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Editor's Viewpoint

Lockdown must be tactic of last resort

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

PA

Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann gave his strongest hint yesterday that he is actively considering local lockdowns to combat the spike in coronavirus cases.

He warned that Northern Ireland was in danger of "sliding down a very slippery and treacherous slope", with 41 new cases having been recorded, bringing the total to 6,471.

He added, however: "It is not inevitable. We can still arrest that slide, but this requires decisive action from all of us. Covid-19 won't go away just because we are fed up with it.

"The time is coming for the Executive to consider fresh and concrete actions to prevent a further spread.

"This could include imposing localised restrictions, or general, or a combination of both."

His message is clear enough for everyone to understand.

The issue is expected to top the agenda at a meeting of the Executive tomorrow.

Clearly, the reintroduction of a lockdown, general or local, would be hugely emotive and the necessity for restrictions on individual liberties must be argued for forensically.

The greater the restriction, the greater is the need for it to be justified rigorously.

Local lockdowns, or other restrictions, are less oppressive, but they still must be the tactic of last resort.

We like to think that wearing masks, washing hands frequently and social distancing should be enough to defeat the virus, but this has not happened. One person's common sense is another's reckless abandonment.

Nevertheless, if Mr Swann and his Executive colleagues are to consider further restrictions, of whatever scope, they will have to demonstrate the absolute necessity of the steps they propose.

There is a perception abroad, rightly or wrongly, that the Executive is not being as transparent as it could about the spread of Covid-19, the location of hotspots, the efficacy of contact tracing and the reliability of the crucial R-number.

No one expects the Executive to publish details identifying affected individuals, which would be illegal under human rights legislation.

However, what we do expect is for ministers to be as open as they can and to share the maximum amount of information at their disposal, not the bare minimum.

Only that way will the measures they are expected to impose tomorrow command the widespread public support that is needed for them to be effective.

Belfast Telegraph