost for a two-week trial period, with a view to making improvements before others are rolled out to more French care homes.

Several have already shown interest, Dumas said, but the wind and rain-resistant installation, complete with electricity, costs between €7,500 (Dh30,000) and €10,000 (Dh40,000) to manufacture, meaning financing will have to be found to reduce overheads.

SCOTTISH ISLANDS: GUINEA PIGS FOR POST-LOCKDOWN MEASURES?

Cut off from the mainland, Scotland’s remote islands have been spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Barren, beautiful, and sparsely populated. Social distancing comes easily on the remote islands of Scotland. Mile after mile of windswept coastal grassland can be strolled without encountering another living soul. For those in need of a little solitude, it’s perfect. For a populace determined to keep a pandemic at bay, it’s even better.

As coronavirus wreaked havoc on the mainland, Scotland’s offshore communities acted fast to insulate themselves, halting ferry and air arrivals for all but the most essential travellers. The strategy has worked: deaths are low, with no new cases recorded in weeks.

Now, cautiously, some are suggesting that restrictions should be eased, allowing the islands to serve as a post-lockdown proving ground for the rest of Britain to follow.

But locals aren’t having it.

“We’re not really interested in being a test bed,” says Roddie Mackay, leader of Scotland’s Western Isles council told German media recently. “Somebody down South saying ‘let’s test these islands up North because they’re doing so well’... that immediately gave people resistance to it.”

The row erupted when Michael Gove, a senior cabinet minister in London, suggested that Scotland’s disparate island communities “could pilot some measures, contact tracing in particular,” with a view to judging “what is right for the country overall.”

AN ACCELERATED RETURN TO NORMALCY

Contentious, yes — but it’s an argument not devoid of academic merit. Given their unique offshore geography, Britain’s northern archipelagos are well placed for an accelerated return to relative normality, some experts believe.

“The islands are in this special category because they can control the import of the virus, and they’ve had very few cases. They may be the only ones to come out of lockdown for quite a while,” says Professor Hugh Pennington, a leading British microbiologist.

Indeed, certain cornerstones of public life on the islands could resume immediately — including schools, churches, and restaurants — added Pennington; so long as they’re coupled with an effective testing regime.

Therein lies the problem, says Mackay. Though he’s keen to see some restrictions lifted on the Western Isles, community COVID-19 screening programmes aren’t yet ready for lockdown to be lifted.

“We wouldn’t be looking at anything at all until we had adequate infrastructure for controlling things. We would like to see testing facilities and capabilities for up to 250 a day,” says Mackay.

NO TOURISTS, NO ECONOMY

His caution reflects fears for the islands’ disproportionately large elderly community – one in four residents is over 65. On Skye, linked by road with the mainland, coronavirus ripped through a care home with devastating speed earlier this month, claiming at least six lives.

But there’s another reality local leaders must wrestle with – their economies depend on visitors. “Tourism has a disproportionately high contribution to the GDP of the islands,” says Mackay, adding that, unsurprisingly, the industry had been “devastated” by the pandemic.

This is something Alan Graham knows all too well. The Orasay Inn, his hotel on the Isle of South Uist, should, in late spring, be enjoying its busiest time of — but at present, it’s almost entirely empty.

“We’ve had one or two key workers, and that's about it. You’re talking about one handful over the past few weeks.”

From a purely economic point of view, Graham is desperate to see the lockdown lifted, assuming appropriate testing measures are in place. But not all islanders share his dissatisfaction with the status quo, with many bristling at the prospect of being a post-lockdown pilot for the rest of the nation.

“A lot of people who aren't in business, just the general population, I have heard say: ‘no, no, no – we don’t want to be used as a guinea pig, we don’t want other people coming in’,” he tells a German news agency.

Still, if restrictions were to be eased on the islands — even if travel from the mainland remained limited — there would be valuable lessons to learn, academics believe.

LESSONS FOR THE MAINLAND

“Local authorities could demonstrate that they have a good system running, how many tests they’ve done, if there are any dubious results and how they’ve dealt with those,” says Prof Pennington.

“If they could do it in a community — small town-sized — that could apply to other small towns on the mainland, except that they wouldn’t have the ability to control incomers.”

It’s this necessity to control incomers — vital in staving off the short term threat of COVID-19 — that might do the lasting damage, some fear. Even if the Scottish islands were to lift internal restrictions on movement, many local employers — including hotelier Alan Graham — would be no better off.

“It’s not going to make much difference to our business, because you’re not going to get people coming on holiday,” he says, adding that, even when tourism does eventually return, “we'll probably be expected to run at half capacity, for the sake of social distancing.”

The 65-year old is therefore pondering how to best diversify, perhaps bringing back the hotel bar that once did a solid evening trade. Drink driving laws in Scotland are now among the world’s strictest, however, limiting the profitability of a late-night watering hole.

And so, powerless in the face of coronavirus’ chronic uncertainty, Graham must simply wait and see how things pan out.

“I don’t know what's ahead of us. We really can’t predict,” he says.

CANCER, CORONAVIRUS ARE A DANGEROUS MIX, NEW STUDIES FIND

New research shows how dangerous the coronavirus is for current and former cancer patients. Those who developed COVID-19 were much more likely to die within a month than people without cancer who got it, two studies found.

They are the largest reports on people with both diseases in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain and Canada. In one study, half of 928 current and former cancer patients with COVID-19 were hospitalised and 13 per cent died. That’s far more than the various rates that have been reported in the general population.

Results were published Thursday in the journal Lancet and will be discussed this weekend at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference being held online because of the pandemic.

A second study in Lancet from researchers in England of 800 patients with various types of cancer and COVID-19 found an even higher death rate — 28 per cent. The risk rose with age and other health problems such as high blood pressure.

Dr Jeremy Warner, a Vanderbilt University data scientist who led the larger study, said the results show the wisdom of measures that many hospitals have taken to delay or modify care for many cancer patients, and the need for people treated in the past to be extra careful now.

“If they don’t have COVID-19, they want to do anything they can to avoid getting it,” he said.

SURGERIES POSTPONED, TREATMENTS PUT OFF

For Luciano Orsini, that meant postponing surgery at Fox Chase Cancer Centre in Philadelphia for about a month to avoid having it when virus cases were rising there. Orsini lost one kidney to cancer last year and was eager for this surgery to remove tumors on his sole remaining one. He was tested for the virus several times, including the night before his April 29 surgery.

“It was a little daunting” waiting, he said. “I was constantly watching the clock.”

He’s now recovering at home in Sicklerville, New Jersey, and tested negative for the virus as recently as last week.

“The pandemic is posing incredible demands on the cancer care system” and the new studies show good reason for concern, said Dr. Howard Burris. He is president of the cancer society and heads the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We’re trying to minimise trips to the clinic” and telling older cancer patients and those with lung problems “to be extra vigilant, extra isolated, to stay at home, be careful with family members,” Burris said.

SOME CANCER TREATMENTS CAN AFFECT THE LUNGS OR IMMUNE SYSTEM

Nearly half of the patients in Warner’s study were receiving cancer treatment when diagnosed with COVID-19. The others either completed treatment, had not started it, been under observation or had cancer in the past. Researchers included all of these groups because some cancer treatments can affect the lungs or immune system years later and impact the odds of surviving coronavirus, he explained.

Men seemed to fare worse — 17 per cent of them died versus 9 per cent of women. That might be because breast cancer was the most common tumor type in this group, and women with it tend to be younger and with fewer health problems versus many cancers seen in men that are typically diagnosed at later ages.

Smoking also is more common among men.

The risk of death also seemed higher for patients taking the malaria drug hydroxochloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin, but this could be because sicker patients were given those drugs. Of the 928 study participants, 89 took hydroxychloroquine and 181 took the combination.

The rate of death in patients getting both drugs was 25 per cent, about double the 13 per cent for the group as a whole, Warner said.

“We do not know if this is cause and effect,” and studies like this can’t prove such a link, he stressed. Use of hydroxychloroquine alone was not tied to a significantly higher risk of death, but there were fewer patients taking it this way. The study now has more than 2,000 patients enrolled and the next analysis will see if the trends stay the same, Warner said.

Only two of the 270 took the drugs as part of a clinical trial, which “really stood out to me” because of the potential side effects, Warner said. Unless cancer patients are in one of the carefully designed studies that are testing hydroxychloroquine now, “don’t take that drug” on your own, he advised.

MEME OF THE DAY

This was shared with me on WhatsApp by Kuda, a former colleague who is now working in Abu Dhabi. There’s more than an element of truth to it. But, as I noted above, Europe is indeed opening up slowly but surely.

TAKING STOCK

HOW I’M PRETENDING TO GROW £10,000 IN PLAY MONEY

Well, it was a short trading week – but a really good one. In effect, I’ve increased my portfolio by some £1,500 on the week, thanks mostly by 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 Friday was up almost 30 per cent again, closing at 363.

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 software maker Avast gained solidly, while distiller Diageo gave back £1.63 a share. I’ll likely review my portfolio over the weekend, with Diageo on the list to be dropped.

This is how things stand after Friday:

Net worth £14,422.88

Ocado, 100 shares: £2191.00

Diageo, 100 shares: £2790.50

Avast, 1,000 shares: £5030.00

PowerHouse, 1200 shares: £4356.00

Cash in hand: £55.38

£ gain on last trading day: £977.50

% Gain overall: 44.2 per cent

£ Gain overall: £4,422.88

ONLY 4 IN 10 CAN FEASIBLY PERFORM THEIR JOB FROM HOME

Working from home is the new norm for many of us, although things are starting to return to a place where more and more of us can return to our offices.

It’s interesting that new data released by Statistics Canada reveals that only four in 10 Canadians hold jobs that can be reasonably performed remotely.

StatCan data released late Thursday broke down how many Canadians are physically able to work from home, based on their employment, and found that only 39 per cent of Canadians are able to work remotely.

The data looked at the “telework capacity” of different industries to measure how likely they were to be able to work from home.

Finance, insurance and educational service workers had the highest ability to work from home, at 85 per cent. Other jobs that had a high capacity for being performed remotely were professional, scientific and technical services, at 84 per cent.

At the other end of the scale, food services, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting have “almost no telework capacity,” the report reads.

SUCCESS OF HOME WORKING DEPENDS ON LOCATION

The capacity for work from home varied by province, which the report notes is important since measures to reopen the economy are different across the country.

Ontario, the richest province, has the highest percentage of workers in industries that can work from home. The report notes that Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador have lower telework capacities than the other provinces because they have “relatively large shares of workers in mining, oil and gas extraction.”

Lower work from home capacity in Prince Edward Island and the Prairies might be explained by the agricultural industries in those provinces, the report says.

Women were more likely to be able to work from home than men, with a 46 per cent telework capacity compared to men’s 32 per cent.

Those with the lowest ability to work from home are those who are financially vulnerable, according to additional data from 2019. People under the age of 25 and those with less education than a high school diploma had the lowest telework capacity, when looking at age and education as factors.

The report pointed out that these characteristics are often associated with minimum-wage jobs and service jobs. While many retail jobs were cut completely as the pandemic closed clothing stores and malls, other minimum-wage jobs such as those in food production or grocery stores were deemed essential, and have remained open throughout the pandemic.

COMPARING TELEWORK CAPACITY WITH ACTUAL TELEWORK DATA

Although only 39 per cent of Canadians are feasibly able to continue their jobs from home, the data seems to show that pretty much every workforce that had that option took it. The data compared telework capacity with actual telework data that had been reported early in the pandemic, and found that 39 per cent of workers were teleworking during the last full week of March.

“Taken together, these findings suggest the Canadian labour market responded very quickly to the onset of the pandemic by increasing its prevalence of telework to the maximum capacity,” the report states.

The 39 per cent statistic is striking when compared to the percentage of Canadians who worked from home before the pandemic. In 2018, around 13 per cent of Canadians were doing some scheduled work from home hours – only a tiny raise from the 10 per cent of Canadians who worked from home in 2000, according to the StatCan report.

Although some workplaces are now reopening, most provinces still have rules regarding the amount of people allowed to gather in one area, meaning that we haven’t seen the tail end of working from home.

The report raises the question of whether working from home will be the new normal even after the pandemic, as it is clear there is a higher capacity for remote working than was being taken advantage of before COVID-19. Having more workers stay home – if they are able to – could result in less traffic congestion and air pollution, the report says.

However, whether remote working “will improve workers’ mental health, their work-life balance and productivity remains to be seen,” the report acknowledges.

COVIDIOTS, YOBS AND GOONS

Here’s my daily collection that proves covidiots may not be good – but they’re slow.

FRAUD VICTIMS LOSE MORE THAN £4.6M TO COVIDIOT SCAMMERS

While most people in the UK see the coronavirus pandemic as the time help one another, covidiots see it as a time to line their pockets and scam others.

Fraud victims have lost more than £4.6million (Dh20.9 million) to coronavirus-related scams during the lockdown.

More than 2,000 victims lost cash through fake online goods sales, bogus cold-calls, non-existent pension plans and other frauds.

Another 11,206 people claim to have been victims of email – phishing – and text – smishing – attempts to trick them into giving out personal details.

The figures were released by Actionfraud, the UK’s online centre for reporting fraud and cybercrime.

Since the lockdown police forces have warned about many scams cashing in on the COVID-19 pandemic, including the sale of fake or non-existent face masks, virus cures and treatments and testing kits.

Others have fallen victim to a pet scam, where bogus breeders collect deposits from customers who have not been allowed to travel to view the puppies and kittens they think they are buying.

Other fraudsters are offering bogus cheap loans, promising to fast track applications in return for an upfront fee.

COVIDIOT ABUSES DOCTOR TREATING COVID-19 PATIENTS

A woman in Texas is facing charges after being seen using a hammer to threaten a Latina doctor and her husband whom she mistakenly referred to being Mexican during a profanity-laced rant in Houston.

The woman, whom authorities identified as Constance Lynn Bono, 60, was arrested Sunday after “unlawfully, intentionally and knowingly threatening Arturo Cordovez with imminent bodily injury by using and exhibiting a deadly weapon, namely, a hammer,” court documents show.

Cordovez was with his wife, Dr. Lia Franco, at the time of the incident. Both Cordovez and Franco are originally from Ecuador, but live in New Orleans.

Franco has been finishing up her medical residency, which includes treating COVID-19 patients during the coronavirus pandemic. To decompress, the couple decided to spend Memorial Day weekend in Houston.

They noticed Bono following them in a car Sunday and decided to stop their car on the side of the road, Franco told KPRC-TV.

SCREAMING EXPLETIVES AT PROFESSIONAL COUPLE

The couple then decided to drive to a gas station and call police. That’s when Bono pulled up beside them and started screaming.

“She screamed, ‘You Mexicans, get out of my [expletive] country. Go back to your [expletive] country,” Franco said.

A video captured Bono getting out of her car, wearing a green shirt with an Irish flag, walking toward the direction of the couple as she waved a hammer in her hand.

“Of course, we were scared,” Cordovez told Telemundo in Spanish. “As soon as she heard our accent, she immediately said ‘you [expletive] Mexicans go back to your [expletive] country.”

According to Franco, it seemed like the woman “needs help, she needs treatment.”

“But that doesn’t justify the fact she needs to follow the laws of her country,” Franco said.

MENTAL CAPABILITIES WILL BE ASSESSED

Court documents show that authorities requested Bono be evaluated to determine whether she has a mental illness or any other intellectual disabilities.

Bono has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony, according to court documents. If convicted, she could serve up to 20 years in prison. The charge can be elevated to a first-degree felony if prosecutors think this was a racially motivated attack, KPRC-TV reported. The case is expected to go to a grand jury.

Bono was released on bond Wednesday, pending a court appearance in July. Her attorney, Hans Nielsen, said in a statement that his “client adamantly denies the allegation that has been filed against her.”

“She has two young nephews who are Hispanic that she loves dearly and she is not a racist. The claim that she is a racist is a false allegation and she denies it,” Nielsen said.

CAMPING COVIDIOTS REPORTED BY POLICE AS CROWDS KEEP FLOCKING TO NORTH WALES

Three men found camping up a North Wales mountain are among the latest people reported for breaching lockdown rules by travelling to the area of the UK.

Police found the tent and reported the men – and several other incidents were also picked up across North Wales as people from around England continued to defy the Welsh Government’s warning not to cross the border, the Liverpool Echo reports.

A tweet published by the North Wales Police Rural Crime Team today said: “I don’t really know what to say. Three males reported for Covid offences.”

Officers also found a campervan in Coed y Brenin near Dolgellau which had travelled more than 300 kilometres from London.

“Unfortunately, we have come across another vehicle with visitors from a far – a campervan from the London area.”

A person who travelled 120 kms to go fishing during lockdown was also criticised by North Wales’ top police officer. Police caught the fishing enthusiast in Conwy, and Chief Constable Carl Foulkes praised officers he said were doing a “great job” enforcing the lockdown rules.

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

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