Oliver McCrossan Covid Archive

 The first effects of the Covid Lockdown in March 2020.

 By Oliver McCrossan


    In early March 2020 the realisation began to dawn that a very serious health threat had arrived on our shores. Many people were convinced that this would “blow away” when the weather improved, and they went about their normal routines in blissful denial.   

  The annual excursion toCheltenhamso loved by Irish horse racing fans began to arouse questions of feasibility, but the real punters kept their heads down convinced that nothing could get in the way of their annual pilgrimage. Anyone who disagreed with them was branded a spoilsport. But as the departure day for the racing festival arrived, opinions as to the wisdom of crowding onto planes and then mingling in pubs and restaurants and queuing up to place a bet began to take on a more worrying aspect. Many of the Irish racing fraternity watching the Festival from the safety of their own homes, and complimented themselves for their wisdom in staying away, but some others nursed a secret regret for not taking a chance in joining their friends for the Craic.

  An air of caution prevailed across the country as news of the spread of Covid 19 emerged. All St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivals were cancelled. I decided to take a walk around Newbridge on the afternoon of our National holiday, just to check out for myself if things were really as bad as I had been hearing on the 1 O’clock news. If was incredibly quiet in the Main Street, with just a few parked cars between the Post Office and the Bridge, with just the odd family walking down town. The weather too seemed to have joined in with the melancholy, so unlike the atmosphere of any previous National Holiday that I could recall. I walked up through George’s Street and into Eyre Street, where I then turned left and continued on to the junction with Charlotte Street. There were just a few cars parked here also and a few couples strolling along. The decorations of green banners and balloons in the shop windows looked rather forlorn and almost out of place, so different from the usual atmosphere that we would expect for March 17th.

   At the Bank of Ireland corner I turned left again and returned to my car,Main Streetwas still seriously quiet, with just a few customers coming out from The Central Grill with their bags of fish and chips. The only other people on the street were waiting at the bus stop, and within a few minutes they too entered the doors of a bus and headed away in the direction ofDublin. My thoughts were filled with the realisation that I was witnessing a serious situation which made me quite apprehensive. I returned home to watch the news, which only served to confirm that St. Patrick’s Day across the country was a sombre event, the media seemed to glory in telling us that schools were destined to close for several weeks to come, as a precaution, and that businesses would be forced to close because of shortages of supplies. These warnings led to queues at the Supermarkets the following morning as panic buying commenced.

   As the days passed, announcements were made regarding the closure of schools. A new vocabulary soon emerged with words like pandemic, social distancing, home schooling, and hand sanitizing at shop doors, and wearing face masks now become part of everydayconversation. Next came the announcement that all non-essential retail businesses were to close and the biggest shock of all too many folk was the announcement that the pubs were to remain closed until further notice.  Many offices were closed and staffs were given the opportunity to work from home. This had the effect of greatly reducing the volume of traffic on our roads and railways, as the daily commute to work for many people was no longer necessary. The car parks at train stations quickly became deserted. Noise pollution from road traffic was also greatly reduced, and for me, living in Kilbelin on theAthgarvan Road, I found it amazing to stand at my front door in late evening time and witness the silence due to the lack of passing traffic and the constant noise normally generated by traffic travelling on the nearby motorway. The skies which were normally marked with constantly changing designs created by the vapour trails of passing aircraft had now strangely reverted to regular cloudscapes. Pedestrian traffic increased as people took advantage of their newfound spare time due to their changed work style, and dogs never had it so good, as they were being walked more regularly.

   Church services were cancelled and Confirmation and First Communion ceremonies were postponed. As the weeks ticked away, it became obvious that the children who had been looking forward to these important milestones in their young lives were going to be very disappointed this year. This was also very disheartening for their teachers who had devoted so much time in preparing them for these sacraments. Sixth class pupils in Primary schools would now have to move on to Secondary schools, without any farewell ceremony or even the traditional presentation of a gift for their teachers.

   Frightening news reports of the spread of Covid 19 were reaching into our homes at every news bulletin, International flights were cancelled and it appeared that there was no place towhich one could retreat irrespective of how much wealth they possessed.  Visits to hospitals and nursing homes were cancelled and many people were unable to bid farewell to their loved ones as they passed away. The traditional Irish Wakes were now outlawed because no more than six family members were allowed to attend family funerals.  This was a devastating blow to the bereaved relatives and I am of the opinion that this aspect of a family death will have a long lasting effect on the mental wellbeing of the bereaved family members.

    The PUP scheme did much to cushion the economic blow to employees who, through no fault of their own suffered loss of earnings, but unfortunately time will run out soon on these payments and some jobs will not restart every again. The traditional High Street retail scene will be greatly changed forever as store owners weigh up the cost of payment of arrears  in overheads and the loss of sales in seasonal goods over a  period of a couple of years. Added to these woes, there is also the impact of customers now purchasing on-line.