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Image / Agenda / Image Writes

We are coronavirus weary. But we are Irish. We are strong. Let’s do the right thing

by Louise Slyth
19th Aug 2020

Louise Slyth reflects on coronavirus ‘response fatigue’ and asks a nation to do what needs to be done, not because we are told to, but because we care deeply about each other.

I remember standing in Dublin’s Kildare Street in February waiting for a bus. In the space of ten minutes, four separate people almost bumped into me, so focused were they on their Instagram feed or latest Tik Tok dance. It struck me that then, that people had become so self-involved that they wouldn’t even stop scrolling and look up, even if it made them a danger to others.

Now fast forward nearly five months and I have not been near a bus stop. We are living in historic times. “Unprecedented” has lost its meaning due to over-use. Few of us have lived through a real and lingering crisis on this scale before. Until now, we were on our individual paths, every person for themselves. If you wanted to engage in dangerous behaviour, then on your own head be it. Now, for the first time in our lives, we are relying on strangers for our safety, and that thought scares me.

The World Health Organisation says its biggest concern at present is “response fatigue” – that people are tired of following the rules and taking special measures; they want their lives back. We have seen the new normal and we want a refund.

I was in a bar last weekend for the first and possibly the last time. Across the way was a drunken young woman bemoaning her current restrictions, who then kissed the man nearest on her way out, said “nice to meet you” and laughed. This will no longer do. This isn’t who we are.

We are Irish. We are strong. Our ancestors endured centuries of hardship so that we could emerge as Celtic tigers and enjoy the freedom and luxury we now so carelessly take for granted. We are not being asked to suffer through wars, or famine or a fight for independence- we are being asked to wear masks, wash our hands, and maintain social distancing. Our response should be “not a bother!”

At the start of this, encouraged by a historic speech by the then Taoiseach, we stayed home and followed the rules, not because we were biddable children, but because it was the right thing to do. Now we are growing weary and the toddler in all of us is emerging. I think this is understandable – I certainly feel that.

I have used up most of my resolve and resilience to get to this point, and the tank is looking empty. It’s a terrifying thought that a vaccine might not be on the imminent horizon and make this all go away.

However, if the last 5 months have taught us anything, it’s that humanity is interwoven – we have global ties, and we crave social interaction. We need each other. Surviving Covid is not an individual pursuit but a collective endeavour. We aren’t just in it for ourselves anymore, we are in it for all of us. Even if we were selfish enough to only think of our immediate families, our freedoms won’t be restored until its safe for everyone, so we must remain undaunted, unflappable, and unbreakable in our resolve to maintain the behaviours needed to fight this disease.

As a Scottish immigrant, and hope-to-be citizen, I have always admired the special way that the Irish diaspora cleaves together in times of joy or hardship. The fact that we can no longer do this physically is a concept that we are still coming to terms with, but we must. This is our opportunity to show each other, and the world, that we are a small nation of quiet warriors, who do what needs to be done, not because we are told to, but because we care deeply about each other. This is a challenge for all of us, but I think we are well able for it.

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that our mistakes can offer lessons that we can benefit from, if we are brave enough. There is a lesson here for humanity if we will just stop scrolling and look up long enough to see it.

Read more: Children under lockdown: ‘Resilient or not, it is time to acknowledge that our children are not ok’

Read more: ‘We went into a dazed couple of weeks, we just hoped he would stay alive and survive’

Read more: August Anxiety: Why we get anxious at the end of summer

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