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NI Executive criticised over 'drip feed' recovery plan as spread of coronavirus slows


Decisions: TUV leader Jim Allister

Decisions: TUV leader Jim Allister

Wine merchant Jim Nicholson

Wine merchant Jim Nicholson

Decisions: TUV leader Jim Allister

The Executive is facing fresh questions over the "drip feed" of easing lockdown as the spread of coronavirus slows in Northern Ireland.

The latest official statistics reveal the drop in death rates here growing. Weekly figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) showed that by May 8 there were 84 Covid-related deaths, a third less than the 124 recorded in the week previously.

The first steps of the Executive's five-phase recovery plan begins on Monday, with the reopening of gardening and recycling centres.

In what some described as a solo run, Environment minister Edwin Poots later announced that angling would also be allowed from Monday.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the lifting of further restrictions will be announced on Monday, and that the decisions were guided by the best scientific advice.

However, some feel the Executive needs to move faster and more decisively.

TUV leader Jim Allister accused political leaders of inaction while a leading businessmen called for more detail.

Mr Allister said: "The drip feed of baby steps to ease the lockdown is more reflective of division in the Executive than of a thought-out strategy. Clearly, things are moving at the pace of the slowest, rather than in accordance with the science."

He questioned why all measures in phase one could not be applied at once, and Executive ministers were cherry-picking.

"The Chief scientific officer has said the R figure (then 0.79, now 0.7) is low enough, and has been so for long enough, to ease down the lockdown, yet, the deputy First Minister pontificated in the Assembly on Tuesday that 0.5 was necessary. What chief scientific adviser is she listening to? She is not entitled to her own science."

Jim Nicholson, a Co Down-based wine merchant, operates his business in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and in England, and is keen to see more movement.

He said: "I suppose everyone thought stage one meant stage one. But instead we're getting this staccato system where one minister comes out - possibly on his own bat - to say we can go fishing now.

"People want a bit of decisive government, to know that people are making proper calls. In the business community people have actually been very responsible. I don't think businesses will want to open things until they have more confidence it's safe, but people don't need to be patronised which the government seems to be constantly doing."

Ms O'Neill, in today's Telegraph, defends the speed of the Executive's plan.

"We don't underestimate the impact these severe restrictions have had. I understand you want your family life back, to visit and socialise with friends and family, to give grandchildren a hug. And the need for businesses to be able to open safely," she said.

She said all decisions would follow the best medical and scientific advice, as well as the leading international practice.

An Executive Office spokesperson said: "The Executive's pathway to recovery sets out the phased approach that Ministers will take to slowly and gradually emerge from lockdown in the safest way possible. This requires judgments based on careful consideration of a range of complex issues.

"Ministers have committed to keeping the Coronavirus Regulations under continuous review and have indicated that they will provide a further update on future easements to the restrictions on Monday."

Belfast Telegraph