Joyce Fegan: A six-step guide to making this lockdown count

We've had it all along. It is literally in our hands. We are not passive actors. We can make these next six weeks count. If enough of us do the right thing we can rapidly reduce the Covid-19 in our communities
Joyce Fegan: A six-step guide to making this lockdown count

If enough of us do the right thing we can rapidly reduce the Covid-19 in our communities. Picture: Larry Cummins

I am not talking about learning French, walking 1m steps, Marie Kondo-ing your home, or mastering that sourdough starter. I am talking about taking personal responsibility for your actions. Because the Government doesn't spread the virus, Nphet doesn't spread the virus — they are neither our jailers nor our enemies. We spread the virus. And we infect our friends, family, and loved ones.

While it would be ideal if a well-tested vaccine were already in our midst and it would be even more ideal if rapid national testing had been rolled out, neither of those avenues is a reality just yet.

So, in the meantime what's a citizen to do? Give out? Break the rules? Make up your own rules? Go maskless? Make your friends uncomfortable at best, and at risk at worst, with your flouting of the rules? Spread misinformation? Innocently attend a rally, that's actually been organised by the far right? Spread defeatist pessimism that this "lockdown" won't count and we'll be back to square one in the new year?

Well funny thing, this is a bit of a Dorothy-meets-Glinda-the-good-witch moment. We have the power. We've had it all along. It is literally in our hands. We are not passive actors. We can make these next six weeks count. If enough of us do the right thing we can rapidly reduce the Covid-19 in our communities and return to a manageable level, while vaccines are being developed and faster testing is being rolled out.

Here's a step-by-step guide to making this lockdown count.

1. Be prosocial

Remember years ago when smoking was not only cool, but socially acceptable to the point of being encouraged? How come it's not like that anymore? We made this once heavily marketed cancer-stick a social pariah. It was once OK to smoke in a cinema, on a bus, and in a restaurant. Nowadays, it's barely OK to smoke outside. 

Let's do the same with rule-breaking when it comes to masks and social distancing. The vast majority of us will follow the rules, but in our lives, there are those who will openly flout them, who will call into our homes, invite people around for a gathering, or grab our child for a hug. If you are a rule-breaker, respect those who are not. If you are a rule-keeper and find yourself socially compromised and afraid to offend a lax mother-in-law, rehearse a jovial-sounding one-liner that emphasises that you want to keep everyone safe. Keep the "we" in mind.

2. Make rule-abiding cool

A friend who is regularly compromised by her lax in-laws came up with a great solution to increasing herd compliance. "I wonder if someone printed masks with the words 'saving lives' scrawled across them would it catch on then? Make people feel like they get an Instagram hero moment out of it." 

She's on to something. We are meaning-making creatures. Let's attach positive meaning to rule-abiding behaviour. Let's encourage and reward those who follow the rules. This is what Dr Mary Favier, a member of Nphet, said would be far more effective than shaming, blaming, or finger-wagging.

3. Be thankful for your boat

Clinical psychologist Dr Oonagh Duffy emphasised in this newspaper recently that no one should invalidate their feelings and responses to the ongoing pandemic. It is easy for no one. But bearing this fact in mind, it is much, much harder for so many others. 

Right now men, women, and children, who lived full lives and were loved by many, are being given virtual funerals. Have you had the misfortune of logging on to one of these yet? There are no words to describe these hollow one-dimensional affairs. Follow the rules and be thankful that is not your boat. Right now there are doctors and nurses garbed up in masks, then visors, scrubs, then gowns and rubber gloves, taking the bloods of strangers in every hospital ward in this country. These people have families and children. They work nights. They don't have time to chime in on WhatsApp chats about the latest restrictions because they're out there living them. Follow the rules and be thankful that is not your boat. The same goes for low-paid workers stacking your grocery shelves or delivery drivers bringing takeaways to your door. They haven't the luxury of complaining.

4. What about the economy

It has been shown that countries who put health first suffered the smallest economic consequences. "It was wrong to believe that 'saving the economy' was an alternative to 'saving people's lives’. We see in the data that those countries that kept the health impact low are also the countries that suffered the smallest economic consequences," said University of Oxford researcher Max Roser. See for yourself here: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-health-economy

5. Check your facts

Mask-wearing, keeping your distance, covering your cough, and washing your hands all go a long way to stopping the spread of Covid-19. So too does sharing verified information. 

Sharing misinformation, on the other hand, can result in people being uninformed, unprotected and therefore vulnerable. Don't share hearsay. Choose content from verified and reliable sources. And if you think internet and WhatsApp memes are harmless and stupid, remember than uninformed people do not read articles, they're led by five-word picture memes. This makes memes one of the most effective tools in the history of information. Let's make fact-heavy memes.

6. Keep your eye on the why

In his famous memoir Man's Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl quoted Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” 

Right now there are 12 live vaccine trials ongoing. “We’ve got 12 good vaccine trials. We’ve never seen that many candidates enter a Phase 3 trial so quickly. We have diagnostics, therapies and vaccines coming down the pipe. We’ve learned this virus isn’t a super virus, it lives in human bodies, but it cannot survive outside the human body," the World Health Organisation's Dr Michael Ryan said this week. 

Make these six weeks count, as we edge closer to those vaccines and treatments. An end is in sight. Also, findings published in T he Lancet Infectious Diseases journal this week found that comprehensive lockdowns can cut virus rates by 52% in four weeks. 

Our rule-following is not in vain. Defeatism is a cop-out.

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