This week twelve months ago the first positive tests for the new coronavirus disease, covid-19, that we had all heard so much about, were confirmed in Ireland. Then on March 12th speaking from Washington, acting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar explained to the nation that our lives would never be the same again. He didn’t know what was ahead. None of us did.

Twelve months ago I hadn’t a clue what anxiety was. As far as I was concerned it was something that was discussed on radio and TV shows by fuddy-duddy health professionals and as someone who would never be affected I never paid much heed to be honest.
I know what it is now.

One thing the last twelve months has thought me is that anxiety and depression are real problems and there is no doubt that the amount of people that it affects has grown out of all proportion since the advent of this pandemic.
The many who have lost their jobs and have seen their businesses devastated have been sitting at home. They have had far too much time on their hands. Time to think. Things that would never have kept you awake at night in the past now seem far more important. It’s a horrible feeling.

I have met scores of people over the past twelve months who feel abandoned and are totally distraught since the arrival of covid. Some of them went to mass every day or a few times a week and that was their social outing. Alternatively they went to bingo or to a dance or drama or night class, or they went to the pub for a couple of drinks. They went to matches on a Sunday. They had friends and family calling to them and they met people out shopping and socially. Now, they are sitting at home scared to even answer the door as they listen to the daily diet of misery and bad news that pours out of the media. It’s the hidden cost of this pandemic.

I shudder to think of what the fall out will be for the economy when this is all over. The 40 billion Euro it is costing will have to be paid back at some stage. The Government have actually done well in the circumstances in terms of supports. But there is not a bottomless pit of money there, and the big question is how many businesses will collapse altogether when the supports are withdrawn, as they will be?

For some people who have been lucky enough to hold on to their jobs and others whose businesses have stayed open, this pandemic has been nothing more than a mild inconvenience. In fact for some it has been a financial bonanza. With nowhere to go and nothing to spend their money on, savings have gone through the roof and good luck to those people too. They are the lucky ones.

Twelve months on and now we have household names that were unknown a year ago, Tony Holohan, Paul Reid, Sam McConkey, Cillian De Gascuin, Kingston Mills, Luke O’Neill and Catherine Motherway are on the national media day and night and are now celebrities. They have been entrusted in guiding the Government and the people through this health emergency. They have done a good job in tough circumstances but they are rarely asked hard questions about their strategy. As I write this piece Ireland has had the longest level five lockdown in Europe by some distance.

If someone like me questions their sytrategy we are totally dismissed because we are not medical or health experts. It’s very frustrating when you have genuine questions to ask. These people are public servants after all.
My idea of the real heroes in all the chaos are the nurses, doctors and health workers in our hospitals and particularly in our ICU units who have had to face the consequences of this horrible disease since last March. I sincerely hope that they have some respite soon.

I am not for one minute underestimating the severity of covid-19 or it’s danger. There are three members of my family working on the front line in the health sector so I understand what they are going through. The restrictions have definitely been needed, and like most people I have followed them to the letter of the law, but like many I am getting fed up.

For most ordinary people it has been a nightmare 12 months. Friends, neighbours and loved ones have passed away and we have not been able to attend the funerals and give the families the support they so badly need.

Young couples have had to postpone their weddings two or three times, there are no birthday parties, no graduation ceremonies, no night clubs, no concerts, no socialising, no dates, no holidays, no summer jobs and no sport. My heart goes out to young single people from the ages of 15 upwards have been the cohort hardest hit by this situation.

Parents who have had young children at home for most of the past twelve months have also had a very tough time. Parents and children alike need the schools to re-open.

People with family members who live abroad have had to abandon any chance of seeing them last year and probably this year too. I am in that category myself. It is very difficult.

As the situation continues a major problem is that people in authority, whether it’s NEPHET or the politicians, should be far more careful about what they say. Last week one of these eminent doctors said that we would have restrictions for 3 to 5 years. A prominent politician said that 2021 would be a ‘write off’. I wonder do these people realise that there are so many in the community who hang on every word they hear on the national airwaves about this virus. They are adding to the tsunami of mental health problems and depression by their pronouncements. They have a responsibility to temper their language. They have to give the people hope.

In recent months Government politicians seem to be in a race to be the first to get to the media with the latest news whether it be bad or good. One day we hear one story from Micheal Martin, the next it’s a totally different story from Leo Varadkar. Playing politics at a time like this is unforgivable.

The ongoing 5k limit is daft and with the weather improving the idea that 30 Leaving Certs can be in a school hall together but people cannot go out and play nine holes of Golf makes no sense at all. Surely it would be better to have children out doing a bit of sports training in the fresh air than them sitting at home on the play station. From next week children in Northern Ireland can go out and train but in this part of the country the gates remain closed. Try and figure than one out.

I read something this morning that has resonated:
“We are all NOT in the same boat. We are in the same storm. Some have yachts. Some have boats. Some are drowning.”
We have all to remember that.

But I wanted to end this piece on a positive note. Personally since March 14th last year I realised that I would have plenty of time on my hands so I began walking every day. I was not taking nearly enough exercise. Since then I have missed only one day on the road and now I walk for an hour every day. As a result I lost a substantial amount of weight and that has to be a good thing. From the numbers of people I see out walking I think I am not on my own.

Sport has helped to keep me sane in the time since this pandemic started. I actually got a couple of months work while the club GAA championships were on last year and it was brilliant to be able to go to the games. Hopefully we will be able to get back to that very soon.

Working on a voluntary basis on the local community radio has also been a very positive way to use up my time and I have enjoyed that immensely.

Watching Soccer, Rugby, Horse Racing and Golf on TV with no crowds is not the same but it’s better than nothing. Hopefully the GAA scene will be back soon too. Boris Johnson says that in May there will be 10,000 people allowed at sporting events in the UK. We are a long way away from that here, but hope springs eternal.

The response to this emergency in many communities particularly in rural Ireland has been phenomenal. There is a deep tooted goodness in Irish people which always comes to the fore in times of crisis. Let’s hope that situation remains until we are out of this horrible situation. People’s patience is wearing thin but hopefully the end line is in sight.

The past twelve months have served to underline to us what is really important in life, family, our health, community, friendship, leadership and empathy. Hopefully when this is all over it will make for a better society.

Our biggest hope now is the vaccine roll out. We seem to be moving at a snails’ pace here in Ireland so far. But we can only hope and pray that things improve as the months go on. The speed of the vaccine roll out will save lives and livlehoods.
We have to all set our minds to the scenario and resolve that there are brighter days ahead.

I want to go back to work. I want to go back to a GAA match and I want to go for a pint and a chat.

We all want our lives back.

(From The Roscommon People 4th March 2021)