A walk through Portlaoise tells me it will be a miracle if we avoid a second wave of Covid-19 deaths

Conor Ganly


Conor Ganly



coronavirus covid-19

HSE Covid-19 test centre in Portlaoise at O'Moore Park GAA grounds

As a journalist, I'm an essential worker. I have been going to work at the Leinster Express office in Portlaoise town centre during the lockdown.

For most of the time, Portlaoise was like a ghost town. Very few people were out. Those who did so only ventured out for exercise.

Rarely would you see a 'cocooner'.

While restrictions are still supposed to be fairly tight, a lot has changed. There is a lot of evidence that people are taking unnecessary risks. By doing so they are putting their lives and the lives of others in danger.

I had to report on a council meeting today, May 20, in Laois County Council. Restrictions were eased two days earlier.

Our office is about a five-minute walk from County Hall. I observed a number of issues that lit the red light in my mind about the prospect that the apparently 'extinguished' killer virus will reemerge in the community setting.

The first shock was the sight of a local bus stopping on James Fintan Lalor Avenue which is the town's main thoroughfare.

At least 10 people aged in their 20s and 30s were waiting to get into the relatively small vehicle. One or two had face masks, there was little or no social distancing in the queue. In fairness to the people, there was no facility to help them social distance.

As I come closer I saw something else that was more startling and worrying that our National Public Health Emergency Team and Government should tune into.

Two cocooners were trying to disembark from the vehicle through the crowd. Both were men, who I estimate were aged in their 80s. One man a mobile walking aid and struggled to step safely from the vehicle. He had no facemask or gloves.

The second gentleman was close behind him. Aged at least in his 80s this man had a facemask but he was wearing it around his neck. He had no walking aid but clearly needed one. Frail in appearance, he was barely able to walk and made very slow progress getting off the bus and walking up the street.

There was clearly no 2-metre gap being observed by the men as the disembarked. Those waiting to get on the bus did not leave a 2-metre gap between them and the two men. It was a relatively 'normal' bus queue.

It certainly is not the 'new normal' bus queue our doctors and Government want.

The thought that also crossed my mind was that neither of these men were capable of being out and about - Covid-19 or no Covid-19. The heat would also have made it difficult for them.

I also wondered what purpose these two elderly men had in venturing out.

As I moved on along the street the amount of traffic also struck me. Portlaoise is still not as busy as normal but is a lot busier than it was during the height of the lockdown. 

I know this because I have worked in the town during the lockdown.

Streets were relatively deserted on most days. The sound of traffic became a rarity.

At one point the only cars that would be parked on the Leinster Express section of Main Street would be those of Leinster Express essential staff. Now, it is hard to get a spare parking place on the street.

The meeting I was assigned to cover was, thankfully, an example of how we are supposed to behave if there is a need to gather. Laois County Council staff and councillors managed the meeting safely with significant gaps maintained at all times. The meeting length was kept to a minimum. Some staff and officials who could not attend were facilitated remotely. 

However, on my way back to the office I saw a few more things that gave rise for concern.

Firstly, I observed a group of about 10 teenage girls gathering at the front of the county hall. There was no social distancing and I do not think they were all sisters.

I observed a number of other elderly people out and about shopping. As far as I am aware, cocooners are supposed to stay at home unless they wish to go out for some exercise within 5km of their home. Extensive supports remain in place to support cocooning.

One woman I came across was again aged in her 80s. She was sort of wearing a facemask as she walked near the post office. I say sort of because she was holding the facemask tightly to her face. She was also carrying a shopping bag. She did not look very relaxed.

In the heat, she, and the other cocooners I encountered, were all showing signs of being affected by the hot weather. 

As a came closer to the office I was surprised to see two businesses open. One was a wool and fabric supplier. A second was a mobile phone accessory and repair shop.

The questions I ask myself are:

Who knows what is permitted anymore?

Do cocooners know their movements remain restricted?

Do business people know whether they can open or not?

Who polices our restrictions and new roadmap out of lockdown?

When will the second wave hit and will it be worse?