(1) Belgium has been nibbling around the edges of its existing lockdown, allowing phone stores, garden stores, etc. to reopen, but (with the highest per capita COVID19 mortality of any country in the world) experts kept saying they were not out of the woods yet. Now the country’s national security council decided on reopening in two phases, May 4 and May 19. https://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20200423_04932921
In Phase 1 (May 4), the following will again be permitted:
- outdoor sports like tennis, angling, horseback riding (as a family, or in pairs — not yet in group)
- registered sports teams can resume training
- public parks etc are reopened
- car dealers/garages, bike shops, real estate offices may function “by appointment” (not yet walk-in)
- smaller home improvement shops (paint, tiles, lighting fixtures, kitchen stores,…) may reopen
- non-essential enterprises may resume activity, subject to social distancing
- masks will be mandatory on public transit. (Belgium has an extensive multimodal network.)
Phase 2 (May 18) adds:
- all remaining businesses may reopen. Hairdressers have to wear masks
- schools gradually reopen
- museums reopen for individuals or families, not yet for groups
- meetings up to 50 permitted
- visit to vacation homes (in practice, on the sea coast or in the Ardennes): details to be finalized
“Horeca” (hotels, restaurants, and cafés) are not to be opened before June 8.
(2) Israel was supposed to have its Phase 2 reopening in a week, but apparently decided to speed things along a bit. As of Sunday, remaining stores are allowed to reopen. In addition, hairdressers are allowed to reopen, with maximum 2 clients at a time, and disinfecting equipment between every haircut. Indoor malls still remain closed for now. Restaurants, which until now were only allowed to operate by delivery, are now also permitted to offer takeaway (not yet with seating).
The country will go in hard lockdown over Memorial Day and Independence Day, to prevent super-spreader events like there were at Purim, but that should be “it” for a while. Active COVID19 cases in Israel have been declining for a week now, as recoveries outpace new cases.
(3) Much ado about preliminary results from a community testing effort in NYC that appears to indicate as much as 20% of the NYC population has antibodies for COVID19. (The figure drops to 3.6% for upstate New York.)
(4) (Hat tip: Erik Wingren.) Peculiar and counterintuitive claims (see here and here) from France that smoking, and specifically nicotine, would have a protective effect — specifically, that the COVID19 patient populations contained an anomalously low percentage of smokers compared to the general population.
A French study from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie found that just 8.5 percent of 11,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients were smokers compared to 25.4 percent of the country’s population.
They are now experimenting with nicotine[*] patches. The initial data from China (caveat emptor) appeared to indicate that smoking was a risk factor because of damage to the lungs — but that damage comes overwhelmingly from tar, not from nicotine. (I wonder if anybody looked at “vapers” for comparison?) Anecdotally, a friend who is immunocompromised following an organ transplant, and has been having regular troubles with bronchitis, told me he took up vaping (which gives him nicotine but not tar), and it greatly reduced his respiratory issues.
[*] What is the purpose of nicotine in nature? Some plants produce alkaloids to deter animals from eating them: for this purpose, tobacco produces nicotine (named after Jean Nicot, the 16th century French diplomat who was the first to bring tobacco to France).