Leona O'Neill: Our long goodbye to Covid begins with cautious optimism

As Covid restrictions are eased and talk of returning to normality grabs the headlines, Leona O'Neill ponders how we make the transition from operating in 'survival mode' during the pandemic to whatever the new 'normal' will be...

Socialising indoors will become commonplace once again as Covid restrictions ease

AFTER almost two years of this pandemic, things appear to be looking up. Last week, our Health Minister Robin Swann said that he hopes further relaxation of restrictions will signal the "beginning of the end" of this hellish journey and the news from health officials is that we are past the peak in terms of coronavirus case numbers and the number of people in hospital with the virus.

In the south, almost all restrictions have been lifted. In doing so, Taoiseach Micheál Martin declared it "a good day" and said: "As we look forward to this spring, we need to see each other again, we need to see each other smile, we need to sing again. Spring is coming."

In England, mandatory face masks rules and Covid passports have been dropped and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked people to go back to the office to work. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: "This is a moment we can all be proud of."

Although we are being told that the pandemic isn't officially over, that we must learn to live with Covid, the news is certainly positive after two years of grim case numbers, spiraling deaths, our hospitals being overrun.

Young and old, we have endured a ceaseless conveyor belt of horrendous news, stress, anxiety and overwhelm, horror, fear, anger, grief and everything in-between.

Everyone's perspective is radically different when it comes to Covid. Those with older or vulnerable relatives have worried – and indeed continue to worry – about them getting sick. Those with underlying conditions themselves have navigated two full years of fear.

Parents have worried about the dangers to their unvaccinated children and the loss of education. Children have worried about managing online teaching, missing their friends, having their social life curbed for so long and the impact the pandemic has had on their qualifications and future prospects. Little kids have missed out on so much social interaction.

It has been the most surreal of times and not one of us has been left untouched by Covid stress. Whether we recognise it or not, we have all been in survival mode for the last 24 months. Normally, survival mode – an adaptive response of the human body to help us survive danger and stress – helps human beings through short periods of stress that allow us to go through the motions in life and do what we need to do. But it is not a good state to be in long term.

Our body's natural stress response system – the fight, flight or freeze one which in times gone by allowed us to gather the adrenaline and energy to run from big scary bears – has been switched on for such a long time. When you think on it, we have had non-stop bear scares for so long, it's going to take a while for us to adjust back to normal. And that is OK.

Human beings are very good at adapting. We have adapted to the surreal existence that Covid thrust upon us – complete lockdown, toilet roll panic buying, home schooling hell, anyone? – and now we will have to adapt to life after Covid: the relaxing of restrictions, perhaps the end of masks, the getting back together again in big numbers, the removal of fear.

A lot of people, young and old, will struggle with some or all of this. Some will take longer than others to adjust back. We have all been through so very much these last two years. Some of us much more than others. Now is the time for kindness, compassion and understanding.

My hope for you is that you can put what happened during Covid behind you and find hope for a brighter future. I hope you can go gently into the rest of 2022 and find only better days ahead.

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