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The Corona Files: Next step of lifting restrictions will NOT be taken

The news is out and it is not good!

Pubs will stay closed for AT LEAST another four weeks until 31 August and – let’s face it – it is highly unlikely that anything significant will change in the next three weeks, considering the worldwide Covid situation. So who knows until when they will stay closed.

This obviously also has a significant impact on any live entertainment going forward and will not only leave pub owners and employees in a challenging situation, but will be devastating news for all the musicians that we have in Ireland.

A curfew for restaurants and pubs serving food of 23:00 was introduced as well (takeaways are allowed to stay open longer) and face masks will be mandatory in shops from 10 August.

And if you were hoping that there will be SOME good news elsewhere….not so!

Malta, Cyprus, Gibraltar, San Marino and Monaco were taken off the green list and seemingly no other countries were added.

The limits for crowds will also stay in place: 50 for indoor events and 200 for outdoor events.

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And ALL this while we currently only have 448 cases of reported Covid infections in Ireland. If we multiply this by 10 to catch non-reported infections, then we have in the whole country just 4480 active cases. If we assume a population of 4,921,500, you need to meet 1098 (!!) people before you meet ONE Covid sufferer. 😮

Can we survive another while without pubs? Sure we can if we have to! But looking at how public health policy is made at the moment, the makers of the rules seem to believe in the fairy tale that Ireland can eradicate the Coronavirus. Does that sound likely to you? What is your guess, when will pubs open? And will we have to cancel Christmas?

(Clarification: The number 448 is the sum of all cases that were reported in the last 14 days and is therefore the number of the cases that can assumed to be still active.)

Pubs, Ireland and the Coronavirus

Important news about the opening of pubs!

It seems that the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), which is part of the HSE, sort of offered a Covid-19 deal and we can only assume/hope that this was discussed with Mr Corona.

The deal is that from 29 June, you will be safe at a 1 meter distance in a pub, as long as you don’t stay longer than 90 minutes.

Indications are that from Minute 91 things get really dangerous!

If we don’t agree to the 90 min deal and we want to stay, say 120 minutes, then the 1 meter deal is off the table and all will go back to 2 metres.

It also seems that if you are not in a pub, you are still in severe danger if the distance to another person is less than 2 meters, no matter how long you meet. Even if you don’t even face the other person and your encounter only lasts a few seconds! Safety outside of pubs (for example in busses) can be achieved with face masks but the 1 meter distance is not applicable there. 2 metres is the minimum (in nearly empty busses.) The deal ONLY applies to pubs!

It also emerged that the Coronavirus can be kept at bay if you eat a meal in a pub for at least EUR 9. If your meal is cheaper than that you are in danger and if you don’t order a meal in the pub at all, you are in mortal danger, so much so that you are not even allowed to enter the pub. It seems though, that there will be no meal supervision, so you are not forced to EAT the meal, you just need to order it. Once ordered (for more than EUR 9!), the virus will know that and will leave you alone.

P.S. Without a doubt, our authorities clearly know what they are doing and have thought it all through!

Bewley’s screwed up, it wasn’t the landlord

Bewley's Cafe

Bewley’s Cafe will close for good, we found out on 06 May and soon the chorus of “greedy landlord” started together with the wish to save Bewley’s cafe.

But as so often there are some facts that are not clearly obvious that need to be considered:

In a starring role, there is developer and landlord Johnny Ronan and the other main actors are the Campbell Family, who own the Bewley’s Cafes and Campbell Catering.

Johnny Ronan is a hugely successful developer, who has his fingers in nearly all relevant property pies in Dublin. He went down in 2008 and was bailed out by NAMA – or rather by all of us Irish tax payers – and he has recovered like Phoenix from the ashes afterwards. Kudos for his regained success, but it is difficult to “like” someone like that who is only able to make his huge personal gains again because we paid his significant debts. And I would also not be surprised if the tag “greedy” might be totally justified.

Johnny Ronan bought Bewley’s Cafe in Grafton Street from Royal Liver a few years ago and is renting it to the Campbell family for allegedly 1.5mio per year. And it is the public’s opinion that it is this massive rent cost that is the reason for the Bewley’s Cafe closure and because we all seem to love the national treasure that Bewley’s Cafe is seen as – although many of us would NEVER go there for their cofe and pastries! – the conclusion is Landlord = Bad, Tenant = Good!

Not exactly the truth, though!

So what is the real picture:

The Bewley’s family started the Bewley’s company in 1840 and they opened the Cafe in Grafton Street in 1927. They bought the building at some point and owned it. Campbell Catering bought struggling Bewley’s at the end of the 1980s and consequently they owned the building in Grafton Street then and that is where the trouble starts.

To get some money into the company, in their wisdom, the Campbell family decided to sell the Grafton St building and lease it back. It is a silly accounting “trick” that gets you cash in the short term, but ignores that you will pay a big rent over the years, especially if the location is such a prime spot in the main city centre shopping area.

In 2007 then there was a rent review and it seems that the Campbell family was ok with 1.5 mio, but the story continues. Just two years before the rent review Bewley’s closed for a while (they seemed to have done this a number of time in the last few years) and during that time allegedly Zara offered a yearly rent of EUR 2 mio. Not sure if they would have been allowed to do that, but Campbell could have continued paying the rent of 1.5 mio to the landlord and on the other side take 2 mio from Zara. BUT Campbell was not interested in that offer.

The landlord even offered them then 6 mio if they got out! But Campbell was still not interested.

In 2014 Bewley’s closed again for renovation and it remained closed for nearly three (!!) years and a whopping 12 mio was spent on the internal works to turn it from a 180 seat cafe to a 500 seat cafe. (I wrote about the challenge back then www.joergsteegmueller.com/2017/11/03/bewleys-cafe-has-re-opened-but-will-it-work/).

So you see that the landlord (Johnny Ronan or his company Ickendel) doesn’t deserve any medals for anything they did, but they also are not really the reason why Campbell is closing the Cafe now. Campbell made a number of decisions over the years that could have helped them to leave the seemingly unmanageable burden behind, but they decided against it.

The final decision now is solely Campbell’s responsibility and there is no justification for a “Save Bewley’s campaign” or anything like that. It is pity that Bewley’s Cafe will close, it was an icon in Dublin and will be missed, but I haven’t been in there for many many years, so I didn’t help to keep it open and therefore I can’t complain. I just hope that no Starbucks will move in! We have more than enough of them! :-O

This article outlines some parts of the story:
www.irishtimes.com/business/commercial-property/row-tied-to-20-year-lease-agreed-when-bewley-s-sold-grafton-street-to-raise-cash-1.1852021

 

(The title picture is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license and it was taken by Miguel Mendez.)

The Corona Files: Social Distancing & Lock Down

Sobering Statistics

The Corona Virus is continuing its rampage!

At the time of writing this, there have been 271,620 infections with 87,363 recovered. And sadly 11,280 people have died. That is more than 57 (!!) Ryanair plane loads full of people and imagine how shocked we would be if only ONE plane crashed.

Risk Group or Not: Prevent!

So in actual numbers it is terrifying and a lot of us have started to feel quite anxious or at least concerned about the impact that the virus could have on our own life. It is still the case that the majority of fatalities are in an older age group and/or with people that have some underlying illnesses, but there are plenty of young people that have heart issues or asthma or other circulatory problems that could be badly affected.

If you are in a higher risk group, stay away from other people and wash your hands really well when you have touched items outside in areas where potentially infected people have been and don’t touch your face until you have washed the hands.

With these steps, you will drastically reduce the risk! You will not have to wear a mask, but if you feel safer with a mask or a scarf, then wear it. Fear and anxiety is a bad thing and it doesn’t make sense to suffer it just because you don’t want to be seen with a mask.

If you are super healthy and could have a guarantee that there are no health issues that could require you to be put on a ventilator, it would be best for you and for society as a whole to get infected asap, then completely isolate until the symptoms are totally gone and afterwards be safe from the virus AND not have the risk of being a carrier anymore. Unfortunately, though there is no such 100% guarantee.

There is very good news about immunity: Research on monkeys has shown that immunity will be achieved after an initial infection and once immunity has been achieved, then the monkey who is a second time exposed to the virus will also not pass it on to others anymore. But this research has only been done on a small test group of monkeys and we don’t know either if us human beings react exactly the same as monkeys.

Social Distancing

So to protect the risk groups, the concept of “social distancing” has been developed. The name is very unfortunate, it should be physical distancing or spatial separation, because we don’t want to move away socially from our friends, colleagues and families. But for the rest of this post I will still – reluctantly – use the bad term.

The idea behind social distancing is perfectly expressed in the graph below by @garrywarshaw.

Image

By infecting less people initially, even the multiplication (or compound) effect of an infection chain a significant reduction of total number of infections can be achieved. This is the one and only reason for social distancing.

It does SLOW DOWN the spread of the virus. Social Distancing doesn’t stop it and it also doesn’t stop that we might get infected eventually. But a calculation by a university in the UK showed that just protecting the elderly (for example by locking them away) would not be enough. There would still be 8 times more hospital beds required than they have available.

With a drastic slow down on the other hand, the cases that need to be admitted to hospital will be looked after correctly. A lot of us will still have to get infected to achieve a immunisation (herd immunity) of a larger group of people. So our attitude to an infection has to change! Nobody wants to have a 2 week long bad flu wth the risk of a hospital stay and a low – but still higher than zero – risk of death, but if we accept that it is NOT the worst case scenario if we get infected.

Stigma of Infection

Right now, it seems as if people really think negatively of someone who gets infected. :-O I call that an “Infection Stigma” and it makes absolutely no sense. Getting infected doesn’t mean the person misbehaved, it also doesn’t mean the person is and will remain to be dangerous forever, it doesn’t mean that that person has done society a dis- service and it doesn’t mean that the person will probably die anyway. Not at all!!

The person will most likely survive; has helped society to reach herd immunity faster and does not pose a risk once the two weeks of symptoms are over.

So please stop stigmatising people who got infected by the virus and stop panicking over the possibility that you might get it.

Will we have a lock down?

Nobody wants a lock down really. A lock down means that nobody is allowed to leave the house or apartment anymore unless it is to go to work, to buy food or to go to a doctor.

A lock down is NOT needed where people stick to the social distancing rules. But where people don’t adhere these rules, the only other way to ensure that they stay away from each other is to force them to stay inside.

I saw some pictures from Spain, where a cyclist was fined for going on a training cycle on his own. Yes, he broke the existing law and that is what he was fined for. But the law that he broke didn’t help to improve the Corona virus situation in the slightest. He was NO danger to himself or anyone. In Bavaria in Germany where a moderate lock down is implemented from today, the rules have been created better: You are still allowed to go for a walk as long as it is on your own or only with the people that live with you.

I can understand why the Spanish government used their all-encompassing law, it is MUCH easier to control than a more differentiated law. But this whole situation could take quite some time and rules only make sense if they help improving the situation.

So what can we do in Ireland to avoid a lock down? Simple! Adhere to the Social Distancing rules!!

When will it all be over?

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Virologists think that in about 2-3 months it could be over…at least for now. The problem is that when winter returns, the virus could come back.

There is another possible scenario and that assumes that the limitations or restrictions to life are less severe (e.g. schools will restart for higher classes at some point and work will resume) in that case, the restrictions could be lifted then applied again, then lifted and applied again. Whenever the virus comes back the infections will be allowed to rise and then will be controlled through the application of restrictions again. In this on-off scenario, the whole Corona / Covid-19 issue could go on for around 2 years. :-O

I heard about faster tests and a vaccine. Is that true?

Yes and no! Faster tests are being developed at the moment. They will probably be very similar to a pregnancy test where you pee on a strip that tells you instantly through a colour change if you have the virus or not. This is not as easy as it sounds because it has to have a high reliability. But research is on the right path and will probably have a solution relatively soon. Then tests will have to start, which will take another bit. Until then we only have the relatively cumbersome lab test that checks the presence of the virus in a throat swab and – as far as I know – that also can detect antibodies as indicators that you had been infected.

A vaccine is also not too far away from being developed. But even when scientists found a vaccine, that doesn’t mean that you will be able to get it. Currently vaccines needs to go through a very long and expensive trial process, which could delay the availability for patients for another 12-18 months based on current regulatory rules. But maybe the rules will have to get changed so that at least health professionals can be vaccinated earlier. But there is a risk of severe side effects and politicians have to decide if they want to accept this risk (and insure the vaccination producer against it).

What should I do for now?

Three things:
1) Stay upbeat and positive by creating a new routine during the isolated living
2) Adhere to all Social Distancing rules and if necessary, obey the lock down.
3) Keep in close contact with people that live on their own, with elderly people and with anybody else who could do with your support. Isolation is a challenge for most people and we need to be there for each other to get through it. Be proactive with your friend. Don’t wait for them to tell you they need help, but contact them regularly to check if they need anything.

We all go through the same situation and a shared experience can pull people together and will provide the support needed so that everyone can get through it. If you are strong, provide the support and if you are challenged ask for support! Let’s help each other and be there for each other!!

 

The Corona Files: An explainer

After the Coronavirus reached Italy and created havoc there, it was only a matter of time when it would arrive in Ireland and so it happened and – through visitors in Italy – the virus made it to our little island.

And like in most European countries the confusion was huge at first, the demands on politicians were massive and finally the Taoiseach had not other option but to also declare the closure of schools and universities and cultural institutions.

This is a completely unprecedented situation that nobody in this whole world has any experience with, so there is no real right or wrong yet and I think our politicians have done the best they could.

You might be very worried about this virus, so let me explain what one of the most eminent SARS experts in Germany, Virologist Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten, says about the Corona Virus /Covid-19, which has a lot of similarities to the SARS virus.

He explains that it is expected that nearly every one will get infected at some stage over the next few months. For kids, there seems to be an indication that they are only carriers and will not experience severe symptoms. Then there is the age 12-65 where the symptoms will be a general weakness, a persistent cough and – in most cases – a raised temperature. But after about 2 weeks all is over and they will recover. And then there is the groups of elderly people from 65 years of age. In this group it is expected that unfortunately up to 20 or 25% of infected people will die. The virus itself doesn’t kill, but the body (especially the circulatory system) will be so challenged after around 5 days with symptoms, that it will not be able to continue to work in weaker people or people with an pre-existing heart problem and a few other issues. They and younger people with other underlying health problems will be the people that need to be looked after in a hospital.

After the first phase, the Containment Phase, didn’t succeed and the virus could not be contained. We entered the Delay phase. In this phase the focus is on delaying the spread of the virus (not stopping it!). There is no way to stop it, but if all people that could get infected would get infected around the same time, the health system would collapse. (I saw a calculation that described that the UK, for example, would need over 1 million hospital bed if the spread couldn’t be delayed, but they only have 140,000 beds.) So currently they are ONLY trying to delay the infection.

The experts are expecting that the infections will continue until September or even longer. :-O And that nearly all of us will get infected at some time over this time. So all the current limitations, including school, university closures and closures of all cultural institutions will unlikely end on 29 March.

Most flu viruses don’t like the warmer weather, but it seems the Corona virus can handle it, so there is a high probability that the virus will not “disappear” over the summer and then come back in autumn/winter, but that it will stay with us.

In that case – and if it ha immunisation as a result – it would be positive for the healthy among us to get it early on, but the problem is that for a period of 2 weeks BEFORE you show any symptoms, you can already infect people. So this is the dangerous period during which you should stay away from all weak and elderly people.

No vaccines will be available until probably next year, so we can’t hope for that to sort the situation.

In general, try to stay upbeat and try not to panic. Prepare yourself mentally that this virus will be with us for quite some time (And we thought Brexit was an endless story!?) and that the current or some other social distancing rules will either stay in place or will come back again in a few weeks. Oh and stay healthy as much as possible so that you will get over it fast when the virus hits you.


And here is some advise on how to behave in the next few weeks or months:

1. An infected person would have to cough, sneeze or – and we all do that – spit while talking. The droplets fly through the air and would have to land on your face to infect you directly. If you keep a distance from the people you talk to, there is a good chance that the droplets fall on the ground and will be harmless for you.

2. If an infected person coughs into their hands and then touches a doorknob/tap/fridge door/steering wheel/shopping cart, they will leave the droplets there. The droplets are relatively sticky and can survive for up to 3 days and some surfaces and only approximately 3 hours on others. If you then touch that surface AND transfer the droplets to your eyes, nose or mouth you can also get infected. So, don’t touch your face and you are most likely fine.

3. An infected person doesn’t show symptoms for up to 14 days, but can pass on the virus already. So we should be vigilant with regards to all people, not just obviously ill people. You will not get sick just by being in the same room with someone who is infected.

Adhere to this protocol:

◦ Don’t touch your face

◦ Wash hands surgeon style for at least 30 seconds after potential exposure to surfaces that others may have touched. You may think you know how to wash your hands, but you should STILL watch a video and get it right.

◦ Social distancing will decrease the risk of getting infected. Cancel unnecessary meetings, but confidently go to necessary engagements and then use the protocol above.

◦ Carry a large handkerchief at all times, even when you are not sick. Cough into it or at least cough into your elbow. Do not cough without covering your mouth.

◦ Wipe your phone down (at same time as washing hands)

◦ Wipe fridge door, taps, light switches, remote controls, keyboards etc

◦ Use a paper towel to open the door on the way out of a public toilet.

◦ Washing your hands with soap and water is sufficient. Anti-bacterial soap is NOT required. Hand sanitizer is NOT as efficient as soap, but can be used when no soap and water is available. Make sure that the hand sanitizer has 60+% of alcohol in it.

◦ Remember you have an immune system too. Even if the droplets manage to reach you, the virus still has to get past your immune system. So keep that healthy! Look after yourself and don’t run yourself down.

◦ Take care of your emotional self – fear, worry and anxiety wear you down

◦ If you do feel sick, immediately self-isolate, get tested and take directions from your health care provider.

 
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