Akron Irish: Packing? Is There a COVID Light?

Akron Irish: Packing?
By Lisa O’Rourke

Oh, the plans that we have made about the places that we will go! We planned barbeques and parties and talked and talked about all the fun that we will have, this summer, when this is all over.

These discussions gave us all a boost; what is more fun than party planning? But now, I kind of have a feeling akin to face-planting on cement.
All this fun may have to be delayed again, making this the longest period of time that we have not been in Ireland in thirty years. Definitely a first world problem. We are so lucky that no one has been seriously ill, but not so lucky that we are missing family and friends.

This is happening right as we are beginning to see the light at the end of the Covid tunnel in the U.S., at least it seems that way. The light is appearing in Ireland too, but it seems more like a pinprick than the U.S. flashlight.

Why? Honestly, that is a good question, especially considering that the pharmaceutical industry is so strong in Ireland. Pfizer and AstraZeneca both have a large presence there. They are picking up speed on the vaccination process after a slow start and have just reached a half a million vaccinated. Proximity to the UK and fear of the variations on the disease may have helped kick them into gear.

A few months ago, I thought that Ireland encapsulated so many noble qualities that I believed were sorely missing here in the US. I thought that the Irish were better examples of the self-sacrifice that was shown by the WWII “Greatest Generation.” Oops!

Turns out that we are all human, and globally fed up with the pandemic and shutdown of our personal lives. Ireland was doing well until Christmas. The surge after that holiday put them back up to Level 5 lockdown, the highest. They will remain on Level 5 lockdown until April 5th.

It sounds like double secret probation and it kind of is. Level 5 is a ban on all non-essential travel. Residents are confined to remain within 5 kilometers of their residence. Non-essential businesses are closed. If non-essential work cannot be done remotely, it is not happening.

This week, construction workers have registered their complaints on this topic. Many of them have been off work for a year. They are threatening a mass exodus if they cannot go back to work. While there is some government assistance for them, it means getting by, treading water.

One big change is in schools. Students are easing their way back into the classrooms, starting with the primary students. By the end of March, all students should be back to in-person learning.

So, what are the penalties for violating the Lockdown rules? They primarily hit you in the wallet. Being caught on the road outside the 5 K perimeter will cost you around $120. You can travel outside that if you have a very good reason, like being an essential worker or a caregiver.

Travel abroad is also out of the question. Non-essential travel can net a fine of $600. There is a small list of essential reasons, like an overseas medical procedure. Somehow dentists in Tenerife are suddenly extremely popular with the Irish. The same is true with Turkish hair transplant clinics. They both have reported a surge in appointments at their clinics originating from Ireland.

Patients make appointments, receive confirmation letters and do not show up for the appointment itself. Offices abroad reported enough of these “necessary procedures” that the Irish police are looking for them in the airports.

Travel to many countries carries the penalty of a mandatory two-week quarantine for people entering the country. At this time, this is not an “honor system” process. There are government prescribed hotels and accompanying costs.

It is hardly a surprise that protests have surfaced, as they have in many other countries. The first one happened in the population hub, Dublin, on February 27. Hundreds of people came out, people who are frustrated, maybe with life in general. But they protested and threw things and got arrested.

Then it happened again in Cork on March 6, a little less violent, less arrests, but more people. There is a sense that the average person is reaching a breaking point. Eleven weeks is a heck of a long time to be on a Level 5 lockdown, and it isn’t over yet.

The government is going slowly and gauging infection rates as they go.  The reason was made more public by the Health minister, who did confirm that hospital capacity in Ireland is a huge concern. Their system could be overwhelmed quickly. A catastrophe that resembled the Italian outbreak could happen in Ireland and take an awful toll.

It is impossible to think that tourism has not been hit hard and had a large impact on the economy. Tourism is down, but it is also playing a less significant part of the Irish GDP, as other sectors of the economy continue to grow. That is good news for Ireland, at least in part.

 Of course, there are areas, the beauty spots and charming towns, that depend more heavily on foreign dollars and have missed the tourists. These places and some cultural events are definitely feeling the pinch.

I am writing this in the hopes of helping those of you, who like us, said that they were packed and ready to go back traveling as soon as possible. Maybe not.

The expression goes that everywhere we travel we leave a footprint. Anyone traveling must be cautious that the footprint that they leave is not germ infested. OK, maybe that is overkill, but it is hard to feel good about traveling. Even with going to see family, part of what we do is go places.

If the restaurants and attractions are still closed or a spike in cases occurs, we could be burdening those family and friends? Even if we are vaccinated, we cannot be assured yet that we cannot be carriers, especially of the multiple variants. The weight that we have to carry to travel this year might just be too much.

*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She likes spending time with her dog, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at [email protected].

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