We have Covid fatigue but we can’t afford to be delusional

People are fed up with Covid, says Áiln Quinlan. They want to get back to normal. But, as one GP warned during the week, the fight against the virus is not over.
We have Covid fatigue but we can’t afford to be delusional

Artist Asbestos's mural entitled 'Protect Us' in Dublin highlights the need for wearing of protective masks, but Áilin says people don't seem to be wearing them. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

ARE you starting to get a bit nervous?

Nobody seems to be wearing masks apart from bus drivers and (not all) passengers, hairdressers, some of the elderly, and the occasional conscientious-minded soul. Crowded, chaotic house parties are rampant. Increasing numbers of people are refusing Covid-19 tests.

In recent times, I’ve met people who revealed they were still actually planning to take their kids abroad on a summer holiday. Like, in an airplane. To, like, Portugal. I stared at them in disbelief.

Hardly anyone is socially distancing. More and more people are behaving as if Covid-19 never happened. Last Tuesday saw the highest number of new cases in over a month. All of this as a group of health experts and epidemiologists warns of a strong likelihood of an “imminent second wave” of the virus.

Is it a case of mass delusion?

I don’t personally know any epidemiologists, but I know someone who knows them and what he told me was that expert modelling showed we would have a big fall-off in cases of the virus in early July — which has happened — followed by, please note, a resurgence some weeks later.

And if that’s right, and we have no reason to presume it isn’t, this is all possibly going to recur in August or September just as schools re-open. And given the way many people are behaving; no social distancing, few masks, and all these house parties, we’re basically asking for it.

GPs said this week that an increasing number of people showing symptoms of coronavirus are refusing to be tested for it, which should give anyone pause for thought.

In fairness, the Covid19 test is not necessarily for the faint-hearted. The claim by the health professionals and the HSE website that it’s just a bit “uncomfortable” turned out to be, in some people’s experience, a bit of an understatement. I know somebody whose nostrils bled heavily for hours after a test. I know somebody else, normally very stoic about health matters and any kind of medical procedures, who found the procedure unpleasant, painful and deeply unnerving. I had a test myself and it wasn’t that bad, but a trained nurse was doing it, which I think made all the difference.

However, one doctor said all this resistance to the test stems, he believed, not from a fear of it, but from a belief that the patient’s symptoms were related to other pre-existing conditions — in other words, people are insisting everything is back to normal and their symptoms couldn’t possibly be related to Covid-19.

Especially now that they’ve just returned to work after months in lockdown. The last thing they want is to self-isolate for two weeks.

The State’s acting chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, has warned that a significant portion of people identified as close contacts of confirmed cases are not coming forward for testing. How things change.

During the height of the pandemic, very small numbers of people apparently refused a recommendation from their GP to have the test, but now it seems, patients are apparently presenting with symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, sore throat to fever and insisting it couldn’t be Covid. This is what is happening.

We have Covid-fatigue – and I’m not talking about the fatigue which is a symptom of the virus. This is a mass case of self-delusion because people are fed up. They want to get back to normal. They want not have to think about the virus. They want absolutely nothing to do with the virus. They want to forget all about the virus.

But, as one GP warned during the week, the fight against Covid is not over. It’s a marathon and not a sprint, something people don’t seem to understand or accept. This doctor recalled how one patient presented to him with a sore throat. After being told a Covid-19 test was necessary, the patient backtracked and claimed the sore throat symptoms had mysteriously gone.

On other occasions people hung up after being advised by phone that they needed to be referred for tests. The public, this doctor worried, appeared to have lost the enthusiasm for fighting the virus.

Many people are at the end of their tether. He could be right. In fact, he is probably right. I’m at the end of my tether myself. It’s not just the virus, it’s all the stress and disruption and fear that the virus has caused. We want to be done with the bloody thing. Every nerve, every muscle, every blood and brain cell is screaming for things to be back to normal. And now the pub re-opening has been postponed. Because things aren’t back to normal, Covid hasn’t gone away, and what’s going to happen is that if the health service cannot keep track of who has the virus and who hasn’t – because people are refusing to be tested – we’re going to be hit by another peak of Covid.

As Ryan Tubridy put it so colourfully last Thursday, we are at a Braveheart moment. Just hold. Hold. Hold. Hold.

Does anyone recall the open letter published by scientists and researchers in the first week of June? The letter called on the government to “crush” the virus on an all-island basis, before lifting the lockdown measures. These experts want the replication of the “gold standard” approach of New Zealand where if you fly into the country they take you to your isolation accommodation, make sure you stay there for a fortnight and test you before allowing you to leave. In other words, unless the government – which fumbled the whole issue of the wearing of masks or visors, in outdoor crowds and indoor public spaces - gets a real handle on things, we’ll pay a heavy price, with many people getting sick, admitted to ICU and dying.

Or, as you could put it a bit less politely, the government needs to find a bit of bottle and get tough on the house parties and the lack of social distancing and the lack of mask-wearing, or otherwise we’ll be Texas. We’ll be Florida. We’ll be dying. Covid-19 is wearing down our resistance to it. And once our defences are down, that’s when it will hit.

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