St Patrick's day is off. The whole of Italy is in quarantine. And over the water in the UK, the government may soon be requesting that anyone displaying so much as a sniffle lock themselves away from the outside world.
Better make sure that your internet connection is reliable. Because we are entering a phase of coronavirus containment where at any moment, any one amongst us could find ourselves faced with a whole two weeks of enforced Netflix and chill.
The prospect of self-isolation means different things to different people. If you are lucky enough to be, for example, a public sector worker, 14 days during which you will be paid to mooch around in pyjamas and eat biscuits sounds like no great hardship. For self-employed journalists like myself, being shut up indoors with mostly just a laptop screen for company, is simply business as usual. But for the elderly who might already be suffering from loneliness, or parents with young families who are cooped up at home with the kids and forced to avoid the usual winter-time saviours of cinemas, swimming pools and soft play, the idea of quarantine could seem nigh-on unendurable.
The ways to go about quarantine vary according to why you are doing it. The HSE makes a clear distinction between self-isolation (which is for people who have a confirmed coronavirus infection, or are awaiting test-results for suspected infection) and limited social interaction (for those who have had contact with someone who has a confirmed case, or who has recently travelled to an area with high rates of infection.)
Needless to say, the rules for self-isolation are a lot stricter. Those who have been advised by their doctor to self-isolate must take stringent precautions to avoid passing on the virus. According the HSE, that means being confined mostly to a separate room, keeping away from other people in your home, cleaning and disinfecting your room daily as well as avoiding sharing a bathroom if possible. You are also advised to wear a face mask whenever interacting with others and washing laundry separately at a high temperature.
For the moment, however, as case rates in Ireland remain low, more people are likely to be asked to limit their social interaction. These lucky people will be allowed to leave their homes for short periods, such as going for walks or cycle rides. But groceries must be ordered online or dropped around by family or friends, visitors to the house are against the rules, and public transport must be avoided.
The psychological effects of isolation are very real. As the HSE, acknowledges, "Self-isolation can be boring or frustrating. It may affect your mood and feelings. You may feel low, worried or have problems sleeping."
But even on effective house arrest, there are always opportunities for self-care. The UK-based mental health charity Mind in the UK (mind.org.uk) advises that people who have to stay at home find ways to bring nature and light into their home. "It can improve your mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger, and make you feel more relaxed," they say. They suggest making sure that you "get as much natural light as you can. Spend time in your garden if you have one, or open your front or back door and sit on the doorstep", or "arrange a comfortable space to sit, for example by a window where you can look out over a view of trees or the sky, or watch birds and other animals." They also emphasise the importance of staying active, suggesting "going up and down the stairs, using bean tins as weights, or exercises you can do in your chair." Mind also extol the importance of keeping "your brain occupied and challenged. Set aside time in your routine for this. Read books, magazines and articles. Listen to podcasts, watch films and do puzzles."
According to Paul Fearon, medical director of St Patrick's Mental Health, there is evidence from previous epidemics regarding the effects of enforced isolation. "We know again that (people) have increased rates of anxiety, of guilt feelings, of letting people down, of anxiety towards other family members. Of stigmatisation, because people will know that they are isolating"
But there are things that can help, he suggests. "Thankfully, in the present day and age, we may be physically socially isolated, as in quarantined, but we have the possibility of now talking to people by video on Facetime, on Skype. So one can actually keep in touch with other people. I think in China in the lockdown people were making big use of talking to each other when they were in isolation and keeping those social connections up and talking through their anxieties. I think that's going to be very important," he says. "And also to realise that it's 14 days - that it's finite and to keep that in mind."
And two weeks on house arrest with the children might just turn out to have some unexpected advantages. According to Cora McCauley, who is spokesperson for the home schooling organisation Home Education Network, two weeks off school at home can provide new opportunities for approaching learning in a different way.
"This is a block of time you can use to help your child explore areas they mightn't have the time to consider usually," she says. "The first step would be to ask your child what they want to get out of the experience. Listen to their answers and then let them explore how they can achieve their goals. As a parent we can facilitate their learning but we are not trying to replicate school at home. It might be to improve on a weak subject - set an allotted time each day with them and actively help them learn. Use additional resources, cds, or websites like coolmath4kids.com, prodigy math game, and Duolingo to help them get a broader understanding.
"Let them know what fun it will be after two weeks when it becomes their best subject."
There's more than one way to develop a child's interests, McCauley suggests. "Let each child pick their favourite meal and give them each a day in the week to prepare it. Watch a video, open the cookery books, measure out ingredients, work out doubling up on a recipe, select the time, temperature. Depending on their age you can help them or if they are older, step back and let them do it."
And when all else fails, and you have to resort to TV during the days, McCauley says, "Okay, but it will be TG4. Try and work with your child. Set rules you are comfortable with like, for example, you could say no technology until after a certain time or a certain amount of school work every day if they are older. After that let the kids loose to play with each other. One surprise might be the friendships that develop when your children have to hang out together.
"Be comfortable with the fact that you might cover loads one day and just tuck up on the couch together and watch a movie the next."