Joyce Fegan: Maybe conscious caution is our new normal

How we can go from 20 months of living under restrictions and high alert, where our nervous systems got strung out in a state of hypervigilance, to just being 'back to normal'?
Joyce Fegan: Maybe conscious caution is our new normal

Is drinking at home now more normal than going to the pub?

THIS is where we’ll see how Covid changed our lives. Supposedly, it’s more or less all over. We can now go back to business as usual.

As of Friday, licensing hours in pubs and clubs have gone back to their pre-pandemic normal. There are no longer any capacity limits at weddings and religious services. The same goes for sports stadiums and outdoor events.

However, you’d be forgiven for any confusion about the latter, with the ever-changing goalposts as politicians wrangled with restrictions, business stakeholders, and health professionals over the last few weeks and, especially, days.

“We’ll get on with our lives as they currently are, until we hear otherwise,” was our interim motto.

Now, bar having to show your Covid cert to get a meal in a restaurant or wear a mask in a shop or the post office, things are more or less back to normal.

Turn on the radio for the headlines and news desks no longer lead with Covid, case numbers, or the number of Covid patients in intensive care units (ICUs). The misinformation and chain messages have all but ceased in our family and friends WhatsApp chats, and pictures of friends holidaying abroad populate our social media feed.

People I know are divided into two camps. There are those who have boarded flights and are away as we speak. They wore two masks and as one frequent flyer put it: 

I just blocked it [Covid] out of my mind for the four-hour flight.

In that same camp, there are those who have said: “Oh, I’m totally over it. It’s like a distant memory. I forget to even wear a mask in shops sometimes.”

The calculated risk taker, who double-masked and entered strategic denial, is who I believe more.

As one friend honestly put it, the other camp is ”not at the jump-on-a-plane stage just yet”.

I fall between the two stools. If someone handed me a boarding card with New York or London on it and tickets to a show, I’m sure I would jump at the risk, but it’s not something I’d proactively pursue.

To go from 20 months of living under restrictions and high alert, where our nervous systems got strung out in a state of hypervigilance, to just being “back to normal” seems somewhat unreal.

Our health staff have been — and continue to be — under severe pressure.
Our health staff have been — and continue to be — under severe pressure.

Just as the last of the restrictions got lifted, bar a handful still remaining, HSE boss Paul Reid went on the radio to inform us about the situation in our ICUs when it comes to Covid. A total of 30% of ICU beds are taken up by patients with the virus. Of those, 41% are fully vaccinated, 52% are not vaccinated, and 5% are partially vaccinated.

This, coupled with the fact that 1,800 of our healthcare workers are on leave due to Covid-19, doesn’t quite lead one to feel that things are back to normal.

Then there is a third camp: neatly depicted by a woman I know who homeschooled three children, buried her mother, cared for her elderly and vulnerable father, and worked from home, alongside her husband, during the pandemic.

She does not lament or reminisce on the traffic-free roads or the once audible sound of birdsong. Instead, she is just grateful she can now separate her home life from her work life and get coffee in a cup with a saucer underneath.

“I’m not jumping on flights, but that’s not something we did before Covid, but I am going out for lunch and meeting friends for dinner who I haven’t seen in nearly two years,” she said.

Am I scared? No. I’m double vaccinated and I wear my mask. We have to live our lives in the way we can.

This week the CSO published its yearbook — essentially every fact and figure encapsulating our behaviour and attitudes in statistics and percentages these last 20 months, and more.

The yearbook shows how we turned to both alcohol and pets during the pandemic.

In 2019, we spent €2.2bn on alcohol that was consumed at home. In 2020, that increased by €500m to €2.7bn. Imagine what €500m would have done for something like mental health services or the childcare sector?

We’d seen all the anecdotal stories about pandemic pets and vets saying they were busier than ever tending to “companion animals”.

Our pets have helped us through the pandemic, research shows.
Our pets have helped us through the pandemic, research shows.

The CSO took its measuring stick to the anecdotes and found out that 87% of us felt that their pet has had a “positive impact” on our mental health and wellbeing.

While we worried about those who lived alone during the pandemic, the measuring stick seems to have found that this was unnecessary. Of the people surveyed by the CSO who live on their own, 92% said they felt “safe and secure in their home”.

Relationships

There were also relationship improvements due to Covid.

A total of 31% of respondents that moved back home to live with both their parents because of Covid said the relationship with their mother had improved.

The yearbook measured other things, such as our phone, internet and social media use — all things we seemed to incessantly talk about during the last 20 months.

For all the talk of TikTok, Zoom quizzes and online shopping, it was email that we actually used the most. Email was the most popular internet activity carried out by both males and females — both at 86%.

Only seven in 10 of us were using the internet for social media during the pandemic, but our use of video such as Skype and Zoom skyrocketed compared with 2019. 

A total of 73% of internet users used video call services in 2020, compared with 48% in 2019.

Another interesting finding is that the number of marriage ceremonies more than halved in 2020 (9,209), compared to 2019 (19,673).

However, that’s not what’s interesting when you consider the restrictions and people postponing weddings until things opened up. What is interesting, though, is that more people had civil marriages in 2020 (3,779) than in the Catholic Church (3,295).

So what’s here to stay and what will we leave behind with the great pandemic of 2020 and 2021?

Have we rejected the Church from our lives? Will Zoom do where in-person meetings were once a must? Is drinking at home now more normal than going to the pub? Will our relationships with our mothers and pets continue to improve?

Who’s to know, but with 41% of Covid patients in ICU double vaccinated, it feels more like a case of proceed with caution rather than pretending we’re back to normal.

Life as we knew it, has probably changed forever. Maybe conscious caution is our new normal.

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