Northern Ireland still on track for next step out of lockdown despite border area concerns, says Dr Tom Black

Northern Ireland remains on course for the next step out of lockdown in three weeks despite concerns about cross-border travel, the head of a leading medical body has said.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 5:48 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 7:57 am
Press Eye - Belfast City Centre - 1st May 2021 Photograph by Declan Roughan - Press Eye Shoppers return to the streets of Belfast City Centre following the removal of Corona Virus restrictions. People enjoying being able to eat and drink in the city centre once more.

The easing of restrictions on April 30 means all shops are now allowed to open, along with outdoor hospitality, gyms and swimming pools.

The next step is due to come on May 24 with the opening of the hospitality industry indoors, along with hotels and visitor attractions — but only if the Northern Ireland Executive agrees to the change in a review expected on May 13.

Dr Tom Black chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, told the News Letter Northern Ireland is still doing “very well” despite concerns about a spike in infections in border areas.

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He was speaking after medics on both sides of the Irish border expressed concern about cross-border travel as restrictions ease in Northern Ireland – but not in the Republic where a smaller proportion of people are vaccinated.

Recent coronavirus testing figures show that Co Donegal’s infection rate is more than double the average for the Republic as a whole. The neighbouring Derry City and Strabane council area’s infection rate is also twice the average for Northern Ireland.

Asked for his thoughts on the cross-border concerns, Londonderry-based Dr Black said: “It’s well known that when the restrictions are different on both sides of the border there will be a movement of people to avail of retail and hospitality opportunities that are available to them close by, but not necessarily in the same jurisdiction. It is very obvious from looking around the town that there are a lot of Donegal cars. This is something that was expected, and it is something that will increase transmission of the virus.”

Asked if, despite the concerns, Northern Ireland remains on track for the next step out of lockdown in three weeks, Dr Black said: “We do have to ease up. We have to recognise that hospitality and retail have to open up now. The risk, while it’s still there, is much lower — and if you’ve had one or two vaccines you’re in a much better place. I think we’re doing very well still. We had predicted that there would be outbreaks in local areas. The vaccination roll-out has been superb. I think we just need to keep our nerve and hold the course.”

Dr Black added: “It’s great that we have such a great proportion — two thirds of our population — with some immunity and some protection.”

There were no deaths and 64 cases reported by the Stormont health department.