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Editor's Viewpoint

Our community is strong but virus fight is only just beginning

Editor's Viewpoint


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As things stand, it is difficult for people to know if their cough and sore throat is coronavirus that requires treatment, or just the end of a winter cold. (Yui Mok/PA)

As things stand, it is difficult for people to know if their cough and sore throat is coronavirus that requires treatment, or just the end of a winter cold. (Yui Mok/PA)

As things stand, it is difficult for people to know if their cough and sore throat is coronavirus that requires treatment, or just the end of a winter cold. (Yui Mok/PA)

After Monday's draconian proposals to safeguard the health of the nation came yesterday's plans to safeguard the health of the economy with wartime-sized investment by the government in mitigation measures.

The Chancellor announced an astounding £330bn package of loans to help businesses ride out the storm as well as business rates relief and mortgage holidays for householders who find themselves in financial difficulties because of the impact of coronavirus.

Most of the money will go to England, with £3.5bn being shared out among the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, a clear indicator of where the economic powerhouse of the UK resides.

It seems the financial aid is not a moment too soon.

The hospitality group of which the Merchant Hotel in Belfast is the flagship development announced yesterday it was laying off 800 staff and MJM Marine, a big employer based in Newry, said laying off large numbers of workers was unavoidable.

Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced an emergency £100m rates package to help business with none having to pay rates for the next three months.

Generous as that is, it pales in comparison to the situation in England, where many businesses will enjoy a 12-month rates holiday.

Domestic rates will also be deferred from April to June, which will be a boon to many hard-pressed families as the coronavirus continues to bite into the economy.

These are very worrying times, not only as regards health but also jobs.

Businesses which are entirely viable in normal circumstances could be forced to the wall.

The only mitigation possible in many cases is to close down, putting people out of work, and hoping to ride out the storm and resume again when the virus recedes.

Northern Ireland's reliance on the public sector should shelter many people from the worst of the inevitable economic downturn, but the high number of SMEs in the private sector makes it especially vulnerable.

It is hardly an exaggeration to say only health workers are sure of continued employment.

There was a broad indication of just how serious officials are taking the spread of the virus, particularly in England, with the news that all non-emergency procedures are being postponed from mid-April to free up 30,000 beds.

With some predictions already putting the number of people infected in the UK at 40,000, perhaps 1,000 of them in Northern Ireland, it is clear that this contagion is not expected to be contained and reversed for some time and that the advice to avoid contact where possible, with at-risk groups self-isolating even from family members, should be followed to the letter.

As has already been noted but should be emphasised again, Northern Ireland people are showing great resilience in the face of adversity and are aware of their responsibility to the most vulnerable in society.

There are many examples of good deeds being done and of offers to help those confined to their homes. That is vital because it is impossible for charities and statutory bodies to ensure the safety of all.

There is certainly merit in the suggestion of more testing for the virus, especially since testing kits are being manufactured in Northern Ireland.

As things stand, it is difficult for people to know if their cough and sore throat is coronavirus that requires treatment, or just the end of a winter cold.

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