NOW that we have enjoyed a pretty decent summer and been able to let our hair down a bit, relatively speaking, as we go into the fall of the year, the one thing we cannot afford to let drop is our guard against the spread of Covid-19. Recent increases in the numbers of new cases of the virus across the whole country – even outside of areas like Dublin and Donegal which have been moved to higher levels of restrictions – are worrying and we should be listening to the alarm bells and taking the public health advice to reduce our contacts more seriously.
It is for everybody’s sake that the warnings are being given by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and they are not doing so lightly. That many people are suffering from restrictions fatigue seven months into the pandemic here is understandable, but we need to see the bigger picture.
We may have won the first big battle during March, April and May by flattening the proverbial curve and suppressing the virus to a tolerable level, but fighting Covid-19 is a war and will involve a series of ongoing battles. Already over 1,800 people have died as a result of contracting the virus and, in any war situation, one has to minimise casualties in order to achieve success.
Fighting a pandemic is not a war we want to be involved in, but the harsh reality is that we don’t have any choice in the matter. We must not forget all the people who survived contracting Covid-19 – more than 33,000 so far – most of whom have recovered well, but there is a minority among them with whom the virus has left a legacy of damage to their health.
After Cork – and West Cork in particular – escaped a spike in Covid cases during the summer months when the area was flooded with visitors from most parts of the country, we may have thought that we were out of the woods. But the virus did not go away and it is beginning to re-establish its presence in the community with increased levels of transmissions in recent weeks, especially between households in parts of the city.
The government decision to instruct third-level colleges to deliver their courses online for the first few weeks of the new academic year was designed to prevent an influx of students to universities and institutes of technology in cities and towns such as Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Tralee, but disgracefully ignored in Galway this week. While this is another blow to the Leaving Certs of 2020, losing out on the experience of college life on campus, it really is necessary for the time being for the health and safety of the communities in these cities.
In Cork, a number of statutory agencies have got together to appeal to the people of Cork to redouble their efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19. The regional inter-agency emergency management group – which includes the HSE, Cork City and County Councils and An Garda Síochána – pointed out that the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has increased over recent weeks, in social settings in particular, and warned that the city and county is now ‘at a critical juncture.’
The group members have worked together since the start of the Covid-19 crisis to co-ordinate the community response and expressed their gratitude to the people of Cork for their efforts so far, but as chairman of the area HSE crisis management team, Michael Fitzgerald, said, the actions we all take right now will dictate the spread of the virus over the coming weeks: ‘The most important thing we can do is to keep our distance from each other.’
Dr Anne Sheahan, the acting director of public health for the region, reminded the public that it’s still possible to spread the disease even if you don’t have symptoms and are feeling well: ‘People can pick up the virus from a friend while socialising and then pass it on to another more vulnerable family member or friend without knowing.’
That is a reality that many people either don’t know about or don’t take into account, so for everybody’s sake, we need to row back on our outings and hosting of visitors – not stop completely – and make a conscious effort to limit our social contacts between households as much as possible, as well as stepping up best practice in social distancing, handwashing, respiratory etiquette and wearing masks or other face coverings in public places. Caution has to be the byword.