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Editor's Viewpoint

Don't jump gun and break coronavirus lockdown rules in Northern Ireland

Editor's Viewpoint


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Drone photos show empty roads in Belfast City Centre.
Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.

Drone photos show empty roads in Belfast City Centre. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.

Drone photos show empty roads in Belfast City Centre. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.

Health Minister Robin Swann has sounded a timely May Day alert ahead of the holiday on Friday. As the minister with the primary role in formulating Northern Ireland's response to the coronavirus pandemic he is right to be worried that the debate over relaxing lockdown is getting ahead of itself.

The Republic has set out a timetable - with notional dates - on a gradual easing of the regulations and the Prime Minister is to set out the so-called Pathway to Recovery in a major speech on Sunday.

Both these feed into a subliminal belief that it is only a matter of time, and quite a short time at that, until lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland begin to be lifted.

While most people continue to observe the Government's advice on staying at home, social distancing and handwashing, it is evident that a significant number believe they can see the road to recovery ahead and are determined to set out along it in advance of any firm proposals.

They will have seen the astonishing pictures of a packed Aer Lingus flight from Belfast City Airport to London and have wondered if that is another sign of recovery.

The reaction to those images has shown the need for clear advice to airlines, both in airports and in the air. Aer Lingus and the airport authorities met today to discuss the issue but the question remains - how can air travel be viable if social distancing on planes is strictly adhered to?

The debate on how to balance the priorities over health and wealth is another dilemma for government. With the Government spending £2bn a day propping up the economy it is clear that is an unsustainable position and the Chancellor has already signalled that some financial aid will be phased out.

However, that further feeds into the belief that lockdown must be relaxed soon. That is why Mr Swann and the Chief Medical Officer for NI, Dr Michael McBride, are correct to say that the rules must be observed properly until concrete proposals for relaxation are made public.

Taking the conversation on the way ahead as the beginning of the end is not only a false perception but a dangerous one. People are still dying from coronavirus, new cases are emerging and the threat from the virus will remain as long as no effective treatment or antidote to it are found.

Ignoring the lockdown rules at this stage would be a betrayal of the vast majority who abide by them.

Belfast Telegraph