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Editor's Viewpoint

Stormont Executive's Covid plans in a mess

Viewpoint



Jim Allister

Jim Allister was a leading barrister before he became a politician and he did not mince his words when describing the Executive's latest Covid restrictions as "inherently absurd." The new restraints for Belfast, Ballymena and postcodes BT43, BT28 and BT29 - when "wet " bars have already been given the indicative date of September 21 to re-open - were widely lampooned on social media yesterday.

Mr Allister's forensic demolition of Thursday's announcement was equally scorned by no less an authority than the former head of the WHO's cancer programme Karol Sikora as " ridiculous nonsense" and unlikely to impact the suppression of the virus.

When Twitter is replete with people pointing out the inconsistency of being unable to meet your neighbours at home, but being able to see them in the pub, the Executive Office had to act.

Its revised advice last night is basically "use your own judgment". Not surprisingly the Executive Office promises more details when the new regulations are introduced next week.

Despite the welcome unanimity between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister at Thursday's press conference, the Executive ministers are torn between the need to suppress the virus and the necessity of not returning the struggling economy to the deep freeze.

Health Minister Robin Swann has a difficult, though comparatively straightforward task, to beat the virus. Others have perhaps conflicting responsibilities to discharge.

There is the awareness that success or failure rests with people living in - or commuting in and out of - the named areas.

The PSNI simply cannot be expected to police the number of people gathered under roofs across Belfast and a swathe of Co Antrim and if the pandemic curve is to be flattened, people must see for themselves the benefits of suspending their civil liberties and observing the restrictions.

Unfortunately the Executive's flurry of mixed messages and hasty revisions is perhaps not the best way to achieve its laudable goal.

Belfast Telegraph