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Editor's Viewpoint

Easing of coronavirus lockdown a fine balancing act

Editor's Viewpoint


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Belfast city centre on lockdown

Belfast city centre on lockdown

PA

Belfast city centre on lockdown

When does a conversation become a demand and then an expectation? There are subtle signs of a growing desire to see an easing of the coronavirus lockdown. It has to be acknowledged that the vast majority of people have followed the Government's advice on social distancing and staying at home to the letter, but it is possible to detect some impatience with the current situation.

Understandably, the business community is at the forefront of the clamour for the Government to spell out how it hopes to safely loosen the restrictions, which have impeded normal life immensely.

Northern Ireland has an economy with a preponderance of SMEs, businesses built up by the ingenuity, skill and risk-taking of their owners who, in spite of Westminster's unprecedented financial support, would dearly love to get back to work. Otherwise, they fear their life's investment could be lost forever.

That is the huge dilemma facing the Government in London and the devolved administrations in the regions: how to balance public safety and health with reviving the economy.

Can a balance be struck, or will the Government be accused, as happened in an article by Sinn Fein's Declan Kearney, that the Cabinet is prepared to put corporate greed over public welfare?

There are some faint rays of hope - social distancing is working but people are still dying and hundreds of new cases of infection are being discovered each week in the province. A clinical trial on a vaccine began yesterday, but with the best will in the world and if everthing goes perfectly, it may still be a year before it could be routinely given.

Until then the risk of a second spike in virus cases - and deaths - remains not as a possibility, but a distinct probability.

And while employers may want to get back to work, what of their staff? Can they be assured that sufficient safety measures will be in place, for example on building sites or in factories?

It is good that a conversation is taking place on what life after lockdown could look like, but that should not be interpreted as a signal of intent to begin easing restrictions in the immediate future.

We may have to accept that life as we knew it is not returning imminently, or indeed may never do so completely. What we must ensure is that as many people as possible survive to see the virus defeated.

Belfast Telegraph