| 12°C Belfast

We cannot afford to drop guard despite that Friday feeling when NI shops reopen

Close

This coming Friday could be regarded in the future as a landmark day. It is the day, coronavirus results allowing, when all retailers can open their doors to customers providing that they can conduct business safely

This coming Friday could be regarded in the future as a landmark day. It is the day, coronavirus results allowing, when all retailers can open their doors to customers providing that they can conduct business safely

PA

This coming Friday could be regarded in the future as a landmark day. It is the day, coronavirus results allowing, when all retailers can open their doors to customers providing that they can conduct business safely

This coming Friday could be regarded in the future as a landmark day. It is the day, coronavirus results allowing, when all retailers can open their doors to customers providing that they can conduct business safely.

The announcement by Stormont Economy Minister Diane Dodds indicates a shift in gear along the pathway to recovery, coming as it does quicker than most people had anticipated.

It certainly cannot come quickly enough for the business community which has been in virtual lockdown since March. The latest Ulster Bank survey shows the economy is still in deep downturn and May's activity was the second lowest in history, beaten only by the previous month's figure.

Kickstarting the economy while still prioritising public health is the delicate and vital balancing act that the Executive has to perform.

Given that the politicians had barely warmed their ministerial seats when they were thrust into making the life and death decisions demanded by the pandemic, they have performed remarkably well, with the odd disagreement over whether to follow scientific advice from London or Dublin.

Now there is relative consensus that a bespoke approach which recognises the importance of synchronicity with Dublin is the sensible way forward.

That has ensured that Sinn Fein cannot complain from the sidelines that Stormont is too London-centric in its deliberations and that Westminster's decisions are not always appropriate to the needs of the province.

The cohesive approach gains even more importance when it comes to reopening facilities such as shops - or, in the future, restaurants and pubs. Otherwise there is a danger of creating coronavirus tourism where people cross the border to take advantage of whichever jurisdiction has eased restrictions most.

Northern Ireland's pathway to recovery has the advantage of not tying ministers to introducing relaxations to lockdown on specific dates. As in the case of allowing all retailers to open on Friday they can be guided by the science.

If the R figure - the average number of people that one infected person could pass the virus to - remains below one and retailers prove they can trade safely as regards both staff and customers, then the new relaxation of the rules can be implemented.

It is right that such caveats are included in any decisions made. Given the speed and ferocity with which the virus first swept around the world, it is vital that a second spike is avoided at all costs. While we all recognise that the Northern Ireland economy is as vulnerable as an elderly person with underlying health problems, no risks can be taken with public health in order to bolster business.

Earlier in the pandemic it took too long to recognise the effect of the pandemic on care homes - an issue which will be the subject of much discussion in months and years ahead - and we cannot afford to make the same mistake again if there are any indications easing the rules fan the flames of the pandemic.

After Friday many high streets may appear very similar to what they were before the pandemic struck, but the public must not be beguiled by this image. We must all adhere to the golden rules of observing social distancing, repeated handwashing and using our common sense to avoid putting our health in jeopardy.

If we continue to behave responsibly then the new normal will become even more like the old normal pre-pandemic.

The one thing we cannot do is drop our guard.

Belfast Telegraph