Northern Ireland's preparations in the fight to combat coronavirus fall into the category of 'you couldn't make it up'. At a crucial time in March when the pandemic was beginning its deadly spike, and fears were being expressed that deaths could run into the thousands, the province had no voice in the influential Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which was advising the UK Government.
he man who should have been at the table during those high-level discussions was the province's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Ian Young, but he was absent as he was on long-term sickness leave. Incredibly, no one seems to have thought it would be a good idea to send a deputy. So, Northern Ireland's view on the way forward was never put until Prof Young first appeared at Sage on April 7.
It was important that our voice should have been heard. The rate of infection here was of a vastly different level to that in England, particularly London, at that time.
The Stormont health committee heard yesterday that on March 12 there were only 47 positive cases of coronavirus in Northern Ireland. Yet that was the date when a decision was taken to end contact tracing in the province. Given the level of infection and lack of preparedness in England at the time, it could be argued that any contact tracing system would have been swiftly overwhelmed, and that was the view taken by the Westminster Government. But surely it would still have been a useful tool in Northern Ireland given our very different circumstances.
It is doubtful if the Prime Minister or his adviser Dominic Cummings would have paid any heed to advice coming from Northern Ireland - history does not endear Boris Johnson to many people here - but scientific advice in favour of contact tracing might have made the Executive think twice before ending it.
Ironically, 'contact, track and trace' is now being adopted as the way forward to keep the infection under control. Sadly in our case, this is 12 weeks too late. Northern Ireland's lack of representation on Sage at a crucial time was indicative of a mindset at Stormont where there was no unanimity on the way forward.
Instead, Sinn Fein and the DUP wanted to follow different routes in tackling the pandemic, with the end result that Westminster solutions were blindly followed instead of, as happened later, a bespoke NI approach being adopted.