We are standing at a crossroads in our coronavirus response. On one side lies death. On the other, hardship but hope. The most important message delivered to the public yesterday did not come from members of the Government. It came from Professor Sam McConkey, the head of international health and tropical medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI).
Speaking on Morning Ireland, Professor McConkey said that if the rates of growth of the virus remained on their current trajectory – increasing by 30pc to 50pc every five days – there could be 5,000 cases a day in Dublin by the end of October.
Let that number sink in, 5,000 cases per day. In Dublin alone. This level of transmission of the disease would almost certainly see our health service collapse and deaths from the virus increase exponentially. This is the nightmare scenario that each of us must now make our best efforts to avoid. Clearly, the burden, in mitigating this disaster, will fall mainly on the shoulders of those living in Dublin.
If you have been doing your best, abiding by all of the restrictions mandated by public health experts so far, you will likely feel this is unfair. You may feel you have done everything asked of you, yet you are still being punished for other people’s transgressions. It can be hard to remain resolute, and curtail our lives in line with restrictions that sap so much of the joy from living, when others around us do not seem to care. But we will never beat this if we give up now.
The truth is there are members of society simply too selfish or too stupid to do their part. They won’t wear a mask when they go to shops or travel on public transport because they prize their own comfort over other people’s safety. They insist on socialising in large groups because they prefer to listen to conspiracy theories over the best available scientific evidence.
They care only about themselves and their own gratification. They don’t care about the old, the sick or the vulnerable.
They can afford to be egocentric. They won’t have to nurse the patients who fill overcrowded hospital wards if the virus continues to spread. They won’t have to hold their hands as they die. They won’t have to try to comfort grieving families.
There will never be 100pc compliance with Covid restrictions, but the majority of us adhering to the rules should not grow despondent or hopeless. The sacrifices we make collectively now are not for nothing. They will be repaid with lower numbers in hospitals, fewer deaths and more businesses surviving this pandemic. Enduring pain now will ensure a return to something resembling normality sooner.
Limiting social contact with family and friends is difficult, but we do not have to cut ourselves off entirely. As GP Amy Morgan has advised, we can maintain social connections but work hard to limit our physical distance. If most of us do this, then the numbers will come down. The alternative is much more difficult.
Pause for a moment and think how you would feel if you were to suddenly experience symptoms and receive a positive Covid test result. How many close contacts would you have to inform? How would you feel if those contacts had underlying conditions that put them in a vulnerable group? Would your dinner party have been worth the stress and worry?
Given the high proportion of asymptomatic cases, we must all learn to live our lives on the assumption that we, and those around us, have the virus. That means reducing our physical contacts to a minimum, wearing masks when required, washing our hands, engaging in coughing and sneezing etiquette, and isolating when we feel unwell or we are told we are a close contact of a confirmed case.
We should also not be afraid to acknowledge that our new Covid reality is a challenge that is more difficult for some than it is for others. If you have a happy family life, a large home and a secure job, then you are in a better position than many. This does not mean our new Covid reality is easy, for anyone, but others have more on their plate to worry about.
Those who live alone, who work in insecure jobs, who have been made unemployed, who have children with special needs or who are in a vulnerable category have additional challenges to cope with. They should not be afraid to ask for assistance – and adequate Government support must be put in place to help them.
We must continue to do our best to fight the spread of this virus even if we think the Government is making a mess of its response, its communication has been abysmal and it has not put sufficient safeguards in place for people living and working in congregated settings.
If you are confused by the Government’s messaging, seek advice independently. But get it from a reliable source. If you are not in the habit of taking instruction from demented fanatics who rant and rave on street corners, why would you start to do so now, by getting public health advice from rage-fuelled posts on Facebook?
Instead of listening to trolls, listen to the experts. Hear what people like Professor McConkey or acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn have to say. They don’t have an axe to grind. Their only agenda is public safety. Watch the news, consult a newspaper or follow accredited journalists who will sift through the information and publish what you need to know.
If each of us decides to redouble our efforts, we will not be doing it because the Government asked us to. We will do it for each other. Because we are empathetic and don’t want to unwittingly cause anyone else unnecessary pain or suffering. The more of us who do it, the more successful we will be.
We can only control our own behaviour. But our individual efforts, replicated millions of times across the country, have an awesome collective power. They can stop this virus in its tracks. They can change the course of history.