‘Was that going through his mind – that he was never going to have a funeral?’
Review: Ireland Under Lockdown – Covid Stories is at its best telling personal stories
Wuhan outbreak: an early Covid-19 patient in hospital in China
Ireland Under Lockdown: Covid-19 Stories, Zara King’s documentary about Ireland’s battle with coronavirus (Virgin Media One, Tuesday, 9pm) takes a bird’s-eye view of the pandemic, which is both a strength and a weakness.
With the former minister for health Simon Harris, his successor, Stephen Donnelly, and the chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, among the interviewees, the 45-minute film conveys the sheer scale of the challenge facing the health service as Covid made its way towards Ireland in February.
This focus on the Government’s response to the crisis is grafted to a survey of the human cost of coronavirus. As a result Ireland Under Lockdown occasionally feels welded together. One moment officials are enduring a hard-nosed grilling over the failure to keep Covid-19 out of nursing homes, the next a family member of someone who has died of the virus is battling tears.
I’ll always remember thinking, People are in bed and they’re asleep, and they don’t know that we are sitting in this room deciding that tomorrow we are closing their business
Of the two components, the interviews with the officials are the less effective. The pandemic is ongoing. And so it is probably too early for Harris, Holohan or the HSE’s director general, Paul Reid, to reflect dispassionately on the events of last February and March.
Still, Harris is eloquent about the thoughts racing through his head as the previous government prepared to announce the first lockdown.
“Sitting in the Department of Health in the early hours of a March morning getting ready to shut down our country, I’ll always remember looking out of that meeting room that night and seeing all the lights in the distance and thinking, They’re people’s homes, and they are in bed and they’re asleep, and they don’t know that we are sitting in this room deciding that tomorrow we are closing their business.”
Holohan, for his part, has a telling anecdote about attending a birthday dinner for his daughter in February at which he was distracted by the realisation that coronavirus wasn’t going away and would inevitably make its way from Wuhan to Ireland.
Ireland Under Lockdown: Covid-19 Stories suffers from being a bit of a hotchpotch, but it gives grieving families an opportunity to speak clearly and emotionally about the havoc wreaked by the virus, and about the lives destroyed
Overall it is the testimonies of the families of those lost to Covid that have the deepest impact. Pádraig Byrne, from Clondalkin in Dublin, recalls standing on a bench in order to look into the hospital bedroom where his brother lay dying. “Francis was very close to the church,” he says. “Was that going through his mind – that he was never going to have a funeral?”
Another interviewee remembers playing love songs down the phone to his wife, who contracted Covid-19 while being treated for cancer. “They weren’t minding her,” he says. “When she tested positive [she] couldn’t believe it. She was so scared.”
These accounts are devastating. And they are a reminder that, behind the statistics, the talking points and the disruption to our daily routines, coronavirus remains a deadly threat. Ireland Under Lockdown: Covid-19 Stories suffers from being a bit of a hotchpotch: half frontline news report, half documentary. But it is to be praised for giving grieving families an opportunity to speak clearly and emotionally about the havoc wreaked by the virus, and about the lives destroyed.