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Coronavirus: On either side of Irish border, a struggle to comprehend the implications of crisis

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Lifford Library

Lifford Library

Lifford Library

The streets of Lifford in Co Donegal were deserted on Friday, apart from a few people heading to the pharmacy. Cafes and shops were empty and the local schools were closed as per Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's instructions.

One mile down the road in Strabane, Co Tyrone, things were a little more lively. Children in their school uniforms populated the coffee shops and Asda's car park was packed to capacity with shoppers on pre-apocalypse-style grocery missions.

It was once Brexit that struck fear into border communities, now it's the deadly coronavirus bug currently sweeping across the world.

Masses and sporting events have been cancelled on both sides of the border and Derry City and Strabane District Council has closed down all its public buildings. Schools, universities and childcare facilities are closed in the Republic. But they remain open in Northern Ireland.

People on the Tyrone/Donegal border were on Friday struggling to comprehend what the measures meant for them.

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Gillian Graham

Gillian Graham

Gillian Graham

Gillian Graham, manager of Lifford Old Courthouse, says they closed their museum but have kept their restaurant open.

"We have had cancellations," she said. "It is definitely going to hit us financially here. Staff would be concerned about closing, about pay and child care because there is no school. It's hard to tell what's ahead."

James Cassidy, director of Healthwise Pharmacy in Lifford, says his staff are taking every precaution against coronavirus so they can continue to care for people.

There is hand sanitiser at the front door of the Bridge Street store and staff are wearing gloves. There is a sign at the till which informs those suffering with cold and flu symptoms to raise their hand and they will be dealt with by a masked and gloved member of staff who will also give them a mask before conversing.

"We are front line health providers," he said. "We are in close contact with customers every day and we have to be here to look after our patient base. It would be grossly irresponsible of us to pull up the shutters. We will remain. Hospitals, GPs and pharmacies can't close."

Adrian McGonagle is the owner of the Diamond Cafe in Lifford. He said he fears for his business.

"The main source of my business would be from the Donegal council building across the street," he said. "It is worrying for me that if the schools close down, the council buildings could follow them. If they closed, I would have to close also. There were even rumours that the border might close."

Brian Henderson has faith we will cope.

"I think we will get through this," he said. "If we keep a level head we will manage. It doesn't concern me at all. We'll get flu this year, and one next year."

Danielle Devine says the Taoiseach was right to close the schools.

"It's right and I think that Northern Ireland should close their schools too," she said. "We are one mile from the north here and they are not taking the same measures. It could still spread."

Over in Strabane, Dicey Reilly's bar manager Christopher Hendry says that the coronavirus could shut all the pubs.

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Christopher Hendry

Christopher Hendry

Christopher Hendry

"There is no football on, so a large part of your business is gone," he said. "We are not allowed to have discos or band nights. Hopefully it will only be a short-term measure. The worst case scenario will be that the pubs will have to close."

Out in the street Helena Canning says people should calm down.

"There is too much panic," she says. "The shops are empty, you can't even buy nappies. The virus is very serious but we just have to watch ourselves."

Tommy Morris says the crisis has been thrust upon us.

"I think it's madness," he said.

"Shops are bought out of toilet rolls. It's crazy. It's hard to say what will happen. The virus happened so suddenly, we weren't prepared."

Teacher Alison Preston says she is glad her children Max and Jenny are still at school.

"They need to give it a little time before the schools close," she said.

"Closing them would damage the kids' education. They might have to go to grandparents, the more vulnerable people, so they are best at school."

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Majella McDermott

Majella McDermott

Majella McDermott

Majella McDermott runs Cafe Milano. She says right now Brexit is a distant memory.

"We don't know what's ahead. It was Brexit a few months ago and now it's this. It's scary," she said.

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