'The word is not getting through': Cork barrister infected with Covid-19 warns against social distancing complacency

'The word is not getting through': Cork barrister infected with Covid-19 warns against social distancing complacency
A man takes an opportunity to walk his dog at the Marina, Cork during bright Spring weather at the weekend. Walking, jogging and cycling are popular activities now that social-distancing procedures are necessary to fight the spread of the virus in the community. Pic; Larry Cummins

CORK barrister, Kieran Hughes, was at home in isolation recovering from Covid-19 when he heard a radio report of people shopping cheek-by-jowl yesterday afternoon in Cork city and others getting haircuts.

“This thing is deadly, deadly contagious. I heard of someone in a shop telling someone else to socially distance and they were told to ‘f*** off’,” he said.

“We are reading about all the great things going on – kids writing letters to nursing homes, and so on. But we are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain.

“The HSE won’t cope if we carry on the way we are.

“If you have to go into a shop, imagine everyone in the shop has it. The chances are somebody in the shop does have it. Don’t touch anything you don’t need to touch. Use a card to pay if you can. Stand back from people. Don’t panic. Just be careful.

“From what I hear of the level of interaction going on, the word is not getting through. The medics will tell you it is in the community. It is on the doors, it is on the handles, it doesn’t have to be someone back from a skiing holiday.

Bandon, West Cork, Ireland. 21st Mar, 2020. These ladies practiced social distancing after meeting on the street yesterday due to the COVID-19 virus. Picture: Andy Gibson
Bandon, West Cork, Ireland. 21st Mar, 2020. These ladies practiced social distancing after meeting on the street yesterday due to the COVID-19 virus. Picture: Andy Gibson

“We are a small country. We can do it. But we have to teetotally, 100% apply to the task.

“Very shortly, all that will be open will be food stores, banks and chemists. We shouldn’t need the government to bring out edicts to close it down,” he said.

Kieran Hughes feels fortunate in terms of his particular experience of Covid-19 but also feels very frightened about people not observing social-distancing as diligently as they should, and this resulting in people who are gravely ill finding that health facilities are stretched too thin in the near future.

Mr Hughes, 65, was contacted as a result of contact tracing earlier this month as he had been in contact with a person diagnosed with Covid-19.

He was telephoned and told to isolate himself immediately, which he did in a bedroom at his home. The following day an ambulance arrived and brought him to Cork University Hospital where he was swabbed and then brought home to await a phone call the following day.

“I had been self-isolating from the moment they first rang me. In my head, I fully expected – 101% - that it would be negative. I had a cough that would not have taken me to a chemist. I didn’t even take a cough-drop.

Kieran Hughes. Picture: Eddie O'Hare.
Kieran Hughes. Picture: Eddie O'Hare.

“They called at 4 p.m. (the day after the test) and said, ‘You are positive, we will be sending out an ambulance’. I was initially in disbelief. I expected they’d ring me in ten minutes and say that was a mistake there.

“Immediately I was making out a mental list of people I was in contact with. I might have called 40 people,” he said.

Mr Hughes’s experience was that most people responded by saying they would self-isolate.

Throughout his time in hospital in an isolation unit on the fifth floor of CUH he had no temperature, fever or shortness of breath. After three days he was told that essentially he was not sick enough to justify being in a bed and that they needed the bed for someone being admitted with breathing problems and a high fever.

He has been totally isolated, within the family home in Cork city, from his wife and two adult children. They are bringing his meals to his door. There is no question of sitting around the table sharing meals with them. He is on no medication for his Covid-19.

Fortunate that he got such mild symptoms he knows that others are not so lucky. He is also lucky that it has not done irreparable damage to his sense of humour and can appreciate a legal colleague’s particular message of compassion: “Only the good die young, Kieran. You’re safe.”

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