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Editor's Viewpoint

Firms will suffer from restrictions

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

It is evident that there are some tensions around the Executive table when it comes to a strategy for curbing the spread of Covid-19. The Health Minister Robin Swann has made it clear that he would like a so-called circuit-breaker - a short, sharp lockdown - to bring down the rising total of new cases, but other ministers are concerned about the effect such a measure would have on the economy and education.

Hence we have the new restrictions on hospitality businesses in the Derry/Strabane council area where the case count per 100,000 is the sixth highest in the UK.

If ever there was a reason for severe restriction then this is it. Certainly the cafes, pubs, hotels and restaurants in the area will bear the brunt of the new restrictions being able to open only for takeaways, deliveries and outdoor dining.

First Minister Arlene Foster was at pains to point out this was not a lockdown but given the fears over the spread of the virus in the area the question can be asked why it isn't.

What is clear is that Derry city will suffer a huge financial blow with the cancelling of the Halloween festival which attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually.

However, whatever the new restrictions are called, their effectiveness depends on enforcement. Since the easing of the original lockdown there has been a reluctance among a significant minority of people to adhere to government advice. That attitude may be most prevalent in the younger age groups and account for why half of the new cases in the Derry/Strabane area are among those in the 20-39 age bracket.

Perhaps they not only feel they can take more risks but also that the virus will not be as severe on their health as in older people.

The comments by the PSNI that it would not take the lead in enforcing the wearing of masks in shops also feeds into the general confusion felt by many over what they should or should not do in the current climate.

The uncertainty over the status of this regulation - is non compliance a crime? - also makes the task of enforcement more difficult.

Nevertheless the PSNI's attitude smacks of an abdication of duty.

Understandably the businesses affected by the new restrictions in the North West fear for their future.

They will attempt to continue but there must be concern that if some facilities close they may never reopen again.

Balancing public health with livelihoods is an almost impossible task and the Executive faces more unenviable choices in the near future.

Belfast Telegraph