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A great saying found in all religions tells us: ‘do onto others as you would want done onto you’. It’s the Golden Rule and its application is never more timely that in the face of the radical measures we have to take in stopping the spread of the Corinavirus.

Even a brief review of the past few days tells us the situation is very serious. The country's schools, colleges and childcare facilities are closed. Public health authorities are strongly advocating social distancing at all levels. And it may not be enough.

The news from Italy and Spain is like an alarm bell for us, with the narrative temperature and state of emergency dialling up by the minute. Some analysts are predicting dire overstretching of our healthcare personnel and resources.

Before such a serious situation what are we to do? Panic? That serves no one. Be serenely optimistic that only a few will be really affected? That’s naïve. Work ourselves up into a stressed mind-set?  That will only curtail our resolve to do something.

What we can and ought to do is take responsibility. And we need to start by reviewing our lifestyle completely for the coming weeks in light of the Golden Rule.

Would I like others to be spreading the virus in a way that I ended up contracting COVID-19? If not, then I must likewise seriously curtail all interaction with others to ensure I am not infecting them. Would I appreciate it if others made a big effort to make sure I didn’t get infected by the virus?  Then I must do my part in taking whatever measures I can to ensure others remain healthy and the virus is stopped.

The stakes are too high. People’s lives are at stake. Our health system will not withstand the pressures if we don’t do our part now. It’s clear this is a rapidly spreading virus. We can no longer afford to be nonchalant about social gatherings any more, about meeting friends for cups of coffee, gathering in pubs, socialising in restaurants and clubs.

For the sake of a few weeks, we need to make sacrifices. Of course, we are afraid of cutting back in business and services; that’s completely understandable but we are at a point where it is now so evident that if we don’t take short-term sacrifice, we will hurt long term. We will hurt economically but we will hurt from a health perspective. And people will die.

While essential services need to run, it makes sense for business long term to take a few weeks of severe cutbacks to try and get rid of this virus that will otherwise cause havoc.  Closing down for a matter of weeks all non-essential services was inevitably what happened in Wuhan, China and, it would appear, won the battle for them against the Coronavirus.  If we don’t learn from this we could pay dearly.

The message I am picking up from public health authorities is that, in a word, it’s best if we can stay at home most of the time. This has its challenges but we need to be creative about this and not shy away from this as a social policy for the next few weeks. Social distancing is vital. Families have been told to avoid children mixing with others etc. I would appeal to young adults in particular to do their part.

It’s not easy, I know, but for the sake of the ones you love, cut right back on all social outings at this time. Loving your parents and grandparents as yourself requires this. I’ve heard of some bars having large crowds across urban Ireland, in particular, and in Limerick as well, since government stepped up its measures on Thursday. No one likes to seem a killjoy but it’s hard to understand how a policy of social distancing can really take effect if our social life is going on as normal.

The very people not respecting this are the very people that could be putting their own loved ones at risk – the elderly and others vulnerable to this virus. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.

While the Government hasn’t yet called for a lockdown, could we not already voluntarily do our part to effectively, as much as we can, reduce our interactions with one another. Ireland is known for its good social cohesion. This is a unique, unprecedented crisis calling for us like never before to pull together to stop the virus spreading.

A particular case in point must be funerals. Irish people are great at going to funerals but this is a case where your “condolences” (suffering-with) could end up “condemning” (causing to suffer) others to misery, self-isolation and possibly loss. No one should attend funerals unless they are immediate relatives or very particular friends. While I do, of course, understand the desire of others to attend, to do if not members of immediate family or a very particular friend could enter into the realms of recklessness.  And, of course, in keeping to the HSE advice, there should be no hand-shaking or hugs regardless. Social distancing must be observed now as difficult as that is. Once this crisis has passed, and it will pass, another ceremony can be arranged for all those who should not attend now to gather and pay their respects in that great Irish way and let the family know you share their loss. In the meantime, phone-calls, texts and social media can be used to convey your support for them.

All of these measures are about putting things we normally do on hold.

Cutting back on our social interaction at all levels will bring its challenges. We all have to do our part pro-actively to make sure no one feels suffocated or alone or bored or down. It requires creativity on all our parts to share ideas, projects, initiatives on line and among our family members. It’ll certainly be important to get out for walks etc. But still the message must be clear: staying at home is best. Who knows what kind of good fun and educational tips we might come up with in terms of music, study, games, cookery, historical documentaries and then there’s all those great moments to relive – sporting moments, movies and much more. In a word, answer this simple question before undertaking any social interaction during this time of crisis: am I treating my neighbour as I would want them to treat me? The answer is yes or no.  

If you are on the frontline health services or emergency services, know you are serving your neighbour in a very valuable way for which we are all indebted to you. If you are doing essential necessary work, you are doing unto others as you would want done unto you. If you are avoiding social interaction out of care for others, you are living the Golden Rule. It’s a great measure: do unto others as you would want done unto you. You will be doing your part to stop the virus spreading.