Last Thursday, the First Minister stood on the podium in Dungannon and explained why a gradual and measured return of pupils to school is necessary.
Referring to advice from scientists and medics, Arlene Foster paid tribute to the public for the decline in the 'R' rate and the reduction in Covid-19 inpatients, which is helping to reduce the pressure on the health service.
However, she was very clear that as more people are allowed to mix, the rate of infection will rise again.
Further still, the DUP leader said, as the Kent variant now makes up 70% of the cases, the R number is expected to increase much quicker than experienced previously.
“We know from experience that what looks like success is both hard won but also fragile and of greatest concern at the moment is the prevalence of the new variants,” she said.
“What is clear is that we must proceed with great care and with caution, we need our decisions to be both safe and sustainable and I’m determined that through the proper sequencing of actions as we emerge from these restrictions, that we leave lockdowns in the rear view and that we do not step backwards again.
“We will be taking small steps as we monitor and assess before moving to any next stages, as the Prime Minister has said, we will be informed by data, not by dates, but our first step forward will be the gradual return of schools from Monday, March 8.”
Outlining the plan for the youngest children to return for two weeks before reverting back to distance learning to allow GCSE and A-level pupils to go to school, Mrs Foster said the decision had been made “in line with public health advice and considerations, that two large cohorts were not back before Easter”.
The remaining year groups will be able to return to school at some stage after Easter, she said, before adding: “We can only do that if the health assessment allows, we must be mindful when we take these actions, they will have an impact on the R rate.”
So, it seems more than curious that just four days later, Mrs Foster would call for the Executive to revisit its plans.
It came just hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all pupils in England will return to school on March 8.
Mrs Foster’s comments have now been followed by the Education Minister, Peter Weir, who has said he believes health officials at Stormont have been “over-cautious” in recommending a phased return.
Of course, we don’t have the benefit of the evidence that has been presented to the Executive on the matter, so it is difficult to make an assessment on that claim.
However, we do have the warnings made by the chief medical officer and a raft of experts, including Sage, on the dangers of lifting restrictions too quickly, particularly with the Kent strain now the dominant strain.
More than that, Northern Ireland and the health service in particular, is still reeling from the effects of an Executive unwilling to make tough decisions in the run up to Christmas.
The relaxation of measures over the festive season has resulted in more than 700 Covid-19 related deaths this year and the cancellation of more than 1,000 cancer operations as hospitals struggled to cope with demand.
The Health Minister himself acknowledged that the decisions made by the Executive over Christmas have resulted in patients coming to harm.
As of Monday, there were 51 Covid-19 patients in intensive care and a total of 339 Covid-19 inpatients across the system – still significantly higher than during the first or second waves of the virus.
Meanwhile, 187 new cases were confirmed yesterday and a not insignificant 2,079 cases have been diagnosed over the last seven days.
It’s true the numbers are going in the right direction, but the virus has not yet been beaten.
Announcing the decision of the Executive last week, Mrs Foster said she was determined that there will be no more lockdowns.
But the experts could not be clearer – move too fast now and Northern Ireland will quickly find itself in another deadly wave of Covid-19.
It’s difficult to argue with claims that Mrs Foster is simply following Mr Johnson’s lead when it comes to the return of schools – despite evidence that clearly convinced the Executive last week that a phased return of school was the safest option.
So, given England’s woeful death Covid-19 toll and its shambolic pandemic response to date, would Mrs Foster be better off listening to the advice of the medical experts than implementing a plan that has the potential to claim countless more lives and lead to the potential collapse of the health service and another miserable lockdown?