Beyond the guidelines: How not to get Covid-19 this weekend
Don’t meet friends or loved ones. Avoid busy outdoor areas. Wear masks, even outdoors
Gardaí conducted an operation in the uplands of Wicklow last weekend, to stop people going there in breach of the 5km rule. Vehicles were towed away for illegal parking and blocking access
While there are strict Level 5 restrictions in place, there are two potential problems with them. First, that some people bend the rules, forget the rules or ignore them altogether; second that people follow the rules to the letter but forget the underlying principle of constant vigilance that keeps the virus at bay: exercising outdoors is allowed, for example, but doing it in a crowded area or with a group creates a risk.
“We need everyone to stay at home as much as possible ... You should not meet up with friends or loved ones, unless you are caring for them,” Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said this week. Last weekend, amid rising numbers, he said that: “Too many people are still not complying as fully as we need with the advice.”
Dr Breda Smyth, director of Public Health West, makes a similar point: “Individual behaviours can prevent and halt the transmission of this virus so we have to consider that every time we meet someone, that is a potential infection risk.”
With that in mind, here are some reminders of what the rules are – and when you should go beyond them to ensure you are not putting either yourself or others at risk.
Don’t leave your home unless it is to get essential supplies or take exercise in your local area: Level 5 restrictions require all of us to stay at home and work/study from home unless we are working in essential services. Level 5 restrictions also mean that we have to stay within a 5km radius of our home, so don’t be tempted to travel to scenic areas that are outside this limit (as lots of people have done). Not only as you breaching the guidelines but you are also putting yourself at risk of an on-the-spot fine of €100 from gardaí if stopped (lots of people have received them). Gardaí were surprised so many people still visited the Wicklow Mountains last weekend. “The message isn’t getting through,” said one.
Don’t be tempted to have friends or family to your house or for visits in your garden: While we are all suffering from Covid-fatigue and miss seeing people, public health experts have said that the UK variant of Covid 19 – which is more contagious than earlier strains of Covid-19 – now accounts for over 50 per cent of cases in Ireland. While the current guidelines allow people to meet people from one other household when taking exercise outdoors, the Chief Medical Officer has gone further, asking this week that we not meet friends or loved ones unless we are caring for them.
Don’t go out without your mask: It is mandatory to wear masks in shops, banks, post offices and any public buildings. It is also wise to wear a mask if walking along a crowded footpath or even on busy trails in parks or other amenity spaces. In fact, if you can, avoid congested areas altogether and spend as little time as necessary shopping for food and other essential items. And remember to stay two metres apart when in a queue as this action limits the possibility of the virus being transmitted from one person to another.
Don’t book a foreign holiday yet: While the end of January is the traditional time for many people to book summer holidays, the uncertainty about the safety or eligibility to travel to other countries even if vaccinated is likely to continue for some time. On Thursday, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) again advised people against all non-essential international travel. It also noted that with the emergence of new variant strains of Covid-19, many EU countries have adopted more stringent travel policies. Dr Holohan has urged people thinking of planning a holiday abroad “in the not terribly distant future” to follow public health advice and stay home. He called advertising of holidays at this time “irresponsible”.
Don’t go to a “Covid-19 friendly” party: It hardly needs to be said, yet posts on a private Instagram account seen by The Irish Times this week have been advertising parties in Dublin. Though organisers say the events are “Covid-19 friendly”, they are a flagrant breach of public health rules, which ban house visits.
Do wash your hands regularly: This means throughout the day and most importantly when you come home from shopping or travelling on public transport. The public health advice on hand-washing was one of the first pieces of guidance issued when the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020 and remains one of the most important ways to stop infecting yourself by touching your face with virus particles on your hands.
Do self-isolate if you have tested positive: Stay in your bedroom for 10 days if you have tested positive for Covid-19 or if you have symptoms and are awaiting the results of a Covid test. And do restrict your movements if you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19. See gov.ie/covid-19 for specific details on self-isolation and restricting your movements.
Do be careful if you are caring for someone: A person who is older or has an underlying condition is more vulnerable to serious illness if they contract the virus. While Level 5 restrictions permit us to be in a social bubble with one other family on compassionate/caring grounds, you must still remain 2 metres apart and observe coughing and sneezing etiquette when you visit vulnerable individuals. It is also advisable to ensure good ventilation in shared spaces.
Do be civil: Very few people predicted that Ireland would move from being one of the countries with the lowest Covid-19 infection rates in Europe in December to the country with the fastest rise in cases in the world in January (44 per cent of all cases of Covid-19 in Ireland were identified in the first two weeks of January, 2021). It’s a particularly scary time for everyone now so be gentle in your interactions with those close to you and those you encounter when outside your home. Make space for others as you pass, and try not to harangue those who forget to do the same.