Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 112

I’ve stepped away from these for a while because I needed the headspace, but here goes.

So technically, we are no longer in shutdown (I won’t rename the regular blog). The figures for new cases in Ireland have dropped to consistently very low double figures, and occasionally single figures so the signs are promising, though there hasn’t been quite the continued drop towards no cases at all in the last two weeks that perhaps we’d hope for. We – my family, though by no means everyone – are still working from home, though our son has returned to school, which is somewhat surreal under the circumstances, taught to tiny numbers and largely outdoors.

It feels like we’re now entering a period of stabilization, and how the numbers of cases change in the coming weeks will be important. We intend to continue to be exceptionally careful, spending almost all of our time away from others and trying to make the most of the countryside and the things we can do outdoors. Honestly, though, it’s getting more and more difficult to do in practise.

What’s really concerning is the broader, international picture. While Europe broadly seems to be in reasonably consistent recovery, the US and Brazil, in particular, are in wild territory, with new cases in both countries close to 50,000 a day. It’s hard to see where that could possibly end. As the below shows, globally we may not even be at a peak yet.

This is a huge worry, because ultimately, if things are to be anything close to what they were before, we’ll need corona to die out internationally, too, and that feels a very, very long way off.

For now, we have to be content with our newfound freedoms, and through a combination of sensible distancing, masks, limited social interaction, and basic common sense, ensure that we don’t abuse them. It’s hard to imagine we will be abroad until at best, very late this year.

Until then, perhaps we can see a bit more of Ireland, there are worse ways to be stuck. Hopefully the mental toll won’t become too taxing along the way, and we all keep our health.

The Dublin Mountain Way (Run/ Hike)

Route: Shankill –> Rathmichael Woods –> Carrickgollagan –> Barnaslingan –> The Scalp –> Glencullen –> Three Rock –> Tibradden –> Cruagh –> Bornabreena Reservoir –> Tallaght (Shamrock Rovers) –> 2km toward home (main route as described here).

Distance: 44.7km

Time: 6 hours 3 minutes (excluding a couple of snack stops, maybe another 20 minutes)

Pros: Largely really beautiful, with the route taking in sparse mountain tops, forest walkways, some nice, runnable (if you’re fitter than me) hills, excellent views, and the odd nice village to travel through. The Glencullen Adventure Centre (a few kms before halfway) is a great stop off, really relaxed and with good coffee. The route is fairly well signposted throughout (especially well on The Scalp, where it’s necessary), with signs at pretty much every junction. There were large stretches on a Friday morning where I didn’t see anyone for at least a couple of kms, so despite being within the Dublin county boundary, this felt really quite rural. Check out the pictures – the first two-thirds of this route are genuinely lovely.

Cons: Everything from about 28km onwards except the Bornabreena reservoir section (which is maybe 2-3km long), is really quite dull, all little winding roads that are not the most fun to run or walk on. Given the choice again, I’d cut the route short at the far end of Cruagh, and visit Bornabreena another time. The roadside bit through Glencullen was busier than you’d like, too, even on a weekday. Only notable refueling stops are at about 15km in, in Glencullen, then you’re pretty much on your own.

Thoughts: This had been on my list of things to do this year (yes, I have one!), and was helpfully opened up to me by the combination of a very helpful wife, on pick up and drop off, and the opening up of the whole of County Dublin in the recent change to coronavirus restrictions. There’s no denying this is at the limit of what I’m capable of at the moment – it’s fairly comparable to the Wicklow trail run I did from Bray last year, though without quite as much elevation, and I definitely ran more of it, especailly towards the end.

Realistically, I need to be doing more things in the mountain and get more comfortable moving across rugged trails with uneven surfaces to get any better at this, but it was a really great experience, and I found I was only minorly hampered by having to carry a small bag with 1.5 litres of water, food, and other essentials in it.

The route is billed as a ‘1-3 day’ on the official website, but it’s definitely walkable inside a (long) day, and with a bit of jogging, within a shorter one. I was familiar with a lot of the spots – we’re regulars in Tibradden and Carrickgollagan, and less so in Cruagh and Ticknock, but I knew a few kms of the full route before heading out, which definitely made life easier. Maps recommended, though I only really consulted them two or three times just to check I hadn’t missed exits. There are signposts marking the whole way at either end.



Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 77

TheJournal.ie announces no new deaths for the first time in 65 days

Monday, May 25 was the first day in 65 long days that saw no deaths whatsoever from coronavirus in Ireland, and as a result, one of my happiest in lockdown so far.

Of course, I realise people die all the time, for all kinds of reasons, and most of them never get anywhere near the news. The thing is the potential death toll of coronavirus, which is massive. The first day with no deaths felt like a major breakthrough.

The day after, we were back to 9 deaths in the day, but with the lowest ‘new cases’ figure since way back in March, at just 37. Things really do seem to be toning down.

The shutdown is still strict ( at least if you’re following guidelines), but there are also opportunities to do a little more. I’ve started adding a few toys to the shop every ten days or so that we can fit into a trip to the park, and lift Adam’s spirits. On Monday, I was able to go to the Teelings Distillery coffee shop down the road for a takeaway latte and a cake, and there was no one else in there apart from the man who served me. Honestly, it felt like an almost unimaginable luxury.

Clearly there are a lot of hoops still to jump through. Ireland is in stage one of a five-stage loosening of restrictions which will see us slowly allowed to do more every three weeks. Each little relaxation is a step towards a normality that in some senses still feels a long way off, but in others is creeping far closer than it felt just a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve become an obsessive ‘number watcher’. Not a day goes by when I don’t check exactly what the new numbers for corona cases are, and how Ireland compares in its trajectory to countries that are thought to be countering things well (South Korea, for example), and those who are almost out of control (the US, Brazil). It’s a horrible but compulsive watch.

I like the loose sense of normality. There’s a feeling we might be working from home, at least, until late summer, but at least there’s a little more freedom. Hopefully, those numbers keep sliding.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 68

There have been less than 100 new cases of coronavirus each day for the last two days, the first time the figures have been that low since this time in March, shortly after this whole thing started.

As of today, we’re allowed to go to hardware stores (we’re not actually going, because it seems crazy on the first day), and to meet in isolated groups from different households a few metres apart.

It’s starting to feel like things are on the turn, if not necessarily anywhere close to an ending, then at least progressing towards things being just that little bit better. Of course, that comes with the fear that the changes lead to far more widespread infection, and things pick up again.

The hardest thing about all this is probably that it’s indefinite. There are certain things you start ‘waiting’ for, from social drinks, to doing some work that involves a proper level of collaboration, in a normal office, to being able to return to swimming pools, for example, or football matches (those last two seem, sadly, a very, very long way off).

Predictably, there are campaigns against any level of shutdown. I think it stems in part from a certain group of people being absolutely convinced anything a government does must be wrong, regardless of what it is. There are huge conspiracy theories, which in my opinion fall utterly flat for the very obvious reason that getting all world governments to collaborate and act in largely comparable ways simply won’t happen, they disagree fundamentally. Plus, these are clearly a lot of people dying, and these type of people see a conspiracy in whatever is happening, regardless of what it is.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 56

It’s hard not to be sweepingly negative in these posts, but things are going a little better, so I’m going to try and act like it. Restrictions eased yesterday in Ireland for the first time – every measure before now has been a tightening. The change allows us to travel 5kms from home, instead of 2kms. It’s not a huge change, but it does bring Phoenix Park back into play for us, and we’re grateful for that. Things genuinely seem to be slowing down, in terms of both cases, deaths and critical cases. It’s becoming more a question of how to go back to normal

For later, when I read back, I thought I’d talk about some of the themes of the lockdown so far, from my perspective. Here’s what’s been important personally, whilst simultaneously being utterly unimportant in a wider context, such is life:

Coronavirus Shutdown: day 49

An isolated walk in Wicklow just before shutdown. I miss this.

What happens when this is over?

It’s a question that haunts me right now. Humans, of course, are hugely resilient. As a broader society, at least, we’re capable of overcoming war, famine, economic collapse and, yes, disease. We’ve seen it all before.

That said, the reality now is dark and difficult. I went shopping yesterday, a necessary evil that I hate to the point it makes me feel het-up and uncomfortable for the entire day I have to go. Then I head out, with a mask wrapped across my face as I pace slightly understocked aisles and try to feed a family for as long as I can. We’ve stretched it out to 10 days or so per shop, now, with a vegetable delivery arriving in a cardboard box in between.

But we’re the lucky ones, of course. Our combined potential exposure to the virus is minimal. We’re able to exist in a frustrating but functional cocoon of our own making, restrained by four walls but certainly not threatened by them, or forced to go outside and carry on like millions of others. We might end up another number of the 3 million people who already have, or have had, corona, or the more than 200,000 who have died globally. We know we’re privileged, because that chance is relatively small.

But it’s hard not to mourn what’s gone, too. Not just the people, though that’s devastating, but also the lifestyle. Humans are instinctively social, after all. Things like going to sports games, just one of a crowd, or travelling fairly freely around Europe every so often, or spending a weekend back home with family, or cinema, or gigs, bars, those are normal parts of my life. And it’s spurious to mourn them in this context, but it’s also very, very hard not to.

Coronavirus shutdown: day 41

Is it okay to be occasionally enjoying this? I mean, a lot of people are dying, and obviously I understand that, and at times I feel overwhelmed with the doom and gloom of it all.

On the other hand, though, modern life can be frantically paced, and being sat at home with my family, who I love and are great company, without commute times or particularly high-stress work, is often a really quite enjoyable experience. And yes, it feels very weird saying that.

Modern life has a way of creeping up on you. There have been occasional times in my life so far when I haven’t worked full time for a month or two (well, one at home, and a couple of travel-based lulls), but aside from travel I was caring for a very young child. In some ways, our current reality feels like the kind of temporary ‘weight lifted off’ situation that can be really good for general stress and anxiety that’s built over a long time.

There’s a different kind of stress and anxiety, instead, of course. One that involves a genuine fear of going to supermarkets, or taking my son out for exercise and someone coming too close to us, or relatives dying. But sometimes the silver linings, meagre though they are, are worth mentioning.

The situation outside, of course, is still pretty awful. People are dying by the dozen in Ireland, though the new infections are down, and there is some suggestion we might be nearing a peak. It’s a kind of long, drawn-out suggestion that isn’t entirely convincing: though the slow reopenings are happening in some countries, we’ve announced a shutdown of major events until the end of August.

The case numbers are up to 2.5 million worldwide, with the US now by far the epicentre, due in part to what most people seem to acknowledge are really insipid policy decisions by Donald Trump. 170,000 are dead worldwide, a number that rises by thousands every day.

The reality is, though, that things will have to start reopening before too long if we’re to avoid total economic collapse, it’s simply a question of timing it to reduce risk.

Adam had his first school class over Zoom yesterday. It didn’t work very well but he’s really missed his friends, so seeing them was something a little bit special. I miss socialising too. It’s low, at times, and oddly fine at others. What strange times.

Coronavirus shutdown: day 16

The shutdown has officially been extended in both its length and its limitations, and what a weird world it is. I had to go to the supermarket on Thursday, and the whole place – blessedly empty – basically involved people slowly pacing the aisles as they carefully avoided each other as far as possible. It took a lot longer than usual.

From now on, we can exercise a little in isolation outside the house, but travelling no more than 2kms from our front door. We can go to essential jobs only, and the supermarket if necessary, and medical emergencies. Its a far more hefty lockdown, but seems like it’ll save lives.

There’s a really odd feeling to the whole thing as an individual. I’m lucky, so far, in that I personally don’t know anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus. On the one hand, there’s a battle for life going on, one we hear about on the news on a day-to-day basis, a shocking, abrupt, overpowering thing that’s proving really draining even for those not involved, and I can only imagine the agony for those that are.

Then there’s the almost monotonous side of it. I’m still at work (from the kitchen table), and certainly don’t lack for things to do, but the restriction of freedom, while necessary, is hard. Humans weren’t designed to be mostly confined by four walls, or at least this one wasn’t. My running has stepped up, as an excuse to weave far from anyone else who is outside, but at least get in some exercise. Earlier today I ran over 8kms on an empty 150 metres long lane a few metres from our house, just up and down and up and down.

We’re trying our best to keep some normality for the little guy. He does reading, writing and maths every day, and has been running with me and cycling around the empty pavements near our house at times, too. We’re now signed up to Netflix, Now TV and Disney Plus for entertainment, with plenty of movie nights. We’re working on unlocking the final level of Super Mario Odyssey. I’m writing a lot, including an extended series of music Q+As which you’ll find elsewhere on this website, something to keep me going.

There are now over half a million cases worldwide, and over 30,000 deaths. Ireland’s cases are in the thousands. Things are going crazy in the US, and in Spain, France, and worst of all Italy, where the death rate is really quite high. This will end, of course, but it feels a long, long way off. Thankfully we still have no symptoms. Hopefully we’ll come out of the other end of this sooner rather than later.