The WHO might be done with Covid, but I’m still keeping my distance!

Despite the fact someone died of Covid every three minutes last week (and bearing in mind these statistics only take into account cases that are actually reported), the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Covid-19 ‘is no longer a global public health emergency’. Phew!

Yes folks, according to our country’s epidemiological report, in week 16, which took into account dates between April 16th and April 22nd 2023, there were ‘614 new confirmed Covid-19 cases reported on CIDR’. In case anyone’s interested, CIDR is the national surveillance system used as the definitive source for validating data on Covid cases.

In addition, as of April 19th, face masks have no longer been a requirement in hospitals, or in other healthcare settings, with online portals for booking PCR tests, or for ordering antigen tests now closed.

While this is of course comforting news, and while the world has more or less given us permission to cast aside public health regulations and guidelines, I for one refuse to allow apathy rear its ugly head; preferring instead to continue to employ what hubby calls my ‘ultra-obsessive measures’.

To tell you the truth readers, I become absolutely horrified when I see strangers clustering close to each other in supermarket queues, in pubs, and in restaurants, etc. In fact, despite being vaccinated and double-boosted, and despite the number of people catching Covid being on that downward spiral, I still stand two metres away from strangers, and my hand sanitiser still accompanies me everywhere. I even still carry a mask in my handbag, with spares in my car!

When, on the odd occasion, I get to eat out (and because I don’t believe the most deadly and economically devastating virus in modern history is really over), I find myself sizing up the table proximity, fretting if I’m seated near a large group of strangers!

Mind you, I’m not alone in my concerns; only last weekend while doing the weekly food shop, I noticed several people wearing masks. I also noticed how the HSE has been advertising the availability of what they’re calling the Spring Covid-booster vaccine programme for those aged 70 and older, and for those with a compromised immune system. If any readers fall into those categories, it might be worth having a chat with your family doctor or your local participating pharmacy.

Thanks to science and our healthcare professionals whose expertise and dedication helped us tackle this virus, and indeed to the public response in general – the dangerously deluded deniers aside – we’ve managed to find effective solutions to fight (not beat) this battle with Covid.

We must never forget, nor should we downplay, the impact this pandemic has had on society, and in particular on grieving families who’ve lost loved ones – because to them, the consequences have been crushing. We must also never forget that, as of the end of April, according to (a Health, Pharma and Medtech site), there have been over 764 million cases of Covid-19 worldwide. Therefore, as this dangerous virus has struck every single country across the world (and call me pedantic) I believe I’m perfectly right to be concerned that there still is, and there still will be for the foreseeable future, a sustained and abiding transmission occurring across all aspects of our society.

As contracting Covid is likely to cause illness and sadly, for some even death, it’s my humble opinion that for years to come, we should all be very careful not to become complacent. I will also add (for the sake of balance) that the fact we’re no longer dealing with a ‘pandemic’ situation is certainly encouraging – just don’t cough, sneeze or breathe near me anytime soon! Thanks.

Why is the uptake of paternity leave so low in this country?

Paternity benefit was introduced in this country in 2016 (and not before time I say)! However, as I was getting ready for work last week, according to a debate I dipped in and out of, which was happening in the background on my TV, it seems that less than half of dads entitled to paternity benefit didn’t avail of it.

Apparently, these statistics relate to the years between 2016-2019, but it got me wondering why this is the case? I mean, isn’t it very important that both parents invest time in their family’s life?

When I had my girls, the duration of maternity leave a working mother was entitled to take was just six weeks. As my first-born was actually six weeks’ premature, I didn’t even manage to get my entitlement, for the simple reason motherhood and earning a living didn’t exactly go hand in hand with the government of that time. But that was then and this is now, and thankfully things have changed.

As an employee, women who become pregnant have a right to take 26 weeks’ maternity leave with an additional (up to) 16 weeks’ if they choose. They can take this time off whether they work full-time, part-time or casual. In addition, with the introduction of paternity benefit, new parents (other than the baby’s mother) are entitled to take a period of leave from their employment (self-employment included) within six months of the birth (or the adoption) of their child for two weeks… so why aren’t more parents availing of it?

I know that when I was a new mother, I’d not just have wanted my husband/partner to take the two weeks off work (if it was available), I’d have insisted on it for the simple reason giving birth can prove to be overwhelming, painful, exhausting and hormonal. Therefore, in recognition of these challenges, I believe it’s not just extremely important, it’s absolutely crucial that all dads/partners avail of this leave so they can actually get to ‘parent’… as opposed to what a certain father recently told me he was doing!

He was, by his own admission, ‘allowing’ his baby’s mother to ‘go out with the girls’ while he ‘babysat for her for the night’. What a hero… not! I immediately put this dad straight, informing him that he was not actually ‘babysitting’ his ‘own child’, rather he was participating in the infant’s upbringing, as in he was ‘parenting’, and the sooner he took this role seriously the more his new family would benefit. The baby’s mother messaged me the next day to thank me.

Because I live in the real world, I do know that both parents taking this leave can be financially challenging for many families. However, as a mother who didn’t get to avail of either an extended maternity leave, or of my children’s father having paternity leave, I feel having that help in the early days would prove vitally important for many reasons; the main one being, it can bolster the wellbeing of the exhausted new mother.

Small gesture that can make a large impact…well done Minister O’Gorman

Staying in ‘new baby’ mode: by sheer coincidence to the debate on the ‘low’ paternity leave uptake, a new pilot scheme providing expectant parents with a ‘Little Baby Bundle’ was launched by the Department of Children earlier this week.

This initiative (the first of its kind in this country) will see participating parents receiving a range of useful items, the value of which is said to be approximately €300. Now isn’t that a nice gesture by our government!

From what I can gather, parents can expect to find dribblers (or bibs for those in the posh seats), a play mat, a thermometer, babygrows, a baby sling, and reusable nappies, etc. (er, I know it’s not environmentally friendly, but no way does a new mother have time to wash dirty nappies!). Well done to Minister Roderic O’Gorman on this progressive and welcome initiative – it’d almost make me wish I was starting out again… not!