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Coronavirus: Bellaghy villagers determined to make sure life goes on in these difficult times

From behind the front window of her home, about half a mile from the Co Londonderry village of Bellaghy, Marietta Duffin gazes out onto a scene of rolling countryside basking in early spring sunshine.

There's little to suggest her eyes are looking over a changed world.

It's an isolated location, but for Marietta, who lives with husband Paddy - who has the inflammatory lung disease COPD, which can leave him with breathing difficulties at the best of times - life has never felt so lonely.

"I live for my family," she said. "I have eight grandchildren all aged between one and 10 years old and until this week I've seen them nearly every day.

"I spent the morning making cupcakes for them. I'll leave them at the door and they'll collect them later."

The family connections are strong in south Derry. Devotion runs deep.

"It's hard, not being able to see them. It breaks my heart," said Marietta. "We use Facetime, but it's just not the same interaction."

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Marietta Duffin is coming to terms with what’s happening in Bellaghy

Marietta Duffin is coming to terms with what’s happening in Bellaghy

Marietta Duffin is coming to terms with what’s happening in Bellaghy

Marietta is continuing to work remotely from home. Despite her husband's condition, she says he still has to leave the house to earn.

"He's a lorry driver but he's been told there's probably not a better job to self-isolate in. He's in the lorry cabin all day on his own. It's a lonely job so for now he's determined to keep on working," she said.

"I do worry though. I worry all the time.

"We've been married for 40 years and last night, honestly, was the first time we've knelt together to pray. That helped me sleep.

"I'm the youngest of nine children and my brothers and sisters are all in their 70s and 80s, so we're all worried about each other.

"We would all have gone out walking together, and were planning to do the Camino Walk in Spain later this year, like we did last year. Things like that won't happen but, God-willing, we'll all try again when this all ends."

In the village, Bellaghy Pharmacy has taken to closing between 1pm-2pm to allow staff time to catch up. On arrival the queue stretches out into the main street, unheard of for a village which is normally ticking over as quietly as most across Northern Ireland.

There's a limit of 10 people through the door at any one time and people are asked to wait in the car to have prescriptions brought out if possible.

"Staffing is the biggest problem," said Hugh Graham, who runs the Spar convenience store, the hub of the village centre.

"From a staff of four this morning I have two off, one to look after the children and one who is in her 70s. It does add to the pressure but we can't take any chances."

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Hugh Graham is coming to terms with what’s happening in Bellaghy

Hugh Graham is coming to terms with what’s happening in Bellaghy

Hugh Graham is coming to terms with what’s happening in Bellaghy

What staff remain are wearing hand gloves. Anyone at the till is standing well back from the person in front. One young woman, child in tow with the local school closed as teachers prepare for online lessons, says her two older kids have had to go to their school. Families are fractured, some at home, some at work, some at school.

"Sales wise it's been good for us and the supply chains are holding up very well. We survived the toilet roll rush with only the likes of hand sanitiser and hand soaps running short," Hugh said.

"That's what we need in village life and there does seem to be a lot more people sticking to their local store. They don't want to travel if they don't have to."

Hugh said he had witnessed a remarkable surge in community spirit over the last week.

"It's been quite amazing," he said.

"I've had so many local people contacting me to see if they can help in any way.

"There's a team of volunteers now who have set themselves up to deliver essential goods around the village to people who can't otherwise get out.

"No-one asked them to do it, they just phoned and said they wanted to help.

"Anyone who needs anything can have it delivered and that's not only a big help to me to keep the shop operating as best as I can, it's a vital help to the older people around here who might be at home with no-one available to support them.

"There's a lot of good coming out of a bad time. What I'm seeing is touching and commendable.

"But there are still many grey areas where people are not quite sure what to do.

"We have the local post office here in the store and older people in particular, the people who might not have smartphones or use debit cards, still need access to their money.

"They're having to find someone to trust to give their account and personal details to if they're to get their pensions or access their cash.

"There are a few security concerns, but we're learning to adapt. We know more every day on the best way to work through what are very strange times."

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