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Editor's Viewpoint

Encouraging day in battle against Covid-19 in Northern Ireland

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Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and First Minister Arlene Foster pictured at a press conference at the Hill of The O’Neill in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and First Minister Arlene Foster pictured at a press conference at the Hill of The O’Neill in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and First Minister Arlene Foster pictured at a press conference at the Hill of The O’Neill in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

It may only have been a momentary snapshot of the effect of the pandemic in Northern Ireland. But, for once, there was more to encourage us than cause further concern.

Importantly, the rate of transmission of the virus has fallen below 1 to 0.7-0.9, indicating that the tough lockdown restrictions imposed just after Christmas Day are now paying off.

Equally importantly, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill appeared to be singing from the same hymn sheet, and both voiced concerns about the role of the Irish Government in combating the virus.

Mrs Foster revealed that several Executive ministers had vented frustration that Dublin had not shared passenger locator forms and said that the issue would be raised with the Taoiseach.

Mrs O’Neill said the Taoiseach, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the joint heads of the Executive needed to get together to have a common, two-island approach on travel.

What did become clear is that soon international travellers coming here would need to show a negative Covid test before they set out.

It is a move that many have demanded for some time and has been given increased urgency due to the number of mutations the virus has gone through, increasing its ability to spread quickly.

There was more good news with the announcement that almost 103,000 people had been vaccinated, and that in 97% of care homes residents had received their first injection, while in 72% of the homes a second dose had been administered.

That is a good start in the rollout of the vaccination programme and ensures that many of the most vulnerable people in this society are now protected against the virus.

What must happen now is that sufficient quantities of the vaccines are delivered to ensure all target groups get their jabs in line with the predicted schedule.

It would be remiss not to praise the vast majority of people for their common sense approach to the lockdown.

Although Chief Constable Simon Byrne revealed that his officers had issued 40 notices a day to people who were breaking the rules, he was generous in his tributes to the rest of society.

But this is just one snapshot. The virus can mutate and is still as virulent as ever, and the First Minister was right not to be drawn on whether restrictions would be eased from February.

We may be heading towards the light at the end of the tunnel, but there is still a dangerous distance to go.

Belfast Telegraph


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