I watched, fascinated, one day recently as a group of men sat around one of those tables designed to look like a wooden barrel, with many empty pint glasses in front of them.
A bowl of chicken wings sat in the middle of the table – this, I assume, was the meal they were supposed to be having. They sat so close together they might as well have been on each other’s laps.
If one of them had Covid, then, about the time you’re reading this, others in the party may well be getting symptoms. As a good deal of laughter, and hence spraying of droplets, was going on, some unlucky passersby on the narrow pavement may be feeling the symptoms around now also.
Of course, in normal times a drinking session like this would just be a pleasant event. Today, it could cost lives, whereas “community responsibility”, which isn’t half as much fun, saves lives. Community responsibility means doing your bit to slow the spread of coronavirus. For the men at the barrel, that would have meant sacrificing the day’s enjoyment because in the circumstances social distancing wasn’t feasible.
It seems to me that this is a fairly common scene and it doesn’t always involve men only and is not always outside pubs.
Just before I began this article I observed a group of building workers sitting at two tables, pushed together, outside a cafe eating their sandwiches. Not an iota of social distancing was going on and the waitress was having a laugh with them. A pleasant scene, but it had the potential to spread Covid far and wide. Maybe peer pressure won out over community responsibility.
Then we have the Lone Ranger. If you are in a city where you can watch buses and trams go by and you scan what is going on inside as they pass, you will probably notice as I do that they often contain a Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger presumably wore a mask to get onto the bus or tram and then took it off.
Community irresponsibility contributes to all of this in the same way that buying cocaine from your local friendly dealer contributes to the long line of criminality behind it
The lack of community responsibility involved is, actually, pathetic. The Lone Rangers are not even having fun like the people around the tables. They are just being nonsensical: they are being covidiots, that’s all, and it could cost them dearly.
Worse, it could cost the rest of us dearly, even if we don’t get Covid.
Pandemic means women giving birth or having miscarriages without a partner present to comfort them. It means people dying in nursing homes without being surrounded by loved ones and, perhaps, without having seen them for months. It means businesses collapsing, jobs lost, mortgages and rents unpaid.
Community irresponsibility contributes to all of this in the same way that buying cocaine from your local friendly dealer contributes to the long line of criminality behind it.
But it looks so normal and innocent because it used to be normal and innocent and will be, one day, again.
Staff serving outside a restaurant, as I saw last week, without wearing masks look normal. Where is their employer’s respect for those staff, though, for their customers and for the rest of us?
The people I’m mentioning here, giving the two fingers to community responsibility, are not the dreaded “young people” we hear so much about: they are people who have left youth behind.
Covidiots are to be found in all age groups including the young, yes, but also including their betters. The guy I saw walking through a busy shopping centre with his family who raised his mask to sneeze into the general vicinity was in his 30s.
The people I’m castigating here as covidiots are not bad people; they are just people seduced by the age-old belief that “it won’t happen to me”.
But it could. And even if you’re lucky and it feels like no more than a bad cold, the virus you passed on could take a life down the line.
Looked at that way, community responsibility isn’t boring – it’s exciting and necessary.
Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).