A Galway woman living in Spain has painted a picture of how a true lockdown would look like if introduced in Ireland.
Iseult Harrington from Menlo has been confined to her third-floor apartment in a suburb of Valencia since last Saturday night with her seven-year-old daughter Ana Rosa.
Streets are patrolled with a heavy police presence to ensure that people remain indoors. Fines of between €500 and €3,000 have been levied on those caught breaking the emergency laws, with jail terms threatened for persistent flouting.
A pass is given to dog owners to walk their pets outside, but they must remain within two streets of their home.
A father out walking his child in a buggy was hit with a substantial fine when his protests of needing fresh air fell on deaf ears.
“You have to show your ID and justify why you are outside and where you are going. Only one person can go out to the pharmacy if they have a prescription or to the supermarket for groceries, which means I would have to leave my daughter at home alone,” she said.
“You can’t have more than one person in a car – people with split custody have to bring their divorce papers with them to prove they have a reason for travelling.
“Only two people at a time are allowed into the supermarket and from what I’m hearing there are two-hour queues to get inside. Once there, so many things are gone. There’s no meat at all. There are no oranges – this is Spain, we always have oranges.”
She had started buying some extra supplies over the past three weeks, so has not ventured outside so far.
Locals in Valencia only fully grasped the seriousness of the situation on the cancellation of their annual Fallas Festival, which attracts over one million people to the streets with a mix of fireworks, fire displays and elaborate costumes.
A freelance translator, Iseult is used to working from home but is unsure if the work will continue to be sent her way.
Others who find themselves without a wage are improvising.
“I know of one woman who switched her exercise class to online so that people can keep exercising at home and she can keep earning some money.”
Iseult advised people in Ireland to stock up on goods that they would need if they were stranded in a cabin for a month – sanitary towels, hair dye, comfort snacks to keep up spirits, cooking oil and dried goods and cans – and options for light entertainment such as board games and cards.
“I was guilty of complacency myself in the beginning – there was a lack of cohesion in policy. But I feel very reassured here now. I think it’s the only way.
“It’s shocking to see what’s happening in the UK and in Ireland – that people coming back from Cheltenham [Race Festival] were not forced into quarantine. I think that’s a ticking timebomb.
“It’s shocking to see how the numbers have grown here in Valencia – we had 40 cases, it’s now 500. Spain had 1,000 cases a week ago and it’s shot up to 11,000 – Italy have reached 21,000 and we’re second behind them so it is going to get a lot worse.
“The festival which had a fireworks display every evening was bringing 15,000 people into the city for the last nine nights so that could have caused a lot of damage.”
Living in Spain for the past eleven years, Iseult said she loves her adopted home but returns every August to see her family in Galway.
Speaking by phone on St Patrick’s Day, she said she is grateful for the small things.
She has a balcony that she and her daughter can enjoy some fresh air and light. It’s from here that she joins other Spaniards every evening at 8pm to honour those working in hospitals, supermarkets and pharmacies by banging pots and pans and singing aloud.
They have been told that the lockdown is likely to last a month at least.
“I have a good network, people I can talk to here and in Madrid. My daughter has been much better than I expected. She’s not anxious but is beginning to feel the lack of contact and the lack of exercise. But we’re getting used to it.”
Redundancies are not on the cards for Galway City Council workers
Redundancies at Galway City Council as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have been ruled out by Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.
The local authority has imposed a temporary ban on recruitment, but is not planning to lay off any of its 520-strong workforce.
Mr McGrath said that down the road, if this crisis continues for a prolonged period, replacing staff who retire may not be possible. But for now, Council workers are ‘flat out’ maintaining essential services across a range of departments.
“No, we’re not planning that (lay offs). We will endeavour to keep our workforce fully employed. We’ve built up our team since the recession, a lot of our team and the additional bodies we’ve taken on are related to specific projects, for which there was various forms of grant aid available so I think we’d be confident that we will try to be able to retain the entire staff resource,” he said.
Nearly 150 members of staff have been set up to work from home, thanks to the ICT Department at City Hall.
Outdoor staff, and other office staff who must be at City Hall, are observing social distancing guidelines. Offices that used to be packed with people now have one or two workers, spaced in accordance with the guidelines.
As with the private sector, there have been changes to the ‘normal’ working week for Council staff, and some have been redeployed to other areas.
The Council has a statutory obligation to maintain essential services.
“Essential services are anything to do with homelessness; urgent housing repairs like plumbing and electrical; work on houses that were nearly complete to bring back into beneficial use and to bring back into use for self-isolation; public lighting is essential; burst water mains; maintaining traffic lights for road safety; and anything to do with water supply and waste water and treating effluent,” said Mr McGrath.
Street cleaning is classed as ‘necessary but not absolutely essential’, and is a slightly lower category than ‘essential services’.
The rota for street cleaning has been cut back to a number of times a week rather than every day, and this reflects the quieter streets due to people staying at home.
The city’s burial grounds are closed, but graves still need to be opened, and the Planning Department continues to operate.
Cancer patients will have surgeries in private hospitals
Cancer specialists in Galway are reviewing their patient lists identifying cases that need to be prioritised for urgent surgery and biopsies.
Saolta University Health Care Group, which includes UHG and Merlin Park, has moved to reassure the public that ‘time-sensitive’ cancer cases will get the treatment they need, despite the Covid-19 crisis.
Pat Nash, Chief Clinical Director with the Saolta Group, and consultant cardiologist at UHG, said talks have taken place with Galway Clinic and Bon Secours with a view to cancer surgeries of public patients proceeding at the private hospitals.
“There are many types of cancer, some of which are very time-dependant in that they need intervention very quickly to prevent any bad outcome, whereas others, the immediacy of the time isn’t necessarily going to impact on the long-term outcome.
“I can assure you, that all cases are being reviewed by consultants. Those who need treatment that is time-sensitive, where any delay could impact on outcome, will get treatment.
“Each consultant is reviewing their list and ensuring that any urgent surgery, up until now was accommodated in UHG, but we will be looking to do surgery within Galway Clinic and Bon Secours where we will have capacity and where we can start more or less immediately,” he said.
Meanwhile, cancer patients residing in a residential facility close to UHG while receiving treatment have been relocated to the Harbour Hotel to make way for those battling the Covid-19 pandemic instead.
Cancer Care West offered their 33-bedroom Inis Aoibhinn facility on hospital grounds to University Hospital Galway, which is gearing up capacity to deal with the predicted influx of patients over the coming weeks.
The Harbour Hotel in turn offered its premises free of charge to the charity to accommodate patients from across the region during their treatment.
Richard Flaherty, CEO of Cancer Care West, said staff and 28 residents had relocated to the Harbour Hotel on Monday after the hospital accepted the offer.
It will be used to accommodate staff or patients who need to be isolated close to a medical setting.
“We will continue to provide nursing care and support services onsite at the hotel to our patients.
“We also have arranged transport for the patients to and from treatment as they cannot walk as easily as before to the hospital,” he explained.
“It’s quite a logistical challenge for us, but we knew strategically how important Inis Aoibhinn would be.
“We have to pay for catering and transport but we are particularly grateful to John Lally and his team at the Harbour Hotel for their exceptional generosity for facilitating us at this difficult time.
“As an organisation we are committed to assisting in any way we can the HSE in the fight against Covid-19.”
City Council’s conference call ‘eavesdropper’
Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column by Dara Bradley
Galway City Council, like the rest of us, is adapting to the new reality of life under Covid-19 restrictions.
There haven’t been any face-to-face City Council meetings, be they full meetings or committee meetings, since the crisis really hit.
But that doesn’t mean elected members and management are twiddling their thumbs. Far from it – they’re busier than ever, just a different sort of busy.
Last Wednesday evening, city councillors held a conference call with Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.
Members of his management team were also involved in the meeting, which was conducted using technology that allows people to ‘attend’ a meeting online from the comfort of their own homes.
Each member is invited to the virtual meeting through a link sent to their email account. They click into this and then they are ‘in’ the meeting and can speak and see the others, also attending remotely.
A reliable deep-throat who participated in Wednesday’s chat informs us that the meeting had to be stopped – at the behest of McGrath – and restarted, over fears someone was eavesdropping.
The suspicion is that the link to join the meeting was sent to someone it shouldn’t have been, and this person attempted to listen in.
“Brendan halted the meeting and we had to hang up and start again because a mystery man was listening-in on the teleconference. It was hacked but Brendan has the number and can find out who it was,” said one source.
If the standard of debate at the tele-conference was anything like some of the drivel you can get at some ordinary Council meetings, then the conference-blocked hacker didn’t miss much!
For more Bradley Bytes, see this week’s Galway City Tribune