Something unusual happened this week, while I was writing my column. A blackbird flew against a large window that overlooks a lovely green area, at the back of where I live. There was a great big thud, and I went over to see what happened.

The blackbird was there, on its side, barely moving. I thought it was close to death. I decided to let the bird rest and not upset it, as it was dazed. So I returned to my writing.

About an hour later, I went back and see if the lovely bird was alive or dead. I was not sure what I would find, but hoped for the best.

Thankfully, it was now sitting up, assessing its location but clearly still quite stunned. It had also been a bit sick on the balcony. I moved away again so as not to upset it. When I returned about a half an hour later, it had flown away. It was a happy moment.

This blackbird had been close to death, survived, bruised no doubt, but had been able to move on to face whatever was coming next. And there we all are in our daily lives, often seconds away from a sudden halt to our trajectory.

During the height of the pandemic, we endured lonely nights, without a moon or a star. For many people, but not all, last week, marked a resumption of life, in a much-changed world.

With all the talk about Phase One, Two and Three, there are still people who feel it important to stay at home and protect themselves. 

People have been affected in different ways. This pandemic has changed people, made some fearful, unsure of the future. Uncertainty has replaced certainty.

For some, a simple step outside their door, is like man's first walk on the moon. A leap of faith, or a leap into fear. It will take quite some time to readjust.

Masks on public transport

Most places reopened this week but it was all very odd. The approach to wearing masks is mixed, even on public transport.

Pubs are something of a barometer of life in Ireland, for good and for bad. They threw open their doors this week to a different environment. It has largely been a slow, cautious return.

This virus has changed people, their outlook on life and their habits. Some things that once seemed inconsequential have taken on a new importance.

The pandemic also forced people back to the basics of life. Each encounter now with someone on the street, offers a moment to think about survival, and what must it be like behind the eyes of the person behind the mask.

In the streets, shops and avenues, we meet people who have gone through the most terrible of times. Husbands who have lost wives and vice versa. Families who have lost sisters and brothers. Partners who have lost their beloved.

And those who have been to hell and back and survived, but forever changed.

This week has been all about change. Phase Three and the big reboot. A new Government. A new Taoiseach. A new Minister for Health.

For personal, family reasons the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan stepped back from his role. And Stephen Donnelly walked into a new job as Minister for Health, no doubt with some trepidation.

There are big decisions to be made in health, including advice for the public, which will determine their travel plans for the summer and autumn.

It has been a torrid year so far for everyone. Families and especially those with kids want a break, here at home, or perhaps away in the sun. Somewhere safe, somewhere to unwind.

Above all, people need clarity and guidance and for it all to be based on solid science.

There have been several times during the emergency when the mixed messaging has proven difficult for the public. It was seen in relation to the wearing of masks, the two-metre and one-metre rule and now on overseas travel.

People need to plan ahead. Others have already booked holidays.

Holidays

It now looks like the EU Green List of countries will be published next week, meaning these are the locations people can travel to and return from without having to self-isolate.

However, when this list will be activated is unclear and it is likely to be reviewed every two weeks by the EU.

Given we are now into July, people will be looking to next week’s Cabinet meeting for decisions.

When the lockdown came, the world stood still. The air became very clear, the skies were beautiful at night and there was an uneasy calm about. 

It is just an observation but it also stopped raining and the weather was mostly beautiful during the height of the crisis. And now that some kind of normality has returned, with cars, buses and more people about, the clouds and rain have returned. It’s quite odd.

This week, we also got a first glimpse of the scale of deaths due to Covid-19. A new report from the Health Information and Quality Authority found that the excess deaths were substantially less than than the coronavirus figures.

While it caused a 13% increase in deaths here between March and June, the true number may be less than reported.

While there were 1,200 more deaths during the period, it is less than the 1,709 reported Covid-19 related deaths during those months.

Covid-19 test

HIQA has concluded that the official figures likely overestimates the true level of excess deaths caused by the virus, due to people being included whose cause of death may have predominantly been due to other factors.

The data used by HIQA was from the death notices on the website rip.ie - not from official data from the Central Statistics Office, or from inquest verdicts. So that is a caveat to bear in mind until a formal official review is done on deaths during the emergency.

However, the CSO has said that there is a strong correlation, of more than 99%, between its data and notices placed on rip.ie for the years 2016 and 2017, suggesting that the data can be used to accurately measure trends in mortality.

What we don’t know of course is the amount of mortality and morbidity relating to non-Covid-19 issues, due to delayed healthcare, as a result of the halt to all but urgent treatment and the pausing of screening programmes.

The amount of information we now have available on this virus and its impact on Ireland is staggering.

The State agencies have done an enormous job gathering as much data as possible, on which to judge, plan and re-organise services.

The latest minutes published from the National Public Health Emergency Team are also very interesting. The clinical experience of the disease progression with Covid-19 is increasing.

In particular, it is now clear that some patients and patient groups may need quite long hospital stays due to coronavirus and also need continuing care and rehabilitation.

This could have a big impact on the health services overall and the bed and staff capacity in the months and years ahead.

Another very important development during the week came from the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission.

It has called for a review of the Department of Health’s guidance on priority access to critical care, in relation to Covid-19, especially for those groups potentially most affected.

There are concerns about how age and disability are being treated in the critical care triage system, in the event that demand for critical care exceeds the availability of beds.

The Commission has said that the consultation in the preparation of the guidelines was very limited and it failed to engage with those most likely to be affected -  and that this needs to be rectified.

These are decisions about life and death, made by clinical staff. When you look at the data it is stark.

Of all the cases of coronavirus here, just six people aged 85 years and older were admitted to ICU.

In the case of those aged 75-84 years, 45 people were admitted to ICU. And in the 65-74 age group, 110 patients were admitted to ICU.

Hospital

Clinical decisions have to be made about whether certain patients are suitable for intensive care, and ventilation.

Families need to be fully informed in all cases on such decision making, so that everyone knows what is going on.

These past few months have been staggeringly difficult. We have all looked for hope in the darkest of places.

We can say that during the worst of the coronavirus emergency, Irish people were at their best.

There may have been individual failings, but that’s all part of being human. This virus is an elusive enemy. A serious threat. And currently there is no end in sight.

At times, it may look like Covid-19 is in retreat but perhaps it’s just preparing for a second attack. There are many battles ahead with coronavirus. Some of those battles are within ourselves. There is no option but to fight on and hope things will improve.

Like the little blackbird I talked about earlier. The unexpected can visit us at any time. And knock us down. We get up again and continue. There is no other option.