Skibbereen native Emer Downing says the Irish must learn from the mistakes of the Italians but our enduring spirit can get us through
‘I’M sick of hearing about that coronavirus!’ people moan and groan.
I hear you. I really do. I, too, am sick of hearing about it and would love not to be scouring the newspaper websites to check new Covid-19 developments as soon as I wake up, throughout the day and last thing at night.
You can’t listen to the radio, watch TV or go on social media without being bombarded by the ‘c’ word.
Not even your Whatsapp groups are safe! But while I do think it’s healthy to talk about other things, I feel it’s our moral duty to stay informed so that we can protect those around us.
Naturally, I’ve got a biased opinion. I’m not writing this from my native West Cork. I’m on lockdown in my house in Bergamo, Italy.
This province has been home to me for almost eight years, a province that last week was coined by the media the ‘Italian Wuhan.’
Thankfully, the area where the original outbreak in Italy occurred started making a steady recovery after an 18-day total lockdown.
However, cases here have multiplied at an alarming rate.
Now, with over 2,000 confirmed cases, the towns and villages around Bergamo have become the new epicentre of the pandemic in this country.
Doctors and other health professionals here in Bergamo have sent out cries for help on social media. They’re working tirelessly, describing the reality of hospitals in Italy.
They don’t have enough beds in the hospitals or spaces in ICU. There isn’t enough breathing equipment. There is a shortage of basic supplies like masks and hand sanitiser.
We’re hearing horrific stories that sound like wartime tales.
Without having enough resources to treat everyone, doctors have to make the call on who receives treatment and who doesn’t. In effect, they have to make the decision of who lives and who dies. One plea in particular has struck a chord with the nation and I hope his message can be heard loud and clear back in West Cork.
A doctor, who works just down the road from my house, was furious about young people feeling like they are immune to this virus and carrying on as normal.
He urged people to practise social distancing, not just for themselves but for those more vulnerable. It is not just about you getting it. It’s about your grandparents, your parents, your kids and your friends.
Social distancing is not easy. Believe me, I know. Just like Ireland, our first line of defence here was to close schools, cancel mass gatherings and promote awareness of social distancing and good hygiene practices.
As a primary school teacher, this turned our pupils’, teachers’ and parents’ worlds upside down. Our school, being very technology-oriented, with each student having their own iPad, was well-equipped to begin distance learning. We have worked very hard to create lessons that can be done remotely.
Of course, huge flexibility is required as students have varying degrees of support at home. Many parents are trying to smart-work while simultaneously look after their children. Our twice-daily video chats with our classes have been great for providing a ‘social’ outlet for the children.
They are also free to ask for one-on-one video chats with their teachers. For many State schools, where not all teachers or students have access to a device or a decent wi-fi connection, there have been varying degrees of success with remote teaching and learning.
From last week we have moved into total lockdown. I can no longer – like a fortnight ago – go for a cycle to meet a colleague in a café, have a walk around the lake, or go to the post office.
Most businesses have closed down. The only amenities open to the general public are pharmacies and supermarkets. Going to the supermarket is not as simple as it once was.
You need to sign a self-declaration document so that if the police stop you for a check, they see you have a valid reason for leaving your house.
You are only allowed to be out and about for work, health reasons or to stock up on food. Break these rules and you can be fined or imprisoned. One person per family may go to the supermarket and wait outside in a queue, everyone two metres apart, until you are let in, about five at a time.
In the midst of all this doom and gloom, it has been heart-warming to see people doing good for others. Free pizzas have been delivered to A&E staff, people have opened up their homes and B&Bs to provide accommodation for the extra medical staff who have been drafted in and tattoo artists have donated their gloves to hospitals.
People have been creating a sense of community from their homes. Children all around the country have made signs for their balconies with a rainbow and the words ‘Andrà tutto bene!’ (It’ll all be ok).
Last Saturday at midday the nation was encouraged to open their windows and do a round of applause in honour of the medical staff on the frontlines.
As there is such a great community spirit in West Cork and it is bursting with creative-types, I have no doubt that people back home will use their time to do good and lift people’s spirits.
I know how disappointing it is to have the St Patrick’s Day parades cancelled countrywide in Ireland.
But think of this: just under a month ago, the Carnival parades and celebrations still went ahead in Bergamo. I wonder would we still have become the ‘Italian Wuhan’ had stricter measures come in sooner.
So, I urge you fellow Irish people, in a nation known for its resilience, dark sense of humour and a great knack for making the most of a dire situation, to respect the decisions that have been made to keep your neighbours safe.
Undoubtedly they will be an inconvenience and you’ll have to adapt your lifestyle.
But the sooner we all pull together, the quicker we can get rid of this virus and get back to normal.