If we work together, we can say goodbye to this virus – and the restrictions that have come to dominate our lives
Tripadvisor describes Verbier, a ski resort in Switzerland, as boasting “a unique panoramic outlook with views over the Combins range, Mount Blanc and even the Matterhorn”. This scenic vista was not enough to entice hundreds of British tourists, who arrived there over Christmas, to remain in situ when they were instructed to quarantine in their rooms instead of hit the slopes.
Out of 420 Brits who checked in at the resort, only a dozen remained this week – with most fleeing their snowy prison under cover of darkness, without informing authorities of their departure.
According to Verbier communications officer Jean-Marc Sandoz, some guests escaped across the border to France to continue their holiday. If they fled there, they have run directly into the path of a huge Covid outbreak in that part of the country. What could possibly go wrong?
When we try to examine how Covid-19 spreads with such ease across borders, the selfish actions of these tourists is instructive for a number of reasons.
It seems likely that at least some of those who arrived in upmarket Verbier would have come from the southeast of England, where Tier 4 restrictions, which ban all non-essential foreign travel, were introduced on December 20. If they travelled to Switzerland after that date, they were already in flagrant breach of domestic rules. Absconding from their resort, in breach of public health laws in Switzerland, was just the icing on the law-
Throughout this pandemic, there are some who continue to believe that rules, introduced to stem the surge of the virus, don’t apply to them. Their lives are too important, their holidays too crucial and their relationships too indispensable to be upended by restrictions.
These are the people who can’t seem to understand, either wilfully or ignorantly, that their individual actions can have far-reaching consequences for the lives, health and livelihoods of those around them.
The British escape artists may be the most egregious example of this rule-breaking, but they are by no means alone. While most restaurants and gastropubs adhered to restrictions, when those businesses reopened earlier this month, there were some notable exceptions.
In Dublin, one licensed premises, inspected by gardaí at 10.30pm, was found to have up to 200 people present, no food was being served and there was no social distancing. In the north-west, a hotel function room was found to have 100 patrons present with groups of 12 or more gathered at individual tables and no evidence of any social distancing or food having been served.
Meanwhile, on Monday, HSE CEO Paul Reid said there had been an “increasing and concerning trend of some people not answering calls from contact tracers”.
How can people not understand the importance of being tested, as soon as possible, once they are identified as close contacts of a confirmed case? Yes, it is annoying and disruptive to be tested, and have to restrict movements for 14 days, but evading the test doesn’t mean you don’t have Covid. It just means you don’t care.
This self-absorbed ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude is infuriating. We all know what is at stake. The people flouting the rules may enjoy a boozy night out with their mates, or a ski holiday in some glitzy resort, but the rest of us are left living with restrictions for months on end, businesses are shuttered for longer and the numbers getting sick and dying increases unnecessarily.
Going to the pub, a match, a wedding, a funeral or on holiday should not be potentially dangerous activities, but as long as Covid is circulating at high levels in the community, they are. We can’t just wish that danger away. Each outwardly innocuous social encounter that any of us has could be a link in a chain of disease transmission that ultimately leads to scores of infections occurring and even some deaths.
Breaking the rules once or twice may not seem like a big deal in isolation, but if this behaviour is replicated all over the country, when the virus is spreading like wildfire, we are all about to endure the bleakest January of our lives.
Given how much everyone has suffered throughout 2020, most abstemious new year’s resolutions can get in the bin along with the annus horribilis that has finally come to an end. I, for one, will be giving up neither chocolate nor alcohol in the months ahead.
But, perhaps, if we were to collectively resolve to do just one thing in 2021, it is to stick to the rules as rigidly as we can for as long as we must. To keep our contacts to a minimum, answer calls from contact tracers when we get them and restrict our movements if that is the advice. It goes without saying that any prospective ski holidays should also be put on hold.
Now that the first Covid vaccine has begun to be administered, with other vaccines set for authorisation early in the new year, the end to this nightmare is finally in sight. We can either hunker down, and do our best to suppress the spread while we wait for the most vulnerable to be inoculated, or let it rip – causing untold, and avoidable, pain and grief in the process.
Those who are thinking of ringing in the new year with a raucous house party, or even a modest gathering of friends, should think again. Think how you will feel if your event becomes the source of a local outbreak or if the tasteful dinner party you attended results in your friends or family members becoming sick.
2020 has been a year of loss, isolation, abandoned plans and missed opportunities. 2021 will be better – after all, it couldn’t possibly be any worse. But it’s only by working together that we can say goodbye to this virus, and the restrictions that have come to dominate our lives, as quickly as possible.