20 Jan 2022

Hill Street Views: Covid and a year of living dangerously

Opinion, views, and commentary from former Democrat editor David Lynch

Hill Street Views: Covid and a year of living dangerously

Last week marked the first anniversary of the very first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Ireland.

In the 12 months since, all our lives have changed, and are unlikely to go back to the way they were prior to March 2020.

Over 8,000 cases of Covid-19 have now been confirmed in County Louth since then and, tragically, the number that have succumbed to the virus here has climbed to well over 100 in that period.

The very first mention of Covid-19 did not appear in the pages of the Democrat until March 3 .

It was part of a small report on page 2 which, reporting the public health advice at the time, stated: “the risk of catching coronavirus in Ireland is still low”, but it rather ominously followed up with: “however, this may change”.

And change it did, as we all know now.

Come the Democrat edition dated March 10, Covid-19 had become the front-page story.

The paper splashed with ‘Just how ready is Louth for Covid-19?’. The story concerned local authority and business preparations for dealing with a potential pandemic (The World Health Organisation (WHO) still hadn’t declared it as one yet).

The rather quaint matter of the postponement of Dundalk’s St Patrick’s Day parade was a key part of the same front page report that week. It seems rather trivial now, but at the time that decision was made with much difficulty and soul-searching.

On page two of the same edition, a foreboding report headlined ‘Restrictions in place in local nursing homes’ would become painfully telling in terms of the tragedy that would unfold at nursing homes in just a short couple of weeks.

The terrible deaths of loved ones at Dealgan Nursing Home stands out starkly when I read this report now.

There is, in another reminder of how we didn’t, and frankly couldn’t see the massive impact Covid would go on to have on all our lives, a short report elsewhere on page two which says that registrations for that year’s Darkness Into Light run were now open with the event planned for May.

Nowhere in the piece does it mention that the planned run could possibly be cancelled due to coronavirus – it simply couldn’t have seemed possible then.

Just one week later, on St Patrick’s Day, the mood had changed considerably.

I remember, as editor at the time, deciding to run a front-page editorial calling on everyone ‘to stand up and be counted’ in the fight to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The piece included a dominant picture of the iconic Maid of Erin statue outside the courthouse in town.

It was an admittedly none-too-subtle patriotic attempt on our part to foster a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’.

Of course, as the year of Covid wore on, this steadfast cohesive approach has frayed somewhat around the edges, but tribute needs to be paid to the vast majority who have sacrificed so much to save lives.

It was felt be those of us in the newsroom that week that the seriousness of what was escalating around us needed to be reinforced.

The public health guidelines needed to be spelled out and the vital importance of looking after each other, while having to stay apart, was already very clear.

The back page that week led with the headline ‘Shutdown’ as sport right across the country ceased entirely in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

From then on, rarely a week passed by without Covid or Covid-related stories dominating the front-page and the general news section within.

It was also around this time that the then editorial director for Iconic Newspapers – this title’s owner – agreed to take up a role as editor of the Sunday Independent.

In his farewell address to staff, Alan English stated that we were now living through the ‘greatest public health emergency in a lifetime’.

Even then, as I think back, I thought that statement seemed slightly hyperbolic, but upon reflection, it was probably still some way short in addressing the full scale of the rapidly unfolding horror and the great difficulties that were still to come.

It seems, looking back at these Democrat editions one year on, that life has been placed almost entirely on hold.

While there have been chinks of light and easing of restrictions during the past 12 months, Covid-19 has dominated, and continues to dominate our lives and how we’d like to live it. It has caused untold suffering and tragedy; and the fight goes on.

The front-page editorial in that March 17 edition included the line ‘like any moment, this one will pass too. Life will return to its normal rhythms once again’.

Remarkably, and sadly, that ‘moment’ has not passed yet. We are still stuck in that moment, but we are nearing the end.

This time next year life will be better for all of us. Stay the course now and a brighter dawn will rise soon.

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