This week the number of Covid-19-related deaths in Ireland passed 7,000.
However, the lifting of restrictions and the fact that deaths are reported only once a week means they do not have the prominence they once had, except for relatives left behind.
Brian Beardsley’s sister Suzanne remembers him as a man who had boundless energy and a selfless desire to help others.
He worked as a painter-decorator. In his spare time he volunteered for various charities and helped build houses in Haiti and Uganda.
“Everybody loved him,” recalls Suzanne. “He had an amazing energy, fantastic sense of humour, was passionate about his causes and lived for music, especially jazz. He was so kind to everybody. Even when he was in intensive care he was worried about his friends and here he was about to go on a ventilator. He was always looking out for everybody. Everybody loved him. Nobody had a bad word to say about him. He was great fun.”
On November 30th, he developed Covid-19 after returning from England. He was admitted to hospital on December 2nd just two days before he was due to fly to Uganda to help build an orphanage.
For the next three weeks he was in and out of intensive care and on a ventilator. He died on December 30th, aged just 62. His wife had predeceased him by 10 years and the couple had three adult sons.
Originally from Churchtown in Dublin, he was living in Waterford when he died.
A GoFundMe set up in his honour raised more than €2,000 for various charities he was involved with. His sister said his death shocked them as he was fit and healthy, though she now believes he may have had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as a result of his occupation.
Looking back, she said he had a severely infected leg from a fall which might have compromised his immune system.
Deaths like Mr Beardsley’s from the virus have largely disappeared from the public consciousness.
“The world seemed to move on without us while we were reeling from the loss and grief and still very much in the throes of the pandemic. Covid definitely had a sting in the tail for our family,” she said.
The number of virus-related deaths now stands at 7,028 and 1,000 of them have occurred to date this year.
January, the month in which almost all restrictions were lifted, had 304 deaths, the fourth highest monthly totals, there were 200 in February, 235 in March and 88 to date in April, though the final figure will be in excess of that.
Undertaker Fintan Cooney, a manager at Fanagans Funeral Directors in Dundrum, Dublin 16, said there are still funerals of those who have died as a result of coronavirus.
“It is still a regular occurrence. Whenever somebody dies, we always establish whether or not the death was Covid related as we have slightly different protocols,” he explained.
The numbers are not as high as the spring of 2020 and the winter of 2021 when deaths from Covid-19 were at their peak.
He stressed that things have changed for families now as all restrictions have been lifted on funerals, making it easier for them to grieve in a public way.
Infectious diseases consultant Prof Sam McConkey said it is important to be cautious when determining how many of the 1,000 or so deaths that have occurred this year have happened as a direct result of Covid-19.
“Everyone is asking to what extent are these deaths causally related to Covid . . . or whether they would not have died of the other things they had,” he explained.
“A significant proportion of the deaths from Covid-19 now are from something else.”
The number of those who died with, and not from, Covid-19 will not be determined until all the deaths are registered and it will take months for those figures to come out, he added.
He cited a major study by the Lancet Global Burden of Disease, published in March, that showed Ireland had one of the lowest rates of excess deaths from Covid-19 in the first couple of waves. Of the 6,000 deaths up to the end of 2021 related to Covid-19, there were 1,200 excess deaths. In other words, 4,800 people who died with Covid-19 might have been expected to die in the normal course of those two years from something else.
Though Omicron is milder than other strains, he said it can still have a serious impact on people who have compromised immune systems.
“Some can get very sick from it and unfortunately a small number will die,” he said.
*This story was amended on April 27th 2022