Lost loved ones. Lost opportunities. But still not a lost cause

Vacancies have arisen for amateur epidemiologists and virologists. No medical qualifications or knowledge of the subject matter required. Candidates should have formed vehement, unyielding opinions, have little tolerance for reasoned debate and be proficient in the use of social media platforms. A willingness to participate in occasional street protests, while not essential, might be an advantage. Remuneration in line with the State payments already being claimed. All applications can be viewed nightly on Facebook and Twitter.

TWICE a year, when the home heating oil runs low, I order a refill and it’s usually delivered within 24 hours. Similarly, when the fuel gauge in the car dips into the red, I pull in at a filling station and fill it up.

At my age, when the print is small, it can sometimes be a little difficult to differentiate between a B and an 8 and on those occasions – still rare enough thankfully – I consult my optician, just as I would my dentist if I woke up with a toothache.

A few years back, when my right knee insisted it had taken enough abuse ferrying my considerable frame around and wanted out, I left it to an orthopedic surgeon to fit the replacement. The handyman that installed the new hob didn’t appear to have sufficient credentials.

The fog has not yet lifted on the virus that has claimed so many lives and the great outdoors still remain out of reach of many.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

When it comes to advice about protecting myself against coronavirus I prefer to leave it to the scientists and medical professionals. I’ve had two tests – both negative thankfully – and I left it to appointed personnel to prod with the swabs rather than asking the postman to do so.

What I’m getting at is that, in everyday life as I live it, I prefer to leave the experts in any particular field get on with the job they are qualified to do.

My go-to guys living through this dreadful pandemic are named Tony and Ronan and Philip and Sam and Luke and Cillian. This time last year I hadn’t heard of most of them ­– now we’re on first name terms.

When it comes to managing the virus, they tell three other chaps, Micheál and Leo and Eamon, what they should do and, after learning an expensive lesson when they were distracted by persistent noise and chose to ignore the best advice, the trio stopped being populist, became more obedient and bowed to superior knowledge. Just as it should be.

It has been a difficult, tedious, horrible, testing, worrying and occasionally heartbreaking 12 months.

Travel restrictions dictated that I wasn’t able to say a final goodbye to three relatives who passed away since this time last year. That was hard. When loved ones of friends died and a hug or a handshake was not an option, I had to resort instead to expressing condolences by phone or online or posting a Mass card. It didn’t feel sufficient.

I haven’t set foot inside the door of any house but my own since March 12th last year. The last time I met anyone for a coffee was March 6th. The last pint I supped was months before that. Any books I want I buy them online.

The spectacular Tree of Light that illuminated Killarney throughout the Christmas season and beyond.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

In the past year we have dined out once – a quick lunch in our favourite hotel – and that was on a mid-afternoon last July when we were the only people in the restaurant. Even then, despite the perfectly acceptable hygiene and safety precautions taken by staff, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable and waited until I returned home to use the facilities.

I have refused to enter any business where the staff are wearing visors instead of masks or if sanitiser isn’t the first thing to catch my eye entering the premises. Until this pandemic is finally conquered, I blatantly refuse to frequent any building in which owners or staff have refused to mask up ­anytime over the past year, putting that little inconvenience and their stubborn streak ahead of the best available medical advice and opting to childishly ignore what they know was the right thing to do.

Lockdown hasn’t been easy. I miss meeting friends. I pine for family gatherings. I miss driving to beaches. I miss the opportunity of a Saturday night in a restaurant and the option of Sunday morning Mass. I miss browsing in bookshops. I miss people and face-to-face conversations. The well-intentioned invitation to an outdoor barbecue in a friend’s garden was tempting but not sufficiently so to put my family or myself at risk, no matter how small the threat might have been.

In the lead up to last November and December, I despaired on a daily if not an hourly basis as I listened to noisy lobby groups rounding on fickle political leaders to demand that they save Christmas by giving the green light to lift the shutters and fill the tills. And, of course, in the interests of political self-preservation, the meek TDs relented.

The same businesses told us in the weeks that followed that business was still slack during the festive season because people had been frightened off. Now some inform us that it was, in fact, the best few weeks they ever had – a case of distorting the facts to suit whatever point they want to stress on any given day. Never let the truth get in the way when the hand is extended palm side up.

Sunset on life: Hearts break for those whose have lost businesses, lost jobs, lost opportunities and lost hope.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

A knowledge of how to split an atom or a degree in molecular biology were not essential traits to realise that it was all going to go horribly wrong when the last lockdown was lifted at a time when the people were getting giddy before Christmas. Despite the best intentions of the businesses in question, the simple fact is that many people just don’t know how to act responsibly and many others just don’t care.

While the vast majority of those in business behaved responsibly and adhered to every possible precaution as the country partied in December it was, in many ways, like lifting a dumbbell with one arm in a sling.

The dramatic surge in Covid cases leading to the current lockdown was entirely inevitable and the only surprise was that it took so long to implement. A costly lesson has been learnt but, still, there are those hell-bent on being rousing rebels, heroes without capes, determined to prove that the irresistible force that is their stubborn streak and streetwise arrogance can knock the immovable object that is indisputable scientific fact and medical evidence off its lofty pedestal.

Listen to the noise. Open the pubs. Permit indoor dining. Let the people dance. Allow them to travel wherever the hell they want to travel. Open all the shops. Let them cut hair, paint nails, tint eyebrows, play golf, play football, play tiddlywinks.

I will always be the first to defend that everybody has a right – an absolute right – to voice their opinion on any subject but I also reserve the right to share mine and if I believe they are talking gibberish, putting others in danger, or being deliberately mischievous, offensive or obnoxious, I’ll say it.

I have no tolerance for Covid deniers or anti-vaccination campaigners and little time for those who are using and abusing the devastating pandemic for personal gain, whether it’s an attempt to line their pockets or to gain notoriety. As for the thugs igniting fireworks on the streets of Dublin this afternoon, the only hope is that they will be met with the full force of the law.

Killarney National Park remains as beautiful and inviting as ever despite the turbulence being experienced in life.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

In terms of dishing out criticism, politicians, perhaps, can be considered fair game. They have opted for public office, they are decently remunerated for representing the public and they have – or should have – the power to implement change. If criticism levelled at them is deserved, reasonable, mature, inoffensive and not in any way threatening, vile or defamatory, then let them have both barrels.

Our public health professionals are different, however.

Those charged with the responsibility of trying to save lives and implementing and recommending policies to keep the people as safe as humanly possible during the spread of the rampant virus deserve respect.

They are the experts. They have the knowledge. They know the tools required to give us all the best chance of survival. They know what is needed to preserve life and prevent death. In them we must place our trust. We have no option.

I’d be the first to acknowledge that our health service isn’t always what it should be and that appalling, criminal, devastating errors have been made in the past. We think today of Vicky Phelan, of Brigid McCole, of Savita Halappanavar, of Susie Long, of Peter McKenna and, closer to home, we think of Emma Mhic Mathúna and we think of Billy Burke. Their common bond is medical negligence, gross inaction, not providing adequate care or treatment options and an inability to do the right thing.

But when it comes to Covid-19, I put my trust in NPHET and I acknowledge that their task is not an easy one.

Lockdown has been difficult, tedious, horrible, testing, worrying and occasionally heartbreaking. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

More often than not, over the past 12 months, they have been prophets of doom, bringing us the news that none of us wanted to hear, updating the daily death toll, adjusting upwards the bar on the infections graph and reminding us to stay at home unless venturing outdoors is deemed absolutely essential.

They’ve given us a choice – wise up and cop on or run the very real risk of contracting a life-threatening virus and passing it on to those we love most.

The Dáil dwellers charged with running this great little country of ours buckled at the knee, turned a particular shade of yellow, allowed themselves to be intimidated by self-interest lobby groups and ignored the advice of NPHET once already, with devastating consequences.

On the first day of December last, slightly over 2,000 people in the Republic of Ireland had lost their lives as a result of contacting Covid-19 and just over 72,000 were infected with the virus. Then the corks were popped at the government approved party and Ireland celebrated long and hard.

The number of fatalities has now more than doubled to over 4,300 and, even more alarmingly, more than 218,000 have been infected. That’s a lot of illness. That’s a lot of heartbreak.

Don’t for one minute be fooled into believing that it was an influx of family members returning home from overseas for Christmas that were exclusively responsible. They didn’t help, of course, but if the finger of blame is to be pointed then it must also veer in the direction of those that partied hard in packed houses, those that stood shoulder to shoulder with strangers in busy pubs and sat side by side with others in bustling restaurants.

The dramatic surge in Covid cases leading to the current lockdown was entirely inevitable and the only surprise was that it took so long to implement.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

There are those that will ask you to prove that their actions – or lack of them – were responsible for spreading the virus. Turn it back on them – ask them to prove they weren’t.

Of course our hearts break for those whose have lost businesses, lost jobs, lost opportunities and lost hope. Our thoughts are very much with those who are struggling to stay afloat financially and those who face a long hard road back from near oblivion.

We fully understand the frustrations of parents struggling to home educate their children and we equally appreciate the concerns of teachers who will have no option but to return to a small room packed with children from up to 30 different households.

We share concerns for those who are struggling mentally and emotionally because of the isolation caused by lockdown and all we can do is urge them to reach out for help which is readily available.

We think too of elderly people who haven’t been able to hug their children or grandchildren, families who have to resort to alien technology to keep in touch, those who have had to cancel weddings, postpone Christenings and abandon long-planned celebrations.

But, most of all, our thoughts turn to the families of over 4,300 men, women and children who are no longer by their sides having been so cruelly snatched by a brutal virus that this time last year we were only beginning to take seriously.

Our thoughts turn to the families of over 4,300 people who are no longer by their sides having being so cruelly snatched by the virus.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

We grieve with them, we pray for them and we owe it to them and their loved ones to ensure that we do everything within our power to prevent it happening to anybody else. If we can kick Covid from one just doorstep through our adherence to Level 5 restrictions, it will have been all so worthwhile.

I fully intend to continue to subscribe to the NPHET handbook and it is from that I will formulate my Living through Lockdown strategy.

If I need diesel, I’ll pull in at the pumps. In the unlikely event that I fancy a burger, I might make off the drive-thru. And when it comes to safeguarding my health, I’ll stick with the professional, qualified medical personnel who remained steadfast and continued to be there for us despite the obstacles, resistance and ignorance they have encountered.

In the meantime, can the amateur epidemiologists and virologists just pause for breath and let the rest of us try to get on with our dramatically altered lives as best we can.

It’s them thinking that they had all the solutions that created many of our problems in the first place.

Enough now. Enough.