Last week the Health Committee at Stormont considered Covid disease responses. However, with the publication of Boris’ road map out of the pandemic they might not have expected the responses from First Minister Arlene Foster and Education Minister Peter Weir.
They seemingly now want to take a shortcut on the phased reopening of schools, maybe on ‘independent’ epidemiological advice, so that they can follow what is being proposed in England. Of course, they should be basing any proposals solely on what suits this jurisdiction.
Among the considerations specific to the North are what is going on in the South and the arrival of the South African variants — which may not be as susceptible to the vaccines currently being used.
Any road map provides hope, with the caveat that we must be guided by the data and not the dates.
This first exit roadmap allows five week periods between the steps so that the effects of the previous step can be studied before going on to the next stage. The data to be considered will be progress with vaccinations, the effects on hospital occupancy, surges of cases and incidence and prevalence of new variants.
Step one calls for schools and colleges to reopen and later outdoor events.
Step two calls for indoor leisure, outdoor activities, libraries, personal care, retail, funerals, wakes and weddings and event pilots.
Five weeks later step three will call for indoor entertainment, indoor sport, larger events and international travel.
Finally, five weeks later, Step five will call for no legal limits on social contact, nightclubs, larger events and no legal limits on all life events.
It has to be stressed that each step will depend on progress with the data and with the variants and that safe behaviours and vaccinations should be maintained.
On 23 February there were five deaths, 225 new cases and 51 cases in intensive care. The advent of the South African variant with changes in spike proteins might mean that a new vaccine has to be developed and given as a booster dose.
It is disappointing that with the advent of road maps indicating ways out of this pandemic that we are having an outbreak of political competition. The antidote to that politicking is to reflect on the principles of public health and the cautiousness of epidemiology rather than the self-advised, cavalier approach of jumping the gun emanating from some ministers and their political supporters.
There is an executive meeting today (Thursday) but our road map will not come out until Monday and our fates may depend on who is doing the driving, their speed and direction.