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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Enjoy Christmas while you can for it is going to be a very long winter. That was the clear message coming out from the Northern Ireland Executive, largely at the behest of the Health Minister, last evening with the decision to impose a six-week lockdown starting on Boxing Day.

The so-called circuit breaker just ended was supposed to temporarily curb the coronavirus pandemic to enable any sort of family orientated Christmas to take place, but with 3,531 positive cases of the virus confirmed in the last seven days and 12 deaths announced yesterday it was evident the lock-down lite had not worked.

Now we are facing a return to the restrictions which were imposed in March although it is not clear how schools will be affected.

We have always noted the dilemma facing the Executive on trying to balance lives and livelihoods, but now the balance is firmly on health not wealth. Only the firmest of restrictions can stop the NHS being overwhelmed — a significant proportion of our hospitals already are operating beyond accepted capacity — and staff are performing heroically on a daily basis.

Health Minister Robin Swann, backed by the Chief Medical Office and Chief Scientific Adviser, has convinced his colleagues in government of the need for an imminent lockdown. Previously Mr Swann saw his desire for greater restrictions watered down after several days of wrangling and the use of a little known parliamentary mechanism to defeat his plans. Now he can take satisfaction in knowing that his strategy was the right one. Hopefully his victory does not come too late.

While this tougher lockdown can be reviewed after four weeks, it surely would take a huge improvement in the situation to end it early.

Of course this means a winter of discontent for businesses, especially in the retail and hospitality sectors. Non essential retailers and pubs, restaurants and hotels have just reopened their doors and shopkeepers now face shutting them again on what is one of the busiest shopping days of the year and ahead of the January sales.

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The hospitality industry is going to be similarly affected when it could normally expect brisk business. But no matter what restrictions are imposed the responsibility to curb the transmission of the virus lies with each of us.

Some may not like what they see as an infringement of their liberties but Covid-19 will end many people’s lives unless everyone acts sensibly and gives time for the vaccination programme to take effect.


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