Dr Padraig McGarry
It is at times difficult to remember that it is only five months since Covid-19 reached Ireland and transformed how we live our lives. That initial fear which gripped society as a previously unknown virus became centrestage was very real and probably appropriate at the time.
It was that very fear which allowed society to take on board the unprecedented measures necessary to contain the virus – and it was the efforts of the community at large which proved so vital in this regard – and will be called upon in the future.
The simple measures – hand hygiene, cough etiquette and social distancing – are as important today as they were at the outset – perhaps even more so as society opens up.
The virus in July 2020 is the very same virus as in March 2020 – with the same potential to bring significant health issues to the vulnerable and indeed to many persons who have no such vulnerability. We are learning more about the virus – how it is transmitted – how it affects persons in different ways – how best to manage the control of its spread.
It was always going to be a learning experience with changes to guidance from Public Health as more information became available - tweaking the advice in an evolving situation.
The initial advice of hand hygiene, etc, remains, whilst the wearing of face coverings has become mandatory in public transport, with guidance that masks should be worn in closed environments – shops, offices, health care facilities.
There is some reluctance in some quarters in this regard but as this becomes more commonplace such resistance should abate. The advice recommended is to protect the community at large – limit the spread of the virus – and allow the community to work in the safest environment possible.
It was Mayor Cuomo in New York who coined the phrase - “it is not about me – it is about we” - the welfare of the community trumps the individual's right to endanger others.
Covid-19 has forced changes as to how we live our lives in ways we could not have imagined six months ago – and this is testament to the resilience of the Irish people.
Businesses have had to make significant alterations to their premises to allow social distancing - resulting in reduced capacity to conduct business. It is important that we support local business – to reward this resilience and to maintain the social fabric of our community.
The delivery of health care has had to undergo significant changes – packed waiting rooms in GP surgeries are a thing of the past – and this requires significant management. Capacity to see patients has been significantly reduced – purely due to the additional time required to facilitate such changes.
With Autumn coming – children mixing as they return to school - this will be significantly challenged. A winter Flu vaccine programme is hugely important this year to limit the spread of viral illnesses in the community - with plans afoot to deliver flu vaccine to the two to 12 age groups this year - something which has been ongoing in different jurisdictions for some time.
One of the biggest challenges to society will be the return to school of over one million school children who have been out of school since March. Return to school for these children is a vital component in the return to normality – but certainly is a challenge.
This is an issue which is currently being debated and measures necessary are currently being explained. No doubt the teaching fraternity, the children and their parents will rise to rise to the challenge - it is remarkable how quickly a “new norm” becomes commonplace.
Measures to deal with the virus are moving apace with significant progress in the development of a vaccine reported – and potential treatments being developed – albeit in their infancy.
The simple measures of hand hygiene, cough etiquette, face covering and social distancing will remain as the core measures we as a community can use to limit the spread of this virus. It is the community effort which will eventually win this battle.