Paul Healy’s Week

Instead of meeting and talking with people in person, we submit to our phones and laptops, like we’re trying to scroll down to the end of Covid-19 

Every day


The woman in the shop in Roscommon rolled her eyes when asked how the homeschooling was going.

“I’ll never give out about schools again” she said without hesitation, “I can’t wait for them to reopen”.

Just about everyone is worn down. If we were contestants on that classic old quiz, Mastermind, our specialised subject might be ‘The new normal’ or ‘Stresses of a pandemic’.

Lockdown 3 hasn’t been observed with quite the same discipline as Lockdown 1 was. Thankfully, most people are being vigilant, and playing their part…but there is a price that simply has to be paid for what we are (rightly) being asked to do. That price is substantial. People are strained, fed up, worried about the present and the future. We are missing family, normal social interaction with friends, and the comforts we took for granted. Worn down by the pandemic, we can’t even alleviate the pressure with a half an hour in a café, an afternoon at a match, much less a day trip or city break. The joy of planning a holiday or a weekend away has been stolen too; instead, we live in a sameness society, one stripped of its heartbeat – social interaction. We are, for the most part, prisoners of the new normal. Instead of meeting and talking with people in person, we submit to our phones and laptops, like we’re trying to scroll down to the end of Covid-19. We dance the dance of social media, once WiFi strikes up the music!

Sudden and significant lifestyle and cultural challenges and restrictions aside, the human toll continues. There has been a large increase in the number of Covid-19-linked deaths over recent weeks, families and communities experiencing grief and heartbreak. Staff in our hospitals and nursing/residential homes, and others on the frontline, are now almost a year into a bewildering new existence. For many of these people, their lives are now marked by stress and sacrifice, with little enough respite.

Imagine being a worker in the health service who also has small children, and perhaps elderly parents too. All over this country there are families, punchdrunk from the mental and physical demands of the pandemic, trying to navigate their way through this epic crisis. Children with special needs and their parents/guardians are in our thoughts too.

It’s not just health workers who are greatly challenged as this unwelcome visitor refuses to move on. Families and individuals are affected to different degrees, depending on their circumstances. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are bravely putting themselves at some risk while working/volunteering for the greater good of the wider community.

Lockdown 1, while it had its positive aspects, also had a cruel dimension. Asking people aged over 70 to cocoon in their own homes was very harsh and insensitive, a blunt instrument abruptly reached for in a moment of panic. Then, a horrible loneliness was allowed to take hold, the kindness of family members and voluntary groups notwithstanding. Now, almost a year on, a mental health crisis (not confined to any particular age group) flexes its muscles and prepares to remain on long after Covid is gone.

Creating a hierarchy of suffering isn’t helpful. I suspect that very few people are immune to this cruel pandemic. Of course some are affected more than others, and some can cope better than others. Everyone deserves support, empathy and understanding. Well, fools who are brazenly flouting the restrictions are an exception. They’re irresponsible and selfish.

This is a tough phase in what is now almost a year of unprecedented upheaval. Families with young children are stressed. That homeschooling is far from ideal. Small children must be confused, perhaps upset too, by the dismantling of familiar routines and structures. They have been great in the face of this turmoil.

Teenagers, including College students, are having a tough time too. Many College students are spending much more time at home than they could have imagined. They are currently being denied the social interaction which is such a normal (and character-building) part of this phase of their lives. They are making big sacrifices, and have been very resilient.

The impact on businesses is something I’m very aware of and have written about before. Behind just about every ‘Closed’ sign on the doorway of an SME, there is pressure, stress, fatigue. Those that are still trading are also thrown into a maelstrom. God knows when or how the economy will recover.

The woman in the shop who lamented the closed schools still had a smile on her face. This will all pass. As a society, we are being heroic. People working in hospitals and nursing homes are heroic, as are under-pressure GPs, carers, staff working in shops and other ‘essential services’. The elderly, many of them lonely and worried – missing grandchildren, family and friends – are heroic. The homeschooing parents and their children are heroic. Given our resilience, we are all heroic in our own way.

As I write (early in the week), another uninvited visitor is reportedly returning. It’s the Beast from the East. This time, unlike in 2018, we didn’t all rush out to buy bread. We have bigger fish to fry, so to speak. The Beast will move on, that we know. Covid is trickier. But it too will go away. Then, there will be bright days, sunshine and smiles. The vaccine rollout is set to accelerate, and not a day too soon. Spring is on the stage and summer is in the wings. There are restrictive months still to come, and tough times still to live through. But the clouds of doom will slowly part, and sunshine will break through.