AS we batten down the hatches and prepare for the onset of the Omicron Covid variant, it’s desperately disappointing to note that once more the North has both  the highest infection rate and the lowest vaccination uptake in Ireland and the UK.
Daily case numbers here have not dipped below 1,000 for 18 weeks and that’s a stubbornly grim statistic that tells us something. And what it tells us is that the Stormont Executive is failing in its primary task of protecting the health of the citizens it exists to serve.
Of course the always dangerous and sometimes lunatic actions of the significant minority of anti-mask and anti-vax people out there are a huge problem and a barrier on the road back to some kind of normality. But such people exist all over this island and across the neighbouring one, yet still the North’s numbers remain the most worrying.
While First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have been doing a decent job of putting on a united face – photo-opps are frequent and the optics don’t suggest that the two are at daggers-drawn when the photographers leave – the public is nevertheless left with an impression of a Stormont administration riven by disagreement and split by personal pandemic prejudices and dogma that should have no place in the supposedly collegiate legislating of the Stormont Executive.
In the recent vote to give the go-ahead to Covid passports for the hospitality industry, the DUP rejected the opportunity for the Executive to form a badly-needed Covid consensus for once, and so it continues to be a source of public contention, even though it is scientifically sound. Every party has a tough task of marshalling a wide range of opinions, and individuals naturally have very strong opinions about how we should deal with the biggest health crisis in a century. But Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP and the UUP have largely managed to keep their troops marching in the same direction, while the DUP leadership looks on as its rank and file says and does whatever it pleases.
Shortly before the vote to go ahead with vaccine passports, party leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he had an “open mind” on the subject, despite the fact that Health Minister Robin Swann had made the proposal based on the most recent and relevant scientific advice at his disposal. The DUP is very far from unanimous when it comes to Covid contrarianism, and Mr Donaldson does not exude the same pop-eyed aversion to sensible restrictions as some of his senior colleagues, but such dithering at a time of crisis is not the kind of leadership that is going to see us through a winter of unimaginable challenge.
Other senior DUP members have kept their counsel, but this is not the time for open minds or fence-sitting. If Mr Donaldson is in the Covid crazy camp, let him say so. If not, then let him take control and strive for the cooperation necessary to stem the haemorrhaging of  public confidence.