03 Oct 2022

Twelve months ago schools closed, panic buying ensued and local events were cancelled – how the coronavirus ‘partial lockdown’ became our reality

Readers give opinion on lockdown measures

Twelve months ago schools closed, panic buying ensued and local events were cancelled – how the coronavirus ‘partial lockdown’ became our reality

Published in the Midland Tribune, edition dated March 19 2020, this article details how Tribune reporter, Karen O'Grady documented what most of us thought was going to be a 'partial' lockdown for a couple of weeks to suppress the virus.

Little did we know 12 months later that we would be existing in a Level 5 lockdown with restrictions in place where we can't even travel further than 5km for exercise. She thought she would share it with our readers again as little did we know what was in store for us all! Stay safe and stay at home!

Schools close, panic buying, local events cancelled – how the coronavirus ‘partial lockdown’ became my reality

Downtown in the hairdresser in Birr last week, the chat as the hairdryers hummed was all about the coronavirus. What were we hearing? What were local businesses going to do? What we were going to do if the schools were closed? Talk about local supermarkets and pharmacists having to ration supplies as people panic bought was to the forefront.

By the time I sat back in my car after my ‘bouncy blow dry’, the panic was palpable as my phone hopped with WhatsApp messages from family and friends. The Taoiseach had shut the schools, colleges and childcare facilities as we moved into the ‘delayed phase’.

I rang my parents to check in with them, as they were away visiting one of my sisters for a few days and then chatted to my husband briefly as to what our options were about childcare. A deep worry on my mind, as we rely on grandparents, people who are in a vulnerable group in the midst of these unprecedented times, and my children are potential vectors, not victims.

A night away with friends then had to be cancelled and a row with the hotel over their cancellation policy ensued. But in the grand scheme of things, completely irrelevant as I thought of all of those vulnerable people in my life, who were going to need our help in the coming weeks.

This wasn’t going to be a storm that lifted after a few days and we were going to able to peak out. It is going to be marathon, not a sprint. We are going to have to do this as a community collective and not a solo run.

With a few days of annual leave booked, I had booked the car in for its NCT. So off I went towards Tullamore where the traffic was unbelievable on Thursday afternoon. At the centre, there were more and more people coming through the door with gloves on their hands as the reality of what was looming became apparent.

Across the road, the Aldi carpark was a war zone as I sat in the car, talking on the phone and a female driver waved frantically at me to vacate the parking spot. In-store, there was talk about freezers being emptied in the nearby Tesco and no toilet roll left in Dunnes Stores down the road etc.

However, there was a jovial mood in the shop as the shop attendant re-stacked the shelf with toilet roll. “It’s been like this since the doors opened this morning,” he said. I joked and said people were going to need all that toilet roll as we looked towards the vacant shelves where the beans had been. A lady, putting toilet roll in her basket, laughed.

Later, while strolling up and down the aisle of Lidl, I chatted to a poor woman who couldn’t find toilet roll for love nor money and “really needed it” while there was little social distancing as we stood in the busy queue. In the carpark, I witnessed people struggling to carry large bags of potatoes, like it was the last day on earth.

As I brought in the few bits of shopping from the car, my thoughts went to people who couldn’t panic buy because of financial constraints or living situations. I had been able to go into the shop and buy some extra milk, a bit of flour to make some bread, and a few other bits (including a bottle of wine for an emergency situation). What would they do? These were changing times ahead.

We were expecting a guy to come to advise us about a forthcoming house build and as he arrived at the door later, he said, “I wouldn’t shake your hand this time”. Soon, I was emptying the boys’ schools bags, loaded up with extra work. Mmh, I felt I may need a list and a timetable for the forthcoming weeks as to when they were doing their “schoolwork”. I later mentioned this to the boys, much to their “delight”.

A few more texts to friends and neighbours, saying we are here if you need us before the googling about what to do with the boys over the coming weeks began. That list was fine-tuned over the weekend. Then, there was the conversation with the boys about their hurling and rugby training being cancelled. That went down like a lead balloon as a text arrived from a parent to say that a pending birthday party was cancelled until further notice.

As the still of the evening (probably the only quiet time in my house) descended, the conversation turned towards how my husband was going to get to work as a self-employed business person, who commutes to the capital on public transport. After much debate, we took the decision to take each day as it comes and for the time being, he would drive to Dublin when he did have to travel.

Then, there was a photo from my sister, who is a vegetarian, telling us she wasn’t panicking but had accidentally made enough lentil ragu for the week and a heart-warming photo from another sister, who went to buy some essentials and found a mug with a ‘K’ on it for me, in the middle of the all the madness. Replying to their messages, I sent them a photo of my youngest boy after he told me he was in “isolation on a plane”. You really can’t underestimate what children hear and pick up from the media and general conversation.

On social media, the outpouring of help even on Thursday last was unbelievable. Offers of help to vulnerable people to drop meals to them, help to frontline staff, etc. It would make you realise what a great ‘little country’ Ireland really is and we were doing what we do best…. Protecting and supporting our communities.

In the meantime, I had to stop myself looking at videos of Italian doctors battling to save people’s lives and literally, just turn on the radio while keeping an eye on what was happening locally regarding event cancellations and business closures.

On Friday as I sat down to start writing this ‘Tribune Living’ with Randy Travis’ song ‘You Got a Friend in Me’ playing in the background, it was a changing world and I doubled checked with the boys about them washing their hands probably, for the third time that morning before I decided to introduce them to the ‘Batman sneeze’.

Our first day had gotten off to a great start. By 9am, the three boys were practising their rugby tackles on each other and there were threats of hurls being taken out to practice in the hallway. It was time to throw them out the back door, I mused. Perhaps, we could do some baking later on as there was a new recipe for ‘banana bread’ in the slow cooker that I wanted to try!

As the morning went on, I battled with the decision as to whether to head to town with the boys for some mincemeat and more milk. I rummaged for some gloves to put on and re-hydrated some anti-bacterial wipes I found in the back of the kitchen press. The radio conversation then turned to those returning from Cheltenham over the coming days as the nation held its breath on the forthcoming returning hoards and its impending effect on the spread of coronavirus. My phone then beeped and it was a message from a college friend, who received a message from a friend, whose sister lives in Milan. It’s very thought-provoking and very worth a read, I thought.

“Hey everyone

“I thought id write as maybe you can all learn from our mistakes here in Italy.

As I imagine you all know (it is hard to hear about anything else), we are all in quarantine here in Italy, with the hope to stop spreading the virus any further. I fear that how it spread here will happen in the rest of Europe too.

“Here once the schools closed all the kids would meet together in someone's house for lunch or just to hang out, and parents would bring kids to the playground, it was great, it was as if we were all on holidays! Everyone that couldn't work went skiing.  

We knew and continued to watch the numbers of infected rise daily, and the casualties, but didn't exactly change any of our habits. Until now, now when we realise how serious it all is.

“Coronavirus is a bit more serious than the flu, many people get it and get better without serious complications, many kids get it, have no symptoms and are fine (but are still contagious and infect grandparents or others who may not shake the virus quite so easily), but some (about 50%) get it and need to go to the hospital, they get a bad lung infection and may need to be put on a machine to help them breathe, till they get better again. Here the death rate is rising as they simply don't have enough equipment in the hospitals, so they have to choose who gets saved, and they will choose under '60s. Which is very young.

“Only now, we have started being careful. We are all staying inside. Ettore goes to work, but stays far from the others in the office, and washes his hands once he comes home. We can go out for a walk but if we meet anyone we have to stay at least a metre away. I do the shopping alone, making sure to keep my distance from others in the shop, and trying not to touch my face. When I come back home I wash my hands carefully. (now they limit how many people can be in the shop at 1 time)

“The girls get all their school stuff sent online and have to email the work back to their teachers. 

“It seems a sad way to live, insensitive and cold, but it is the only chance we have to actually stop spreading the virus further. For a while, we have to suspend eating out, travelling, going to shows, pub, bar, school, sporting events.....anything where we need to be in close contact with others. Even taking the bus is risky, if it's packed, and someone sneezes? really the best thing, the only thing to stop spreading this virus further is to sacrifice a little of our habits and stay at home, not just to protect ourselves, but to protect the others who may be a little more fragile than we are.

“Just thought i would write to you, in case you all see it as someone else's problem. This virus is so contagious, and you only discover that you have it after 14 days of going around infecting everyone that you have been in contact with.

“I imagine you all know all of this already anyway, but so did everyone here in Italy, and now look at how it spread!

“Hope everyone is well, and hope to see you all soon once this situation has settled.”

Over the weekend, things went on as we settled into somewhat of a routine with the boys and I battled to keep the house tidy around them. Yes, it is like trying to clean in a hurricane, completely pointless and a waste of time!

Monday started with a quick trip to the shops to stock up on a few bits because the boys had eaten us out of the house and home over the weekend. Meeting a few neighbours in the aisle, the awkwardness of maintaining the recommended social distance was obvious. However, there was a bit of banter shared, which made a change from the news filtering through around us as local businesses continued to announce their closures while communities began to rally to face the coming weeks together.

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