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It's down to us all to avoid second spike

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Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann pictured at a press conference in Parliament Buildings, Stormont

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann pictured at a press conference in Parliament Buildings, Stormont

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann pictured at a press conference in Parliament Buildings, Stormont

Health Minister Robin Swann could not be accused of sending mixed messages on the threat from coronavirus at his Stormont briefing yesterday. He put it as bluntly as possible - concrete action is needed now to stop the spread of the virus.

And he had the facts to back up his demand. At the beginning of July around four new cases were confirmed every day. Now that average is 90 a day. The current case rate is 35 per 100,000 well above the 20 per 100,000 at which the UK imposes quarantine on people travelling from other countries.

Mr Swann is clear that action is required now in order to prevent even more draconian restrictions in the future and he will be making that case strongly to Executive colleagues at their meeting today.

He is backed up by the Chief Scientific Officer Professor Ian Young who says there is no part of the province which has not been affected by the virus.

The question now is what form any action will take. Will Mr Swann and his advisers settle for tougher restrictions in those areas where the incidence of coronavirus is highest or will they argue that restrictions, or even a new lockdown, should be province-wide.

It is clear that appealing to the common sense of the population is not working as Mr Swann and his Executive colleagues had hoped. A feeling had grown that the virus was on the retreat or that its threat had greatly diminished. Nothing could be further from the truth and neglecting the fundamentals of combatting the virus, such as hand-washing and social distancing, has led to the incidence of infection rising with a vengance.

The insistence on the necessity to return to work to kickstart the economy may have also convinced some people that the chances of contracting the virus had diminished.

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We now know that is not the case. Some of the increase in numbers of people infected can be put down to increased testing - the more people you test the more cases are uncovered - but it cannot account for them all or the underlying upward trend. Mr Swann is right to demand concrete action. We saw what happened when the virus was allowed - in spite of the efforts of staff - to rampage through nursing homes at the beginning of the pandemic, leading to hundreds of deaths among vulnerable older people. That cannot be allowed to happen again.

There is an opportunity to avoid the worst effects of a second spike and it must be grasped wholeheartedly. Remember we are still all in this together.


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