| 2.8°C Belfast

Caution urged to ensure end at last to shutdowns


Martin McKee

Martin McKee

Martin McKee

As the Prime Minister reveals his plan for coming out of lockdown in England, stakeholders here reveal their views regarding his proposals and if they provide a blueprint for Northern Ireland.

Professor Martin McKee of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a member of independent SAGE

"The Prime Minister is being appropriately cautious. He has stressed that the dates he has set out are the earliest at which restrictions might be lifted.

"Crucially, there will be a four-week period to evaluate the situation after each move, with a further week to allow people to prepare.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

"That said, there are still some issues to resolve, some of which are the subject of the reviews. In these cases, it will be important to learn from elsewhere, and especially Israel.

"Although the reopening announced there has many similar elements, it differs in that many of the venues will only be accessible to those who can demonstrate that they have already had either the disease or the vaccine.

"So, overall, this is encouraging, but no-one should make plans for the summer just yet."

Gerard Keenan, owner of Dan's Bar in west Belfast

"Dates to aim for are great as far as they go, but what's more important is that this time we get any move out of lockdown right.

"All pubs are sitting ready to go when we get the go-ahead, but what we want to say, as well as clarity of when, is clarity of how. We've been here before. We've opened, we've spent a lot of money on stock, and within weeks we've been told to close again. That was more money lost.

"Of course, we understand the reasons and of course we know we're all in this and all sectors have suffered, but we have waited so long that this time the Executive has to get this right. We can't afford another false dawn, another lockdown,

"We're prepared to wait until everything is right, but right for Northern Ireland, not just what was right in England."

Dr Connor Bamford, Queen's University Belfast virologist

"The cautious approach announced by the Prime Minister is to be commended, although I do not believe it is cautious enough and it lacks a reliance on improvement in key data such as numbers of new cases, hospitalisations, the R-rate, and presence of variants of concern.

"Northern Ireland's vaccine rollout is going superbly well and we have seen a dramatic reduction in new daily cases.

"However, there is a concern that the reduction in cases is slowing down or in some places even beginning to increase.

"We also need to be reminded that the threat of Covid-19 is still significant, because no vaccine is 100% perfect and there are variants that could reduce how well these vaccines work.

"Any rapid release of restrictions risks threatening the success of our vaccine campaign.

"Looking at how Northern Ireland should move forward in relation to England's plan, I would like to see the focus on a phased and slower school return with better staff and student safety measures in place.

"It should also take key data into consideration at every step of the way, with some limited restrictions maintained through summer and into autumn, and a targeted approach to at-risk regions or communities."

Glyn Roberts, Retail NI chief executive

"The Prime Minister's roadmap for reopening is both realistic and welcome. We look forward to the publication of the Executives roadmap because it is vital they give less tunnel, more light and above all else hope.

"Covid marshals, public hand sanitisers and business compliance scoring with the regulations all need to be in place for the reopening of non-essential retail to reassure shoppers and to limit transmission. This work needs to start now.

"This will require considerable effort from the Executive, local councils and businesses working in partnership to produce a reopening plan for our high streets."

Paula Bradshaw, Alliance Party MLA and Stormont health committee member


Paula Bradshaw

Paula Bradshaw

Paula Bradshaw

"The research following on from the vaccination programme is hugely hopeful, and since we are working off similar evidence we will no doubt have similar prioritisation. I would expect us and all other jurisdictions to prioritise restoring outdoor social contact and education.

"However, two things should be emphasised. First of all, it is already the case that the detail of decisions around the return of schools and the raising of restrictions on outdoor meetings is different in Northern Ireland, and the detail of other easings - in terms of exactly what is permitted (and) when - will no doubt differ too as we consider our own circumstances.

"Secondly, while I understand the public clamour for dates, what we do will be based on the data - including infection rates and hospitalisations - which will in turn be affected considerably by the vaccination programme and just how effective the vaccines are both on stopping transmission and stopping serious illness."

Roger Pollen, head of Federation of Small Businesses NI


Roger Pollen

Roger Pollen

Roger Pollen

"Just as the Prime Minister has set out his four tests in terms of the metrics for decision making, the Executive should be transparent about what has to be achieved in terms of the required public health outcomes that will determine what easements can be made.

"The Executive should provide a similar data-driven roadmap to give businesses clarity on what the next steps are, and the process for various sections of the economy being able to reopen.

"While coronavirus restrictions differ across the UK nations, some of the most significant support schemes are delivered on a UK-wide basis, therefore it is important that impacted businesses aren't left without support if relaxations occur at different paces across the UK.

"It was positive to hear the Prime Minister hint that the Chancellor will announce plans for the future of job support in the Budget.

"It is crucial that businesses don't face a cliff edge at the end of April when the current furlough scheme is due to end."

Belfast Telegraph