Alison O'Connor: No masking the fact we haven’t escaped virus threat completely

We have a major win on our hands against Covid-19. We don’t want to lose that now by being stupid or careless, writes Alison O'Connor

Alison O'Connor: No masking the fact we haven’t escaped virus threat completely
A man wearing a protective face mask in the departures area of terminal one at Dublin airport. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)


PRACTITIONERS of mindfulness will be familiar with the idea that an effective way to cope with uncertainty is to embrace it. Hands up, though, those among us that are currently feeling all embraced out at this point.

Now that the initial adrenaline rush of coping with a pandemic has abated, many of those you encounter speak of hitting a wall. It’s the new uncertainty of not being in lockdown, but now having to navigate the processes of being out and about in a world where the Covid-19 rates are very low. However, we’re repeatedly told that if we’re not careful they will shoot back up. Who wants to be back in their sitting rooms staring at the four walls as autumn turns to winter.

Just how careful is careful, you wonder? We’re not the most direct of races and as we steer our way around a new pandemic etiquette it brings its own set of stresses. Even within one house there can be differences of opinion on what constitutes middling- to low-risk. In the round the idea that you measure your risk, not just, for instance, sticking rigidly to the two metre rule is a sound one. But having to look at everything in the round on a daily basis can be quite the head bender.

Are you being way too careful if you’ve kept in the habit of trying to only go the supermarket at quiet times and insist your children spend a limited time playing with friends outside and monitor them closely? Or are you foolhardy in the extreme if you’ve fallen back into your habit of visiting the shopping centre every day with your children, and like to keep those same offspring further entertained by having a number of children to the house at one time, and afterwards inviting the collecting parents in for a coffee and a chat?

Are you slow to leave home and book a holiday somewhere in Ireland, or have you already booked the two weeks on the Algarve because you just can’t be without the guaranteed sun? It’s a yearly pilgrimage, after all, and key to your mental health for the winter months.

Alison O'Connor: No masking the fact we haven’t escaped virus threat completely
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a sign on The Palace Bar in Dublin's Temple Bar as pubs and hotel bars operating as restaurants can begin to reopen to the public on Monday June 29 in line with the Government's Phase 3 of easing of COVID-19 restrictions. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

Sure, agonising daily over such decisions is no way to live, but when you compare it to the alternative of virus rates rising, or illness arriving on your doorstep, it’s certainly worth some of our thinking time. It was rather pithily summed up this week by someone on social media. There was a discussion on why more people aren’t wearing masks. The chat had centred around how uncomfortable masks can be. This is true. They really take getting used to wearing. Plus, as you struggle with the face covering, it’s very disheartening to look around and think that you’re wearing it to protect others, yet so many of those ‘others’ in the supermarket haven’t bothered to think about protecting you. But this pithy social media post posed the pertinent question as to which was preferable: the temporary discomfort of a mask on your face while shopping, or that of a ventilator in an ICU. It did put the issue on context.

As things stand, we have a major win on our hands against Covid-19. We don’t want to lose that now by being stupid or careless. There will be further incidents of the virus here. We saw what happened in Germany this week, where authorities ordered lockdowns in two districts in the west of the country after an outbreak at a slaughterhouse which infected more than 1,500 workers.

Those poor Germans are re-enduring measures such as the shutting down of cinemas, museums, venues, bars, gyms, swimming pools, and saunas. Schools were closed ahead of the beginning of the summer holidays. Then, in the US, for instance, deaths from Covid-19 almost appear to have lost meaning or the ability to shock. The virus continues to rampage through a country where so many have prized commerce over health.

Alison O'Connor: No masking the fact we haven’t escaped virus threat completely
A man wearing a protective face mask in the departures area of terminal one at Dublin airport. -Brian Lawless/PA Wire-

Without doubt a point does arrive where you have to bring the value of commerce into play, and try to find the balance between re-starting an economy, yet trying to do so safely. If you’re a hairdresser or a bar owner or a beautician, it is entirely understandable that you want to get your doors back open.

Understandable, also, is the desire among those involved in the airline industry to want that to be opened back up. There was crushing news for people involved in that industry this week.

It looks like up to 1,000 jobs could be lost at Dublin and Cork airports. At present, passenger numbers are down 98% and while that is expected to improve in time, it is still projected that they will be up to 40% lower next year than 2019.

Meanwhile Aer Lingus plans to axe 500 jobs, as well as bringing in temporary lay offs and pay cuts. Cabin crew rejected the airline’s proposals which it said would have averted the redundancies and further pay cuts in return for new work practices.

But all risk is relative. No matter how it is pitched, the risk of the lifting of flight restrictions by July 1, as proposed this week by the Government’s Aviation Recovery Task Force, is simply not a good idea in anyone’s books. In its interim report, the group also wants rid of the rule where airline passengers have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival here to be lifted from next week. Their findings are hardly a surprise, but a wholesale approach to them must be resisted. They are simply asking for trouble in terms of reimporting the virus.

Alison O'Connor: No masking the fact we haven’t escaped virus threat completely
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan after a post cabinet coronavirus briefing at Dublin Castle. (Julien Behal/PA Wire)

CHIEF medical officer Tony Holohan holds firm on this issue any and every time he is asked he says we need to avoid all non-essential travel. To date, he has been backed up by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in that message.

The prospect of opening air bridges, to be agreed this week by Cabinet, where travel would be allowed between ourselves and other countries with similarly low virus rates, seems about the correct level of risk for us to be considering right now. In those instances, the two weeks of quarantine would be lifted for those arriving in Ireland from these places.

All this debating and deciding takes its toll, whether it is at the personal, household level, or where it seriously affect entire industries, and livelihoods. But Covid-19, allowed to run free, takes no prisoners. We have witnessed that. The uncertainty wrecks your head, but it has to be kept in mind at all times.

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