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Editor's Viewpoint

It is vital that good sense returns to Northern Ireland

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Dr Gabriel Scally

Dr Gabriel Scally

Dr Gabriel Scally

No one believes that combatting the coronavirus pandemic is a simple task. Trying to balance public health with the need to kickstart the economy after lockdown has obvious challenges, but it appears that some of the obvious problems which were known about were not acted upon in Northern Ireland.

As the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 are on a worryingly rapid upward trajectory, one of the few weapons in the armoury of health officials, its test and trace system has been branded a shambles. An investigation by this newspaper reveals basic flaws in the system. The end result, according to a leading public health expert, is a potential return to lockdown by Christmas.

Our investigation found a lack of appointments in large swathes of the province and a scarcity of home test kits. It also found a farcical lack of geographic knowledge, putting Portadown and Londonderry four miles apart instead of 70, suggesting it was only 40 miles from Coleraine to Enniskillen when the actual distance is around twice that and, most astonishing, saying it was 43 miles from Ballymena Showgrounds to a hotel actually only three miles away.

Test and trace is a vitally important system. In England it has come under fierce criticism for the inability of the system to meet demand and for the lack of laboratory testing facilities. The concern is that Northern Ireland may be beginning to show similar failings just as it appears the virus is become a more widespread threat again.

The disgraceful scenes in the Holyland area of Belfast with out of control house parties and street drinking is raising fears of accelerating transmission of the virus at a time when severe autumn/winter pressures begin to be felt in hospitals.

Dr Gabriel Scally, president of the epidemiology and public health sector of the Royal Society of Medicine, has branded the system a shambles and predicted a province-wide lockdown by Christmas if behaviour does not improve.

However it is clear that the discipline and good sense shown by the Northern Ireland public during the initial lockdown beginning last March is unlikely to be replicated again.

Hoping that a tightening of restrictions in areas when the number of new cases are highest will prove sufficient to curb the increase is likely to be misplaced unless the warnings of Dr Scally are heeded and unless the efficiency of the test and trace system improves.

We simply cannot go back to the days earlier this year when the grim total of deaths escalated on a daily basis.

Belfast Telegraph