Ailin Quinlan: Complacency and carelessness our new enemies in Covid fight

Easing restrictions means we are entering anxious new territory once again, so says Ailin Quinlan
Ailin Quinlan: Complacency and carelessness our new enemies in Covid fight

Police wear protective masks at the funeral of a colleague in Kansas — why aren’t our gardaí wearing them, asks Áilín Quinlan

THE Lockdown Low, otherwise known as the Pandemic Panic, is a horrid, scared, sick feeling in your stomach which wakes you up in the middle of the night and then sits with you for much of the day.

Lockdown Low (LL) was widespread in the first weeks of the Covid-19 scare, from the initial insane days of scrambling for toilet paper to the lockdown proper.

As we gradually relinquished our autonomy, settled into the enforced distancing measures, and started to adapt to a new way of living, the nocturnal onslaughts of LL seemed to dissipate a little. We were all in it together, which helped a bit.

But oddly enough, LL manifested in my stomach again this week as we geared up for the first step in easing the restrictions in the context of a falling number of Covid19-related infections and deaths.

Maybe, though, it’s not so odd, because in easing the restrictions, we’re once again entering anxious new territory.

First of all, we’re no longer all in it together. Some people will be going back to work. Construction workers, for example, and people who work in hardware shops and garden centres, along with those who work in opticians, electrical and IT shops as well as tourism sites — all are heading back to the workplace on Monday.

Churches in the Diocese of Cork and Ross are opening on Monday for individual reflection and prayer.

But many others will not go back to their former work because their jobs have vaporised, along with the business of the pubs, restaurants and hotels, some of which, it is feared, may never now re-open.

Then there are the self-employed contractors or freelancers of all kinds, me included, for whom the prospect of a return to work as it used to be is uncertain, given the level of damage caused by the fall-out from the pandemic.

On top of all of that, there’s the risk of another Covid19 break-out as a result of the growing complacency in Ireland about the virus. We’ve seen a re-emergence of Covid-19 in Wuhan, South Korea and Germany following the easing of restrictions there.

And earlier this week, the findings of a study carried out on behalf of the Department of Health showed that 43% of people now believe the worst of the outbreak in Ireland is over. In other words, they think we’re all out of the woods now, and that everything is grand.

Think for a moment about the implications of that. Think about the hundreds of thousands of people in that 43% who are now breaching social distancing and travel restrictions, potentially bringing the risk of another lockdown and — if that happens — giving the economy a final, fatal, push over the cliff.

Just look out your window. There’s a mind-set at play now that’s worlds away from the health-conscious, uber-careful, stringent social distancing scenario that Dr Tony Holohan and his team have repeatedly appealed for.

Children from different houses are openly running around and playing together on the streets near where I live. Teenagers can be seen hanging out together, despite the fact that many adolescents have died from the virus. Neighbours are calling in to each other’s houses, young adults are having parties, meeting their friends in the park, or breaking travel restrictions by casually driving distances of far more than 5km from their homes.

I saw a group of girls having lunch and sitting chatting right beside each other on the grass in a local park last Tuesday.

People are still sitting around on public benches, despite the fact that the virus can remain viable on hard surfaces for up to three days, which means you can potentially become infected by someone you’ve never met or even seen; someone who just happened to sit at the same table or on the same bench a few hours beforehand.

A college student told me casually that, sure, the 5km travel restriction “only applied” to physical exercise and that it was “fine” to travel from Cork city to the depths of West Cork following the completion of his exams, to collect clothes and other sundries from home, before returning to the city to start a summer job.

No, I said coldly, it wasn’t fine. What about the potential risk to his parents, who, he had revealed, each had chronic underlying respiratory conditions? What about the possibility that he might carry infection into their living space?

Oh, he observed airily, his parents were definitely more at risk, ha ha, from his mother going out and doing the shopping in the local super-market than from him arriving home for a night after several months away in college.

“Actually, that is not the case,” I said, outraged by this display of ruthless self-absorption. “You should stay away from home and stay away from your parents.”

The question is, how many more like him are out there?

Then you have the gardaí not wearing masks while manning road blocks. Every time in recent weeks that I’ve seen friendly, well-meaning police out and about in the community without masks, or at checkpoints speaking to an endless queue of motorists — hundreds, or even thousands of people in one day — my stomach does another Lockdown Low flip.

These gardaí risk either becoming infected themselves and bringing it home to their families, or of spreading infection to the motorists they are in contact with. Why are they not being provided with masks?

It’s not just the obvious health risks of all of this — the optics are dreadful. Having unmasked, essential personnel out on the kind of active duty which brings them into contact with members of the public does nothing but strengthen the belief of those who are disregarding the social distancing rules that everything is just grand.

It makes absolutely no sense to me that we have our gardaí out there without masks.

Even if they manage to maintain the two-metre minimum distance, there’s surely a cumulative risk of exposure from talking to hundreds or thousands of motorists queuing at a roadblock.

And what about those hairdressers who we hear are breaking social distancing rules and risking becoming super-spreaders as they travel from one house to the next, making a small fortune by providing exorbitantly-priced haircuts?

What about all those people who were flying into this country and blandly refusing to disclose where they were going and what they intended to do in terms of self-isolation?

What do we have a Department of Justice, and gardaí and detectives and customs officers, and all those pandemic experts for, if not to clamp down hard on the shenanigans of those exploiting the restrictions for their own profit or pleasure?

We need to crush this curve and not just flatten it.

We need a much tougher implementation regime and the widespread use of masks.

Most of all, we need people to start being a lot more careful again.

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