Ailin Quinlan: A fourth wave? It really is time to crack down on defaulters

If we are really facing the possibility of a fourth wave, the government need to start cracking down on people not obeying restrictions, says Ailin Quinlan
Ailin Quinlan: A fourth wave? It really is time to crack down on defaulters

A Garda checkpoint to enforce Covid-19 restrictions — but do we need to do more to stop the rule-breakers?

I WAS driving along the twisty little country road, muttering grumpily to myself about the big lorry trundling just ahead.

I wanted to get home with the shopping; I had a mountain of things to do.

“Cool it,” I told myself. I forced myself to relax and listen to the latest Covid news on the radio as we burbled along at some 45km/h.

Health officials, it seemed, were sounding notes of caution — or, possibly more accurately, frantically waving red flags — about the prevalence of Covid-19 in the community.

There was mention of the comment by Professor Philip Nolan of the Nphet epidemiological modelling group that Ireland was now sailing close to the wind again in terms of case numbers.

As I listened, something made me look more carefully at the lorry ahead. It was one of those big yellowy sand-and-gravel ones with the big churn-y thing on the back. I stared. Yes. Definitely one of those.

Why was there a big sand-and-gravel lorry trundling along a back road when the construction sector was supposed to be closed?

I thought about the half-built house I had passed earlier, on the outskirts of a large town. There were men everywhere on the site. Now that I thought about it, they looked like builder types. Who were, yes, building. Very openly. On a relatively busy secondary route with lots of cars passing by.

And, given the number of times I had passed that site myself in recent weeks, the work was going on without a single cross word being said by anybody. Despite the fact that those men were all going around in building gear carrying ladders and buckets and stuff.

That site was, in effect, such a pre-Covidian normal sight that my brain hadn’t actually registered the unwanted abnormality of it in these times. Nobody is supposed to be building houses and stuff, are they?

I heard a man from the sector complaining about the construction ban on the radio and warning that builders as a species didn’t like sitting around doing nothing — they would all emigrate or do nixers, he predicted.

Now I was thinking about it, a friend of mine who lives in Dublin rang me a fortnight ago. He’d called, masked and sanitised, to the door of an elderly neighbour in her eighties, to see how she was doing. 

The old lady answered the door with a smile. She was grand, she said cheerfully. Her hairdresser was in there with her, giving her a wash, cut and blow-dry.

It’s been a horrible 12 months. People have lost their jobs. Businesses have shut everywhere, quite possibly many of them forever. People have become ill. Thousands have died. Many thousands more are struggling with the seemingly endless and debilitating effects of Long Covid.

Many thousands more are battling to cope with the loneliness and sense of isolation and the horrible feeling they get when they do venture out for a walk and see others recoiling from them on the street.

Gardaí are being forced to supervise protests without having the reassurance of a vaccine. Nobody seems to care that every single day members of the force are facing unplanned contact with possibly infected members of the public.

Gardaí are expected to attend accidents, A&E departments, and protests and come into contact with uncooperative, Covid-oblivious and potentially violent people.

And now, despite the horrors of January and February, despite the thousands of deaths and gargantuan misery this virus has caused, despite the mental health issues and the economic apocalypse that we still have to face, we have students carousing in the streets, house parties everywhere, young people trespassing and mingling through playing matches — in one instance, on the grounds of a Dublin club causing nearly €20,000 worth of damage — and with positive cases being detected in more than 100 schools in the week from March 7 to March 13.

And ever-louder warnings about a potential Fourth Wave. A fourth wave. A fourth wave?

One of those involved in planning Ireland’s response to the pandemic said this week that in mountaineering terms, the country is at what they call a ‘col’. What this means, apparently, is that metaphorically speaking, Ireland is travelling along a high ridge between two peaks. 

We can descend or we can shoot back up to a dangerous altitude again. It’s all to play for. Indeed.

The achingly slow, very painful reduction in cases we have struggled to achieve since Christmas has stalled. Case numbers are slowly rising again, inching very gradually, almost surreptitiously, upwards, and there are fears among those trying to plan our recovery, that control over the disease teeters once again on a knife-edge.

If the numbers don’t resume their steady downward trend again and we are pushed back into the crisis of the last few months, it’s unclear what is going to happen. It’s believed that the B117 or UK variant is a much more elusive and dangerous enemy than the original virus.

The virus, we all know, is transmitting when households mix and in workplaces. All it will take to arrive at 3,000 cases in a week, apparently, is a mere few hundred transmissions in social gatherings.

Which is why I felt utterly weary when I heard those young men in Galway last Tuesday — they were not students, they said, and they were in their mid-twenties. And they were talking to a journalist about their plans to buy cans and go drinking on St Patrick’s Day.

The weather was good, they said, and sure, didn’t everyone want to go out and have a few cans when the sun was shining?

Suddenly, it was all too much. The house with the builders. The lorry. The old lady with her hairdresser. The cans. The mixing and mingling despite all the pleas and the begging and the warnings.

A teenage boy explained to one newspaper how he had set up an Instagram page organising weekly matches and training with friends several times a week. He said the gardaí regularly arrived and told the group to move on when they are spotted playing the matches. Fines are never issued and the players just move to a different area.

And here, the rest of us just struggle on, obeying the rules, not socialising, not mixing, sanitising, wearing fresh masks each time we go out and, as far as I can see, shouldering the burden of not transmitting Covid, while the Hooray Henrys out there do what they feel like.

Thinking all this, I came to a halt, parked the car and lay my head against the steering wheel as I watched the sand and gravel lorry trundle away into the distance.

If the government doesn’t want a Fourth Wave, it better find its bottle and man (and woman) up, and give the gardaí enforced powers to really start cracking down on defaulters.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more