Northern Ireland

Family of seriously ill toddler Dáithí Mac Gabhann urge people to wear face coverings in public

Dáithi Mac Gabhann with his pink Dáithi mask. Picture by Mal McCann.
Dáithi Mac Gabhann with his pink Dáithi mask. Picture by Mal McCann.

THE family of Dáithí Mac Gabhann, a toddler needs life-saving transplant surgery, have urged people to wear face coverings in public as they told of how they will "take a cautious approach" to today's pausing of coronavirus shielding.

In an appeal to the public, his father Máirtín said: "We are nearly there, there's light at the end of the tunnel, we don't want to be dragged back so if it helps, just wear a mask".

His mother Seph Ní Mhealláin also said they "won’t be jumping straight back in integrating with the public" amid continuing fears for the health of their three-year-old son.

Shielding is paused in Northern Ireland today for an estimated 80,000 people, including Dáithí, who has spent four months at home as his heart condition places him in the most vulnerable category.

Just yesterday, the chief medical officer Michael McBride said the virus was still active in the community, which made measures like social distancing and wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces more important.

For the family of the west Belfast toddler, who was born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, they said they remain "far too anxious".

Prof Ian Young: Protect others, protect yourself – wear a face covering

"Yes we’ll take him out for walks to try and get a bit of normality back but it definitely won’t be the same," said Ms Ní Mhealláin.

"For instance bringing him to the playpark won’t happen any time soon. This isn’t over for us.

"We are very conscious that there could be a second wave in the coming months. Yes there have been few deaths here of late but the threat is still there, it hasn’t gone away."

Although today's shielding pause marks a welcome milestone, Mr Mac Gabhann is urging the public to remember the most vulnerable in society.

"We’ve got this far so don’t let your guard down and please be vigilant," he said.

Dáithí Mac Gabhann with his parents Seph and Máirtín. Picture by Mal McCann
Dáithí Mac Gabhann with his parents Seph and Máirtín. Picture by Mal McCann

"One of my major concerns is that some people don’t view Covid-19 as a massive threat and it might not be to those individuals but that reminds me of a survival of the fittest mentality rather than a ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality.

"I’d urge people to remain alert and remain careful. You could help save a life at the end of the day."

Mr Mac Gabhann also said they hoped people would consider wearing face coverings in a bid to avoid another wave of the virus.

"We have been wearing masks to appointments we've had to go to, I know some people see it as controversial having to wear one or being told to wear one," he said.

Dáithí Mac Gabhann (3) from Ballymurphy in west Belfast
Dáithí Mac Gabhann (3) from Ballymurphy in west Belfast

"But if it helps to avoid a second wave of the virus, please just wear a mask.

"If it's necessary, just do it. This virus will impact Dáithí, it will impact older people, we don't want to go into another lockdown as we are already struggling with our mental health.

"We are nearly there, there's light at the end of the tunnel, we don't want to be dragged back so if it helps, just wear a mask."

Ms Ní Mhealláin added that they don't feel they can return to "normal life" yet.

“Dáithí is already very sick, he’s waiting on a heart transplant, we have that worry and then you have Covid on top of that," she said.

"Now we have even more anxiety as we’re starting to come out of lockdown and have been leaving the house a bit."

Mr Mac Gabhann, a British Heart Foundation NI ambassador, also encouraged those with heart conditions and worried about what the pause in shielding means for them to contact the charity.