Fergus Finlay: Let’s shoulder the weight of it together, let’s recover together

Fergus Finlay: Let’s shoulder the weight of it together, let’s recover together
If you are waiting on a test to see if you have Covid-19 or you have been tested and are waiting for the results you need to stay home and self-isolate to prevent you spreading any potential infection to others. Posed picture: Marc O’Sullivan

There’s a lot of suffering. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. 

As testing ramps up, more people will test positive. More will need hospitalisation. 

More will need critical care. The numbers can only grow in the weeks ahead.

There are people who were hale and hearty a few days ago struggling to take a breath today, and in mortal fear on that account.

There are families terrified because a loved one whose heart or lungs may not stand up to it has been tested positive. 

There are people who have always known that something like this would be more than their bodies could take.

This is not a virus that causes pain in and of itself. 

In most cases it makes you feel lousy, but in some cases it literally robs your breath. 

But the pain associated with the virus can be terrible if takes away someone you love. 

And by the time it is done, that is going to happen to a lot of people in Ireland.

Apart from the pain it will cause, there is already fear and anxiety. 

I have friends with an intellectual disability who can’t understand why their lives have been turned upside down by this. 

Why their routines have been shattered, why they can’t see their friends, why it isn’t possible to go to the services like they always have.

And I know people who are struggling with dementia, for whom being kept away from others is like adding a form of torture to an interminable prison sentence. 

The loneliness for some is excruciating.

There’s no avoiding any of this. Except, of course, by doing simple things. 

Fergus Finlay: Let’s shoulder the weight of it together, let’s recover together

We all know what they are by now, and none of us have any excuse.

So when we act in any way that helps to spread the virus, we’re not adding to the suffering and fear. We’re multiplying it. 

What’s more, we’re prolonging the danger. 

I can infect someone today who shows symptoms 10 days from now. They can do the same. 

That’s how a virus that can technically be contained within a couple of weeks will probably threaten us all for months.

We’re all doing our best, and we all make mistakes. 

We stand too close in the queue in the shop, we reach out a hand to shake someone else’s, we forget to shield our cough properly. 

So there isn’t a lot of point in me blaming you or you blaming me. Unless we don’t try because we don’t care. And sadly, we’ve all seen a bit of that too.

Apart from the fear of the virus, and the suffering of some families who have been directly affected by it, the economic consequences have been extraordinary and are likely to be catastrophic. 

It’s hard to imagine a steeper decline happening so quickly in any other circumstance. 

Businesses — especially small businesses — have stopped operating, and in some cases will never start again. 

What seems right now like a temporary lay-off for many will become permanent unemployment for some. 

The budget surpluses governments boasted about a few months ago have once again turned into massive deficits.

And it’s all happened overnight. 

Governments have seen what has happened when other governments have failed to react quickly enough — it’s hard to imagine how some of the devastated and beautiful regions of northern Italy will ever recover from this — and the better governments (including our own) have resolved that no step will be too big.

Right now, huge imagination and mental energy is being put into fighting the virus and protecting people affected by the economic fallout. 

It remains to be seen whether the same imagination will be applied to the rebuilding that will be necessary.

We’ve always done it only one way — by austerity. 

Part-time, casual and lower-paid workers are likely to be the first casualties of the inevitable economic slowdown. 

Will they be the ones most affected by the austerity measures that someone — our next government, if we ever get one — decides are necessary to pay for the protective measures being put in place now?

Will the people in the health services who are our heroes now discover that swingeing cutbacks are going to be put in place when the crisis has passed, to get back the money being invested now? 

Will the people at the end of all the other queues — remember the housing crisis? — who have been forced to wait because of the emergency, now discover that the wait for solutions gets even longer because resources that were there no longer exist?

The message from government, and from all forms of authority, is simple. We’re in this together. 

It’s a powerful message, and we’ve all seen instances of how that spirit has brought out the best in people. 

The people who work in every shop I’ve been in, for instance, have coped with immense difficulty — and occasionally rude customers — with smiles and good humour.

It’s as if they instinctively realise what an important source of reassurance they are for all us. 

After the mad panic buying of the first couple of days, they’ve helped to calm us down. 

And now they’re managing social distancing for us and teaching us how to be safe in a queue.

But if we’re all the crisis together, we had better all be in the recovery together. 

The people we value now cannot be allowed to become dispensable once the emergency is over. 

We need to recognise who saw us through this.

The people who kept us supplied, the people who filled our prescriptions, the people who stocked the shelves. 

Just like the thousands of people who are going the extra mile in our health and social services, everyone who has kept us going needs to be remembered and rewarded, not punished by another round of austerity.

Fergus Finlay: Let’s shoulder the weight of it together, let’s recover together

So there’s two things we have to get right. 

New heroes have emerged throughout our community, and they are going to help us get through the crisis. 

It won’t be easy, because the numbers are going to challenge us all. 

But if we survive the crisis together, we must seek to recover together.

If we can do both of those things — and it can’t be said often enough that there’s an awful long way to go — we will have learned a lot. 

Some of the things that have been forced on us — like working from home, for instance — have the potential to have enormous, and beneficial, effects on the environment, on manageable public transport, on family life — and on workplaces all over the world.

But the lessons we have learned the most have to do with community. 

We already know we can only get through this by respecting and supporting each other, by minding each other, by giving each other a safe space.

Looking out for our neighbour is going to a watchword of this emergency, and you see signs of it in action all over the place.

There’s an old political and management saying that you should never waste a good crisis. 

So let’s not waste this one. Let’s get through it together, let’s shoulder the weight of it together, and then let’s recover together. 

Nothing less should be acceptable.

    Useful information
  • The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
  • Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department;
  • GPs Out of Hours services are not in a position to order testing for patients with normal cold and flu-like symptoms. HSELive is an information line and similarly not in a position to order testing for members of the public. The public is asked to reserve 112/999 for medical emergencies at all times.
  • ALONE has launched a national support line and additional supports for older people who have concerns or are facing difficulties relating to the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Ireland. The support line will be open seven days a week, 8am-8pm, by calling 0818 222 024

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