20 March 2020
By Bryan Smyth
Statement from the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr John Sheehan
‘Our lives have changed like we couldn’t have imagined: the ordinary everyday now imbued with risk. Suddenly door handles, countertops, the stair rail, even our phones have been weaponised.
We keep a watchful eye on our children with asthma, we’re doubly protective of our children with special needs. Some of you may be fretting about family members already fighting illness. Everyone stops when somebody coughs.
Some fear is utterly understandable. At the beginning, coronavirus was an item on the foreign news pages, slowly it crept further up through the pages of our newspapers. And now in a matter of days, it may seem like it has taken control of our world: upending how we live our daily lives even though the vast majority of us are healthy and well.
It’s too easy to think that life is spiralling out of control.
It isn’t because we can take this on.
Unity can triumph over fear. It is literally ‘in the hands’ of us all.
This show of unity begins with remembering to wash your hands as we’ve been taught, it’s disposing of tissues properly, it’s sneezing into your elbow when the tissues run out. It’s remembering to keep the surfaces at work clean and most poignantly, it’s getting your ‘smallies’ to facetime Granny to keep her spirits up when really they want to run into her arms.
The Chinese and Italians desperately want us to learn from their experience. While social distancing may be anathema to a nationality as warm as the Irish, this distancing will save hundreds if not thousands of lives. Ironically, by staying apart, we will protect our families, our friends, our work colleagues, our neighbours.
By stepping back from normality, we will show our commitment to one another and to our way of life. We will demonstrate our resilience as a people.
But this need to pull together is about far more than the hand hygiene and the new social etiquette that has been foisted upon us. Thousands of us who were at work last week are suddenly filling out Covid-19 emergency payment funds this week. Employers who were anticipating expansion are fearing foreclosure. Our communities are also our independent traders, our small producers, our makers, our local café, restaurant or small business. Many of these are finding creative ways to keep bringing their produce and service to you. Take them up on it. Small business needs our support now more than ever and ‘bricks and mortar’ business will need to see and feel our support when this episode comes to a close.
Also take heart from the army of volunteers across the city and country who mobilised via social media to ‘shop for the elderly or vulnerable and to deliver food to the elderly and vulnerable’. In my own community, local champions like the indefatigable Kate Durrant are broadcasting you tube videos teaching housebound people how to bake bread.
Just look at our own city library service where staff decided to print boxes off ‘emergency payment forms’ upon discovering people were finding it difficult to access them.
At City Hall, staff still come to work to ensure streets are clean, the roads are gritted, the traffic lights work, the parks are open and not least, to provide for the homeless – but an increasing number are also being deployed to the HSE to boost their contact tracing firepower.
But, remember, for many of us, the greatest challenge isn’t the physical restrictions being placed upon us as we try to outwit the virus, it’s the anxiety that the virus has bred.
As a general practitioner of nearly 30 years, I can advise you to try and distract yourself. Look at your phone once or twice a day but otherwise, allow yourself to be distracted. Get out for a regular walk in nature, fill your kitchen with a beautiful piece of music or sit down and watch a movie rather than let social media and ‘latest coronavirus news’ dictate your mood and subsequently, that of those around you. If you have a friend that is drowning under anxiety, distract him or her by not engaging on the topic. Anxiety can be tempered by distraction.
And keep this with you: the vast, vast majority of us will be ok if we show a united front in this battle.
It is literally ‘in the hands’ of us all.
One hundred years ago, a man who held a fervent and deep held belief in the capacity of the Irish people to take hold of their destiny was gunned down in his own home, in this city, in front of his son and pregnant wife.
Former Lord Mayor, Tomas Mac Curtain embodied what Aristotle called the first virtue – courage. In the coming weeks and months let us try and emulate that courage, let us come together to find the strength and perseverance to meet this challenge head on and then let us all join together afterwards to support our families, communities and businesses to rebuild with a renewed purpose. Ní neart go cur le chéile”.’