A year like no other

A year since Ireland went into a Covid-induced lockdown, we can look back and see how we have suffered and stagnated, progressed and then regressed in attempts to return to our pre-Covid normality.

It is a year this week since Ireland went into full lockdown, and despite some brief respites in between, it seems like a continuing groundhog day. Tired and weary, yet positive and hopeful, for most it has been 365 days of living with a new fear, but still needing to remain stoic in the belief this seemingly never-ending cycle of life with little change comes to an end.

Yet in other parts of the world life has returned to normal - sports fixtures, summer holidays, concerts, and travel. While Ireland is a island country aligned to Europe, New Zealand is an island country, somewhat isolated in the South Pacific. Countries with numerous similarities, their differing approach to Covid is stark.

Their timelines of action have contrasted since WHO declared a global health emergency on January 30. On February 3 NZ urges Kiwis abroad to return, while enforcing them to self isolate for a fortnight; by March 16 all passengers arriving, except from Pacific countries, must self isolate; outdoor gatherings of 500 are banned. By March 15 there are eight confirmed cases and the border is closed to most foreigners. On March 26, all those except essential workers are required to self quarantine. April 1, every person arriving must go into 'managed isolation' or quarantine. By May NZ has 20 deaths; "crushing the curve" becomes its slogan.

Ireland is not slow to react either. In February the first case is confirmed, and although by March 15, pubs are ordered to close, there is no stopping travel. Thousands hit Cheltenham race track and Covid numbers jump to some 550. By March 27 the country is forced into full lockdown, but cases continue to grow. There are 288 deaths by May. In June Leo Varadkar urges people not to leave Ireland, but still no restrictions on those entering the country.

By June 8 NZ has no active cases and the country steps down to level one. Fans are allowed into stadiums to watch the opening weekend of New Zealand's new domestic rugby union competition. But travellers entering the country must still enter quarantine. By August 11, there have been 1574 cases in total, but it has been 102 days since the last case was acquired locally. Quarantine remains as Christmas, family occasions and weddings are celebrated, sport continues, and masks are unnecessary.

Fast forward to 2021 and this week Ireland finally announces quarantine for incoming passengers, but only for those from a limited number of countries. At the same time groups of young people, locked down for nearly a year, gather in Knocknacarra as the weather brightens. They are castigated by those who forget they were young once, who never experienced being a teenager unable to do what teenagers do - go to the movies, shop for clothes, join teammates in a game of footy, or even go to school.

There are always positives from unexpected situations like this - taking time out, finding a new hobby, re-evaluating priorities, enjoying one's local environment that has always been taken for granted. But let's not be too hard on the many who are tired and weary, those who yearn to board a flight to the Spanish sun, visit their family, home or abroad, bin their mask, or just relax their shoulders. And let's be especially thoughtful of young people, deprived of the normal structure to their lives, some struggling at home while their parents work, some isolated, missing team sports, but still needing the camaraderie of friends. They are some of the most vulnerable. Their lives have been turned upside down and put on hold. So don't shame them, try to understand them. A little tolerance please.


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