Two of the three incidents below I witnessed directly; the third I heard about through a reliable source.
A funeral took place on the outskirts of a large Cork town a few days after Christmas.
We did not attend, but as we drove past the town graveyard, we noticed that, as per the required Covid-19 safety protocols, there was only a small clutch of mourners inside.
Outside the cemetery wall, however, it was a different matter.
Despite the increasingly fervent pleas at that time from both the government and NPHET to remain at home and avoid social contact, there was a substantial and very sociable crowd there, several people deep.
Earlier that same day, and in this same town, we had visited a large supermarket to do our shopping. I noticed a number of lone male shoppers going in ahead of me and looked on aghast as each man pushed his trolley right through the lobby and into the main food aisles, entirely ignoring the sanitising equipment on offer.
Not one of them stopped to squirt the free hand sanitiser onto their palms. Not one of them paused to spray the handle of their trolley and wipe it down with a sheet from the nearby roll of blue paper as so many other (mostly female) shoppers were doing.
We all know how easy it is to pick up the virus from handling something such as a shopping trolley handle, which has been contaminated by somebody who may have no symptoms and not even know they are positive. Which, of course, is why we’re all supposed to sanitise all the time.
The third and last incident was simply reported to me by an outraged acquaintance.
A middle-aged man from a different rural town invited a very large group of people — family, friends and neighbours — to celebrate a landmark birthday with him at a time when positive cases were rising fast.
Although many people didn’t go, we’re told that a good few did attend. And, I’m told, a number of these guests went down with Covid afterwards.
Many people blame younger adults — and with some justification — for the unprecedented spread of the virus after the country opened for Christmas.
There is no doubt that many teenagers and twenty- and thirty-somethings have failed to take the virus seriously in the past nine months since this all began, but as these incidents show, this indifference to the spread of Covid is not restricted to them.
One GP who reported that her practice was experiencing a 50% positivity rate also revealed that there had been a big surge in requests for tests prior to Christmas. She added that she had advised people to self-isolate for 14 days and, incredibly, had been accused of spoiling their Christmas.
There’s usually a two-week lag between people testing positive and needing hospitalisation. This means that, because the numbers having tests is continuing to rise, the number of positive cases (in this doctor’s case, her practice was recording a 50% positivity level) will all spiral.
By the middle of this week, hospitalisations were already surging to extremely worrying levels and there’s now a justifiable fear that if we don’t get a grip, and fast, the whole Covid thing could potentially become unmanageable.
So we are where we are. Some of us didn’t think enough, or care enough or pay sufficient attention to take the correct precautions, and now we’re all paying the price.
We don’t know yet how high that price will be or what form it will take. But some things are certain — our hospital system is already creaking under the pressure as another major surge looms, and then there is the problem of childcare. One affects the other, which is something that our many male policy-makers should be thinking about.
So what’s going to happen? Has the government thought through all or even any of this? Has it done anything to nail down roles for the 73,000 or so qualified healthcare personnel who answered Ireland’s call in the battle against Covid last March and April?
Only a few hundred of these, as far as I know, were ever actually recruited. Irish doctors and nurses living as far away as Australia and New Zealand returned home to help with the biggest health crisis this state every experienced — and after arriving back to answer to the call, most of them were just left hanging there.
What’s being done about getting these experts assimilated into the system at a time when infections are reaching terrifying levels, when the crucial vaccination programme has to be rolled out, and when so many staff on our wards are falling ill and need to be replaced — or forced to stay home because the schools are closed?
Or is that all simply just too much to ask in terms of efficiency, organisation and the pragmatic use of available resources?