December 2, 2020
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: We must hang together on Covid or we will all hang separately

A trip down Dublin’s Henry Street has long been part of my Christmas. It’s an authentic Irish Christmas market, not an import from Scandinavia or Germany with bratwurst and glühwein. In Henry Street they sell wrapping paper and baubles, cheap toys and, famously, the last of the Cheeky Charlies.

The stalls don’t compete with the impressive shops that line the street. They complement each other and the combination makes for a good Christmas shopping experience.

I have taken my children there and I have taken their children there. When I stopped living in Dublin, I still made the annual trip, to savour the sights and sounds  and enjoy the jingle-jangle fun of it all.

But I won’t be going this year, even if the traders do manage to persuade Dublin council to lift its Covid ban.

In the run-up to a Covid-haunted Christmas, Henry Street would be a dangerous place, because its market is always packed. At peak times there I have been almost raised from the ground  by the press of the crowd, with shoppers not two centimetres apart, never mind two metres. I recall once having to lift and carry my young daughter in case she would be trampled underfoot.

So the council was right to impose the ban. I feel sorry for the stallholders who are losing their best trading period and I have sympathy with their pleas that their market is in the open air and their stalls well distanced.

The danger, however,  is not from individual stalls or individual shoppers. It is the collective chaos, the marvellous mayhem, that could turn Henry Street into a petri dish of Covid infection.

And that’s the way it is with so many aspects of the fight against this virus. Everyone believes they have a good case for being allowed to operate as normal.

‘We follow all the guidelines, we take strict precautions, nobody has ever caught Covid here …’  I have heard bishops say it about Mass and publicans about bars; I have heard it from GAA officials and exasperated managers of soccer clubs, from hairdressers, fashion retailers , art galleries and travel agencies.

Individually, they all have a point. But it is collectively that we do the damage and that is also how we can best fight it.

It needs the will of the community to beat this virus and our efforts are not helped by constant nitpicking at the rules and regulations.

You know the sort of thing I mean. Why is it wrong to drink beer in a street and all right to drink coffee in a park? Can you drink outside a pub if it’s not the pub where you bought the drink? Can you shop outside your county if that’s where the nearest shop is located?

We obsess over the letter of the law while a thoughtless few totally disregard its spirit. Covid restrictions are for our own good and we don’t need a lawyer to explain their broad intentions – keep contacts to a minimum, wear masks, avoid large gatherings. So: no street parties, no football crowds, no busy markets and no  religious gatherings with hymn-singing and responses.

We won’t  have to follow these rules much longer. Vaccines are on the way, although they too will require some collective effort, for there has to be a good take-up to make them a success.

We can’t expect co-operation from the anti-vaccine nutters but they are few. A greater danger comes from lethargy: from people who can’t be bothered, who don’t like needles, who are a bit busy at the moment but are going to get it done next week, for sure.

We all need to wear a green shirt on this one. One big national effort to get us back to something like normality. Then we can work and play in our own different ways, and maybe even go shopping in Henry Street at Christmas next year.

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