THERE’S cause for guarded optimism as Covid infection rates continue on a downward trend. But there’s also cause for optimism in how the Executive is taking necessarily cautious steps forward in response to the changing environment.
Unanimity on the decision to allow pupils in years P4 to P7 to return to class next Monday will be welcomed by a public exhausted not just by the pandemic and the lockdown, but by the frequent failures of the Stormont institutions to display the unity of purpose that these extraordinary times demand.
It has also been agreed to allow all other schools to reopen a week after Easter in a move that will, of course, be continent on ongoing reviews of the pandemic status.
We can only hope that this outbreak of common sense will be the norm from here on on and that those who last month were loudly demanding an immediate return to school will have learned that just because London decides something is a good idea does not mean that Belfast needs to follow.
It’s gratifying to see that the package of changes has been generally well-received and it is to be hoped that this welcome sense of positivity can be sustained through to Easter and beyond
A range of other relaxations beginning on April 1 is equally reasonable and measured. Six people from two households will be able to meet in a private garden and that comes as good news as the weather gets warmer and the days grow longer. 10 people will be allowed to gather in a public space such as a park or pitch or golf course for the purposes of sporting activity, and garden centres and plant nurseries will reopen on a click-and-collect basis.
Again, this is a proportionately modest yet meaningful range of easements with due attention being given to the prevailing circumstances – seasonality again playing its part. And the operation of the relaxations as well as the changing circumstances will be watched carefully as we then head towards a more ambitious range of relaxations on April 12: increased numbers in garden and public space gatherings; resumption of sports training; click-and-collect reopening for all other retail; the ‘stay at home’ message to be changed to ‘stay local’.
The roll-out of the vaccine, meanwhile, is another indication that the tide may be starting to turn. Just two weeks after over-60s were brought into the vaccination fold, over-50s were this week invited to start booking appointments – and the response was pleasingly swift and enthusiastic, despite fears that the controversy over the Astra Zeneca vaccine blood clot story might have dampened enthusiasm. That link has since been debunked.
It’s gratifying to see that the package of changes has been generally well-received and it is to be hoped that this welcome sense of positivity can be sustained through to Easter and beyond to allow an ever greater list of relaxations that might see a gradual reopening of the hospitality sector by late spring or early summer.
Personal responsibility, however, will remain every bit as essential since any sign of complacency on the part of the public will be punished quicky and ruthlessly by the virus. Let’s keep growing the hope.