COVID One Year On- DERRY JOURNAL Editorial : In the midst of a crisis like no other, you rallied and shone
It’s been a journey into the dark and one nobody could have planned for, but along the route there have been many beacons of light guiding the way.
A year on from that first lockdown in mid-March 2020 we are still a way off from the destination we want to reach but as the vaccine roll outs continue - albeit lamentably at different paces north and south - we can see a glimpse of a more normal way of life off in the distance.
A year ago we reported how the local Councils, businesses, churches and many sections of civil society were quickly implementing extraordinary measures to stop something called a coronavirus from spreading. Things were happening at breakneck speed.
The Irish government had moved a full week and a half before the UK government grasped fully the gravity of the situation, despite the warning signs spreading across Europe and the harrowing scenes emanating from Italy, Spain and elsewhere. We knew it was coming, it was a matter of when.
In the absence of clear direction, and with St Patrick’s Day fast approaching, Derry & Strabane Council, churches, individual schools, publicans, restaurants, arts and entertainment venues and other traders right across the north west looked at what was happening over the border and took matters into their own hands. The first COVID cultural casualties were Feis Dhoire Cholmcille, St Patrick’s Day parades and the Jazz Festival. There have been many more since. At the time, one Derry school issued a statement at the time saying: “In the absence of any clear guidance from the Government we have taken the decision to utilise our remaining three INSET Days to make contingency plans for remote learning. Therefore in the interests of well-being, students are asked to remain at home for the remainder of this week.” Many others followed suit.
By March 17, 2020 there were 52 cases confirmed in the north and 169 in the south. In retrospect those numbers look miniscule given what was to come. In his St. Patrick’s Day message 2020 Archbishop Eamon Martin said: “I ask for your prayers in particular for our brave and selfless health workers and for the medical scientists who are searching for a vaccine and better treatments. Pray that government and public health authorities can make wise judgements and decisions about how to limit the impact of the virus, especially on the most vulnerable.” Yes, even back then scientists and researchers around the world were pooling resources to try to get an effective vaccine. It would be several months before masks became mandatory and a pocket essential, but as production of PPE was being ramped up around the world, many local manufacturers and craft groups quickly adapted to help in the collective effort, making everything from gowns and visors to face masks and hand sanitiser, many of them donating large amounts to local care homes and health facilities. As we got the 20 second ‘Happy Birthday’ hand washing technique down pat, sales of toilet roll, wipes and disinfectant rocketed as people stockpiled.
Meanwhile, emergency meetings were taking place everywhere to co-ordinate responses in communities and in our health sector as nurses, doctors, pharmacists and care home staff braced themselves on the frontline for the expected surge. It happened slower here than elsewhere, largely thanks to those early interventions, but when it struck COVID brought with it the same devastation, death, trauma and it changed the lives of many forever.
But there have been wonderful examples over this past year of how local people have stood up, be it professionally or personally, be they hospital and care home staff, home carers, shop staff, community workers, taxi and bus drivers, artists and musicians, tradespeople friends, family and neighbours, and the local media, all of them key and all of them having an important role in protecting, facilitating and keeping everyone safe and informed. It is to all these people that we dedicate this special supplement today. The vaccine has brought great hope and it is encouraging to see the roll out progressing so well in the north, although it is, sadly, a somewhat different story in the south. For those in our area, in Inishowen and wider Donegal region, who have done everything asked of them this past year and yet have little hope of getting vaccinated in the near future they will feel it more keenly. It is to be hoped that a rapid solution is found to the current roll out issues so we can all emerge from this in tandem and look forward to the day when we can meet again at the quay for the Clipper, at the Clonmany Festival, at our Hallowe’en, Easter and St Patrick’s day parades and at our music festivals. Or even just to give each other a hug. Till then, all we can do is play our part, stay safe, stay apart and protect ourselves and each other.