A year in review: 12 months of living with Covid-19 and how Cork has coped during the pandemic

A year in review: 12 months of living with Covid-19 and how Cork has coped during the pandemic

The world has now been living with Covid-19 for the last 12 months in what can only be described as an unprecedented event in our lifetime.

As we mark 12 months since the novel coronavirus that emerged in China became a story, moving rapidly from a snippet in world news to the front page, The Echo’s Breda Graham recounts the story so far of Covid-19, and for Cork

It is now 12 months since The Echo first reported on a new virus that was emerging in central China. As cases of a new respiratory illness emerged out of Wuhan, in Ireland the Health Service Executive (HSE) South briefed Cork doctors on this novel coronavirus on January 23, 2020.

Six days later, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met for the first time, on January 29, to coordinate Ireland’s response to the pandemic.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin.

It some ways, it is hard to believe that the pandemic and its impact on our lives has been going on for almost a year, as life, as it was before Covid-19 turned the world upside down, seems like a distant dream.

In Ireland, as January, 2020, drew to a close, the virus started to make itself felt. A student who travelled from Wuhan to Waterford showed no symptoms of the virus but self-isolated as a precaution. China extended the Lunar New Year in efforts to contain the coronavirus as the death toll rose to 81.

In Cork, University College Cork (UCC) requested students and staff not to travel to China as it locked down cities and foreign evacuees from the worst-hit region returned home.

Dr Maitiu O'Tuathail warned that the country must prepare as the first cases of virus were diagnosed in the UK after an evacuation flight from Wuhan landed on UK soil.

One of the first high-profile signs of the impact of coronavirus was the cancellation of the Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Italy in February. It also started to be felt in education and travel plans, like the group of students from Kinsale College who had their trip to Italy cancelled after the Erasmus partner they were due to take on work placement was shut on account of an outbreak.

Cork pharmacist Rose Murphy was inundated with people fearful of catching the virus while then-Lord Mayor of Cork city and GP John Sheehan warned it was “inevitable” that the virus would spread south as the first case was recorded in Northern Ireland.

Minihan’s Pharmacy on Oliver Plunkett Street reported an increase in demand for face masks and sanitising products.

The first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the Republic after a male student from the east of the country arrived home from northern Italy.

On March 3, a second case of the virus was confirmed in a female in the east of the country, who had also been in Northern Italy but had had no contact with the first case.

The following day, four more cases were confirmed in the west of the country and the next day again, a further seven more cases were confirmed.

The closure of schools was announced on March 12. Pic Larry Cummins.
The closure of schools was announced on March 12. Pic Larry Cummins.

On March 12, hundreds of schools, colleges and childcare facilities across Cork closed, with publicans following days later when the Government ordered the closure of pubs and bars.

 Fergal McCarthy, Principal Kinsale Community College pictured with Eddie Farren, School IT Co-ordinator and students Shane Collins and Oisin Coyle with some of the 3D printers used in the schools PPE project where 10,000 visors were made for health care workers. Picture. John Allen.
Fergal McCarthy, Principal Kinsale Community College pictured with Eddie Farren, School IT Co-ordinator and students Shane Collins and Oisin Coyle with some of the 3D printers used in the schools PPE project where 10,000 visors were made for health care workers. Picture. John Allen.

Fears were raised about the thousands of Irish attendees at the Cheltenham Festival that week, while in Cork the spread of the virus sparked a wave of calls to GP surgeries and the ringing of Shandon Bells was suspended.

On March 13, the first drive-in test centre in Cork opened at St Mary’s Health Campus and Dr Chris Luke commended those working in the health sector.

Advocate for the elderly, Paddy O’Brien warned the pandemic was causing widespread fear among the elderly community, while health chief Paul Reid said there was no rationale to stockpiling groceries.

For the first time, the kissing of the Blarney Stone was suspended.

 The kissing of the Blarney Stone was suspended in March. Picture Dan Linehan.
The kissing of the Blarney Stone was suspended in March. Picture Dan Linehan.

On what he described as a St Patrick’s Day like no other, Leo Varadkar warned of further measures to protect against the spread of the virus.

The calm before the storm on a St Patrick's Day never seen before.
The calm before the storm on a St Patrick's Day never seen before.

Figures revealed by NPHET showed Cork had the second-highest number of cases in the country at 48 as figures per county were released for the first time.

By March 20, the HSE’s On Call for Ireland initiative had received over 40,000 applications.

A stay at home order was issued by Leo Varadkar on March 27 and two days later a flight carrying almost €30m in PPE for healthcare workers arrived at Dublin Airport.

 A year of living with Covid-19.
A year of living with Covid-19.

A Covid-19 Community Response Forum (CRF) was established in Cork city, aimed at contributing to efforts to limit the spread of the virus by ensuring a coordinated approach to the outbreak.

April saw volunteers step up to the plate to provide for the most vulnerable in communities.

52,500 people in Cork availed of the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment benefits and 350 jobs in Cork were lost due to the liquidation of Debenhams.

An Garda Síochána launched Operation Fanacht and Cork City Civil Defence volunteers were deployed in response to the Covid-19 emergency.

Westlife’s gigs at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and Live at the Marquee and Musgrave Park gigs were cancelled as the Government banned mass gatherings.

In May, a roadmap to easing restrictions was adopted by the Government and published online.

On May 18, Cork city shop shutters lifted as retailers including opticians, hardware stores, electrical stores and office supply stores reopened.

Residents of Magazine Road took a stand against the high volume of young people who moved into the area flouting Covid-19 restrictions and concerns were raised about crowded parks and amenities in Cork.

By June 25, there had been no new Covid-19 cases reported in Cork over the previous seven days and Brittany Ferries confirmed the limited return to scheduled passenger services including its Cork to Roscoff service.

Corkman Micheál Martin was elected Taoiseach in a historic coalition agreement with Fine Gael and the Green Party.

On June 29, remaining businesses reopened. Princes Street was lined with tables for outdoor dining and Kinsale pedestrianised streets to increase footfall.

Evanne O'Caoimh, owner, preparing for the re-opening of the gift shop, Unbound, at Bridge Street, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.
Evanne O'Caoimh, owner, preparing for the re-opening of the gift shop, Unbound, at Bridge Street, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

The HSE released the Covid-19 tracker contact tracing app.

Cork saw an increase in the number of adults accessing emergency accommodation and the number of people who sought help from rape crisis centres during the first four months of the Covid-19 outbreak jumped by 98%.

On July 15, phase four of the easing of restrictions was postponed until August 10 with pubs to remain closed.

Owner of The Castle Inn on South Main Street, Michael O'Donovan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare.
Owner of The Castle Inn on South Main Street, Michael O'Donovan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare.

The following week, the Government launched a €7.4 billion July Jobs Stimulus package to boost economic recovery with the PUP and TWSS extended until April 2021.

By mid-August the Government moved to a five-level system planned by NPHET.

Principals, teachers and students across Cork returned to in-school classes after months of online learning and over 60,000 Leaving Cert students received their results.

A Cork GP says that the jump in Covid-19 cases reported in early September shows we cannot become complacent.
A Cork GP says that the jump in Covid-19 cases reported in early September shows we cannot become complacent.

The whole country entered Level 2 restrictions before moving to Level 3 restrictions with indoor dining in restaurants banned in early October. The move was met with criticism from local restaurateurs before the country moved to Level 5 restrictions in mid-October.

In early November, Cork Airport welcomed the EU traffic light system for air travel coming into effect.

The country took a phased approach to Level 3 in December with Cork’s non-essential retailers, hairdressers, gyms, and galleries reopening.

3 Degrees Hair Design reopened its doors for the first time since an arson attack on the night of September 18. Pictured are sisters Estelle, Ciara and Hayley. Credit: Damian Coleman Cork, Ireland, 2nd December 2020.
3 Degrees Hair Design reopened its doors for the first time since an arson attack on the night of September 18. Pictured are sisters Estelle, Ciara and Hayley. Credit: Damian Coleman Cork, Ireland, 2nd December 2020.

Restaurants and hotels reopened, but it was short lived as the new UK variant was confirmed in Ireland on December 23 and Level 5 was implemented on Christmas Eve.

A full lockdown was announced on December 30 as a third wave was underway.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned the Covid-19 situation was “extremely serious”, and that the number of cases would rise in the coming days.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned the Covid-19 situation was “extremely serious”, and that the number of cases would rise in the coming days.

While the start of vaccination campaigns for the vulnerable and healthcare workers offered a ray of positivity as Cork welcomed 2021, it is clear our battle against Covid-19 is far from over.

One month into the New Year, Cork hospitals continue to come under pressure as more cases were recorded in the first two weeks of 2021 than in the whole of last year in Cork.

The first 12 months of Covid-19 has brought many twists and turns and it seems there are more chapters ahead before the story is complete.

Cork University Hospital, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan.
Cork University Hospital, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan.

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