IT’S not surprising that so many of us are finding the latest round of Covid restrictions imposed by the Executive particularly hard to take.
As we approach the second anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic, there was cause for hope that the end was in sight and that 2022 could at last signal a long-awaited return to some kind of normality. But the arrival of the Omicron strain demands a serious response and the latest restrictions – while inevitably derided by some as unnecessary and by others as not enough – were a necessary move.
Big changes lie ahead in 2022 in relation to the twin challenges of Covid and Brexit. The May Assembly election is set to be the first real test of what the public think about how their MLAs and their parties have dealt with these two century-defining events.
Much has been said about the seemingly milder symptoms of this latest variant and reports emerging from South Africa that the Omicron outbreak that has swamped the country may have reached its peak at a surprisingly early stage. But as has always been the case, caution remains the watchword. If the ‘milder’ Omicron leads to a drop in hospital admissions, then of course that will be good news; and if the new variant outbreak burns itself out faster than had been anticipated, that will be even better news. But these are not big ‘ifs’, they are monumental ones.
Treating Omicron in exactly the same way as we have every variant up to now is the responsible and sensible thing to do. If this caution comes at a hefty cost to the economy and turns out to have been unwarranted, that is to be regretted – but if the price of being prudent is high, the price of opening up would be catastrophic if Omicron does indeed go on to take the heavy toll that we still fear it could.
Big changes lie ahead in 2022 in relation to the twin challenges of Covid and Brexit. The May Assembly election is set to be the first real test of what the public think about how their MLAs and their parties have dealt with these two century-defining events. Polls suggest that the DUP may be about to reap the whirlwind after their abject performance while in a position of strength helped bring about the Protocol that has led to the biggest crisis in unionism since partition. The bookies will be laying short odds on a Sinn Féin First Minister, but doubtless the wounded DUP will go back to doing what they do best – assuring the electorate that there’s a republican wolf at the gate and that they are the only ones capable of dealing with the threat. It has proved effective in the past and it may work again.
But there is a real sense that something has changed – that the epic scale of the DUP’s incompetence will trump the traditional urge in the polling booth to vote the red, white and blue ticket. Throw in the failure of party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to rein in the vocal Covid mischief-makers and it could be a difficult year for the biggest unionist party.
In the months leading up to the election, progressive parties must continue to exercise responsibility when it comes to Covid and Brexit. A refreshed and strengthened mandate for those parties willing to do what it takes to protect the economy and public health will make that job easier.
Let’s give it to them.