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‘I am not a vector’: Oireachtas committee hears from children affected by the pandemic

The Children’s Committee heard from a group of young people on their experiences since March 2020.

Conor James, 11, LilyRose Wogan-Martin, 12, and Olga Bukina, 13, before speaking to the Children's Committee today.
Conor James, 11, LilyRose Wogan-Martin, 12, and Olga Bukina, 13, before speaking to the Children's Committee today.
Image: PA

AN OIREACHTAS COMMITEE has heard from a group of children on their experiences during the pandemic, with one young girl saying she felt “shunned” by others.

LilyRose Wogan-Martin (12) from Dublin, said she was left with a “bitter taste in her mouth” when people shunned her and other children last year when the virus first began to spread.

She was speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth today.

“I am not a vector,” LilyRose said.

“At the first lockdown we were all encouraged for our mental welfare to go walking with our families.

The fact other people shunned us and in many cases tried to walk in the middle of the road rather than pass us left a bitter taste in my mouth and made me want to stay in rather than go out.

“This week an Irish paper had a report on the research into children being vectors at the start of lockdown. I found it amazing that it took 15 months to discuss this and I was even more amazed that it was not prioritised sooner.”

LilyRose told the committee her grandmother died during the pandemic.

“On Mother’s Day my brother and I made a banner for my granny,” she said.

We waved and danced outside her window. Little did I know that that would be the last time I would see her as we were not allowed to see her in the hospital before she passed away.

“I’m sure there are many children in the same situation as me but that does not make it any easier.”

LilyRose said not only had her school life been disrupted by the lockdowns but they had also affected important occasions in her life.

She wondered whether her classmates will all be able to attend their confirmation which has been rescheduled for November when they are all in different secondary schools.

She also spoke of how there were only 10 people allowed at her grandmother’s funeral and 25 people in the church for her aunt’s funeral during the pandemic.

“I’m looking forward to getting vaccinated but most of all having all my family able to travel home so we can all be together and especially not to feel scared anymore,” she said. 

“I think all children, even the very young who did not understand, deserve appreciation and respect for all the fear thrown at us and we would appreciate not to be forgotten by the same adults.”

coronavirus-tue-jun-22-2021 Conor James, 11, LilyRose Wogan-Martin, 12, and Olga Bukina, 13. Source: PA

‘Looking forward to getting back to normal life’

Conor James (11) from Dublin, told the committee that he missed not being able to hug his parents when they came home from work.

“My mum and dad are doctors, and my mum still works with Covid patients,” he said.

“We all know the pandemic was hard for health workers – but it was hard for their families too.

“The hospitals were very busy and overcrowded and stressful. I could not hug my parents when they came home from work.

Luckily, they both got their vaccine four months ago. Since then, I have been looking forward to getting back to normal life.

Conor told TDs and senators that there were some positives to Covid-19, especially how communities came together.

“People really supported each other during the pandemic,” he said.

“For example, because our childminder had to leave due to Covid-19 and school was cancelled, it was hard for my parents who still had to go to work every day.

“Other parents in our community and my aunt offered to help. I hope this community support continues long after the pandemic.”

But he also spoke of how he could not play basketball, his favourite sport, with others, as well as attend his orchestra practice, and how his sister missed swimming and gymnastics.

He said he hoped the government would support centres like The Ark, the National Concert Hall and other institutions involved in art and culture after the pandemic.

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“Arts and culture are very important because they help boost creativity and confidence. It’s a way to express your feelings. It also is a way to get your head clear for a while,” he said.

“I love nothing more than playing my cello for my grandparents whether it’s over Zoom or in person.”

Olga Buckina (13) said loneliness “probably affected all children but to varying degrees”.

She said: “I love cycling with Orwell wheelers, Scouts with Dundrum 20th, The Ark Children’s Cultural Centre and my family (not necessarily in that order).

Those are the things that kept me going during the pandemic.

The teenager said for some children being at home so much during the pandemic their mental health “went way down”.

“Yet for others, it went way up. It depended,” she said.

“Some felt so alone at home that they had to rely on several hours’ FaceTime with their friends just to keep themselves sane. Other children would have felt really lonely in school, even though surrounded by other kids.

For them, being able to stay at home, during the pandemic was freeing. Loneliness probably affected all children, but to varying degrees.

She told the committee people told children not to worry.

“They tried to stop us worrying about getting the virus,” she said.

“Yet most of us were not worried about ourselves but about people who would get the virus or who would be affected by the virus.

“We are not small minded, narcissistic individuals and it is OK for us to be worried, but you need to take care of us and help those people badly affected by the virus.”

She said every child missed out on something – from going shopping, going out without a mask, confirmations, school tours and seeing their friends, to being able to see faces.

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