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Editor's Viewpoint

A tough choice now looms for Executive over coronavirus restrictions



Dr Michael McBride

Dr Michael McBride


Dr Michael McBride

Decision time is coming again for the Executive on how to balance the equation of saving lives and saving livelihoods. Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride said on Monday that it would not be possible to keep down the R number - which measures the rate of transmission of the Covid-19 virus - if schools and the hospitality industry are open simultaneously.

But Dr Tom Black, NI chair of the BMA, has really stirred matters up with his blunt warning that a lockdown, as in the Republic and as is forthcoming in England, is required to effectively curb the spread of the virus. He wants the current restrictions extended to retail outlets, gyms and places of worship.

It was this latter suggestion that brought an almost immediate response from the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin, who argued that there is no data to show that churches are a worrying source of contagion.

Certainly, churches have been careful in adhering to whatever guidelines have been set by the Executive and strictly limit the number of worshippers.

At a time when there are concerns that even the current restrictions can pose mental health problems for many people, it has to be recognised that places of worship are seen as sanctuaries for many, especially older people.

Among that generation, prayer at times of trouble is regarded as a soothing balm and a source of comfort.

Being able to go to church is also important for those who may not have any visitors during a normal week and who feel a sense of isolation most acutely.

However, it has to be recognised that the speed with which the pandemic spread in recent weeks is worrying, and while there are indications that the current restrictions are slowing the transmission of the virus, the threat remains high.

We know that hospitals are operating under enormous strain and staff, who have been facing the pandemic directly for most of this year, are reaching exhaustion point. A continuing high level of cases could overwhelm the NHS, so the priority must be to save lives where possible, even if it affects the economy in the short-term.

It is a dilemma that the Executive has wrestled with since the pandemic arrived on these shores, and finding an effective answer has stumped the politicians, as it has those in many other countries.

Voices of medical experts must carry extra weight in the debate on the way forward, but pragmatism often outweighs idealism.

Belfast Telegraph