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Editor's Viewpoint

First steps forward a tricky balancing act

Editor's Viewpoint


General views of Botanic Gardens in Belfast

General views of Botanic Gardens in Belfast

Philip Magowan / PressEye

General views of Botanic Gardens in Belfast

The crowds who gathered on Ballyholme beach and at Botanic Gardens at the weekend may have felt that coronavirus poses only a slight risk to them or the population at large. They are wrong, even if the number of deaths has fallen rapidly, as has the total of people known to be infected.

The Northern Ireland Executive is right to remain cautious. The potential for a second spike in infections is only a hair's breadth away and the enormous discipline shown by the overwhelming number of people in the province in following official advice is still required.

Yet the community cannot remain in state of suspension. It is proper that tentative steps, guided by scientific and medical advice, are taken to ease the lockdown regulations.

The latest move - as always accompanied by the caveat that the R figure, which indicates the level of potential infection, remains below 1 - is to allow an almost forgotten sector of the population to gain a little freedom.

These are people who are shielding - they have received letters from their GPs saying that they are among the most vulnerable to the pandemic - and they have been confined to their homes for more than 10 weeks. If the R figure is acceptable on Thursday (it currently stands at 0.9) then they will be able to go outdoors with members of their family, or those who live alone will be able to meet one person from another household.

For most of us, being unable to go to the shops, dine out, visit leisure facilities or meet friends since March 23 has seemed a huge restriction on our personal freedom, albeit imposed for the best of reasons, but imagine how we would feel if we were not able to go outside our front door.

The Executive's ministers are playing a very delicate balancing game, trying to give hope to people that we have taken the first steps on the pathway to recovery while ensuring that any relaxation of the rules does not endanger the health of the community at large.

It is encouraging that they are listening to the voices of the community as well as their scientific and medical advisers and seeking to find a balance which satisfies both.

People who have been in real lockdown for around 12 weeks can now reconnect with family members or their neighbours. They will have freedom to work in the garden or merely relax outside in the sunshine. It will be like a holiday to them.

Belfast Telegraph