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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

Covid is a litmus test of our humanity and we are failing miserably

I was talking to a friend yesterday about how living with MS is like weaving in and out of an old pattern of grief. It’s not as acute as it was at the beginning but it never quite ends. She says she doesn't think about her MS until it creeps in alerting her to its presence, tingling here, numbness there. In 2019, I was too sick to participate in anything and the first lockdown in 2020 gave me time to heal. It also meant I wasn’t alone. Nobody could go out, travel to exotic places, meet up with friends. We were all in it together. I spoke to friends I hadn’t spoken to in years. Each collectively grieving for the lives we once had. Yet, all the way through, Covid has been a constant reminder of being sick. I am reminded every day that I am vulnerable, no longer healthy, ‘at risk’. And now, more than ever, I feel isolated and abandoned.

After two years of adapting life to protect the vulnerable (although in reality it was mostly to protect our underfunded health system), it feels as if we are now being left to fend for ourselves so abruptly. The government has decided to step back to 2019 and pretend the pandemic doesn’t exist. People are delighted of course that Covid has gone. Taking a leaf out of UK tabloids, ‘freedom day’ was splashed across headlines, followed by cringeworthy dancing and cheering on the Late Late Show. And just like that, Covid is over. Except it’s not. Endemicity means cases are static. It is not in the sharp incline and decline of infections or in evolving variants. Yet, confirmation bias means people want information proving their opinions, even if factually incorrect. People want the pandemic to be over, so they are quite happily following the Pied Piper off the cliff edge. And who could blame them really? People are so desperate for life to return as normal, they want to believe it that it has. I want Covid to be gone too.

Going forward without considering disabled and/or high risk individuals is a depressing reflection of how little people cared about us in the first place. Western individualisation is a sad indictment of how we live, our sense of solidarity and community dispersed in the name of individual freedom. People forget that the more the virus spreads, the less inclusive society becomes for people who aren’t able-bodied or ‘healthy’. The issue is the if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em attitude doesn’t work if you’re disabled or have a health condition during a pandemic.

It's about inclusion.

Countries across East Asia like Taiwan have maintained basic protective measures to stem the spread, rather than simply relying on vaccines. It isn’t that hard to reopen society whilst keeping some safeguards in place to protect our most vulnerable. Mask wearing and social distancing are of little inconvenience. Isolating when you have Covid is the absolute bare minimum (I'm talking to you England). Why would you not want to isolate when you have an infectious disease? The mask removal date expected this month will be the last vestige of safety measures enabling us to participate in a small way. It's disappointing to see our government follow in the footsteps of the eugenics-like tactics employed by Boris and his cronies.

I have been made to feel like I am being overcautious or extreme in my nervousness but the latest research now shows that 1 in 3 people with MS are likely to experience long Covid. The long term neurological implications of Covid are still relatively unknown and its effect on the immune system could trigger a relapse, even if we don’t end up in hospital. In fact, the study was undertaken on people who hadn’t been hospitalised. The research was done prior to widespread vaccination so it’s unclear if vaccines help prevent long Covid but since so many of us are on immunosuppressant medication preventing us from mounting sufficient antibody responses, I would rather not find out. Taking a gamble with resuming life ‘as normal’ means putting my life at risk. At the same time, I feel like I’m ruining the lives of those around me because they can’t go back to normal either, and if they do, I can’t see them. Antigen testing helps but it's not enough on its own to reduce cases.

One of the many casualties over the past two years has been the truth. People with the IQ of a spoon are being given a platform to share nonsense. The Class of 2020 graduates from the University of Facebook frequently espouse scientifically dubious drivel like having an immune system means they don’t need to worry about Covid or have the vaccine. Thankfully, having had all the boosters, I haven't turned into a telephone poll yet. The reality is people with immune systems get sick. In fact, my immune system is so strong, it’s turned against me. People who wear glasses have eyes. People with feet wear shoes. This argument is so nonsensical you have to question whether they're joking (they're not).

Our ongoing lockdowns and limitations have been a huge financial strain and our collective mental health is disintegrating like wet cake. Had the government taken the initiative to improve ventilation systems in hospitality and schools, scale up our health system and encourage the use of outdoor spaces with heaters and canopies, we could have reopened cautiously a lot sooner last year. The initial reticence to use antigen tests means that the head of the HSE Paul Reid gave himself whiplash by firstly dismissing them as snake oil and then a few months later relying on them to uphold our crumbling health system. Unclear messaging meant people were confused and fed up. Our meaningful Christmas of 2021 saw economics take precedence over people’s lives and thousands died. Of course this year, our cases are higher and we have far fewer deaths because of vaccines so ongoing lockdowns and hospitality and events closures aren’t a viable or sane option. However, completely dismantling scaffolding like mask wearing doesn't seem like a sound decision either.

I keep saying this, but bolting us into our houses isn’t the answer. Those of us with illnesses and disabilities deserve a life too. We still have to take public transport, go to work and to the supermarket because we are actual humans who require food to live. It’s hard being the collateral damage in the war against covid. We have been consistently told that vulnerable people’s deaths were ‘expected’, ‘warranted’ and ‘understandable’. A narrative which makes healthy people feel better but at what expense?

Health isn’t linear. In this, you can be sure the very people spouting out niceties like ‘stay at home if you’re vulnerable’ aren’t going to be healthy forever. The majority of us are experiential learners and most of us are fairly selfish so unless it’s happening to us, we are able to distance ourselves from other people's reality. Living with Covid requires homeostasis, the balance of all things. Keeping some protections, if not for us, helps avoid disruption to workplaces, healthcare settings and schools. One thing is for sure, we definitely need a new term for ‘avoiding people like the plague’ because apparently people don’t do that anymore.


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