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We can avoid chilling worst-case scenario by working together

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We can't say we haven't been warned. Health Minister Robin Swann described the impending surge in cases of, and deaths from, coronavirus as being of biblical proportions. The statistics he revealed are alarming

We can't say we haven't been warned. Health Minister Robin Swann described the impending surge in cases of, and deaths from, coronavirus as being of biblical proportions. The statistics he revealed are alarming

We can't say we haven't been warned. Health Minister Robin Swann described the impending surge in cases of, and deaths from, coronavirus as being of biblical proportions. The statistics he revealed are alarming

We can't say we haven't been warned. Health Minister Robin Swann described the impending surge in cases of, and deaths from, coronavirus as being of biblical proportions. The statistics he revealed are alarming.

If we follow the precautions already advised - hand-washing and social distancing - the death toll could be 9,000. If we don't, it could soar to 14,000. That is a chilling thought, particularly when we have just seen our first death from the contagion.

To put those figures in some kind of perspective, 9,000 is around two and a half times the total of deaths in the Troubles. Those deaths took three decades to accumulate; the fatalities from coronavirus would be in a single year.

The 14,000 deaths would be around the existing annual number of deaths from all causes and would lead to an enormous spike in fatalities this year.

Mr Swann could not have been more blunt.

A tremendous effort is being made by the already under pressure health service to ensure more beds, including intensive care beds, and more staff. It is bringing in almost qualified nurses and doctors to boost the medical response.

Of course, there will be criticism of aspects of the response to date - the relatively small number of tests and the lack of protective clothing for frontline staff, especially GPs and community care workers.

However, in the department's defence, this is an unprecedented crisis and ramping up the response in a relatively short period of time is very difficult.

Continuing the minister's biblical reference, individuals should pause before casting stones in his direction. He made it clear that this is not a battle between the health professionals and a rampant virus, but a battle which involves every single one of us.

Each of us should look around our families and imagine how we would feel if we were responsible for infecting them with the virus through our own careless actions or refusal to heed expert advice.

There are many people who have to work within the community, which could bring them into contact with people carrying the virus, but for those who can work from home, self-isolation, except for vital tasks such as getting food or other supplies, should be the order of the day.

Many people view the sight of people thronging into bars and other public spaces with alarm. They are at a high risk of spreading the disease and it is not an exaggeration to say they could cause deaths. Would anyone like that on their conscience?

However, for the first time, today there was some sort of timescale given for the crisis. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said if people followed advice on social distancing and hand-washing, the tide could be turned in 12 weeks.

Those three months could be devastating, but if the community response is right, many lives could be saved and more people may be alive to see normality when it returns.

In the meantime, the economy suffered another devastating blow yesterday with the decision by Strabane-based sportswear firm O'Neill's to temporarily lay-off 750 staff.

The impact of that decision will hit hard in an area which is traditionally an unemployment blackspot.

These are grim times, with the threat that things can only get worse. It can't be stressed enough that our greatest defence is our common determination to do all we can to avoid the spread of the disease and to look after the most vulnerable in our community.

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