BMA chair backs Arlene Foster’s calls for vaccine sharing with Irish Republic and warns lockdown easing could be held up by slower progress in the south

The slower vaccine roll-out in the Republic of Ireland could hold back the easing of restrictions in Northern Ireland, a leading medical representative has said.

By Niall Deeney
Saturday, 13th March 2021, 8:01 am
File photo dated 15/06/16 of fraffic crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal. For residents of the small Irish village, prime ministerial statements made in the distant Westminster Parliament are usually an irrelevant affair. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday March 29, 2017. But as Theresa May triggers Article 50, starting the process that will see Britain leave the EU, there are genuine fears on the impact this could have on the lives of those living in this North West border area which straddles Londonderry and Donegal. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Border. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
File photo dated 15/06/16 of fraffic crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal. For residents of the small Irish village, prime ministerial statements made in the distant Westminster Parliament are usually an irrelevant affair. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday March 29, 2017. But as Theresa May triggers Article 50, starting the process that will see Britain leave the EU, there are genuine fears on the impact this could have on the lives of those living in this North West border area which straddles Londonderry and Donegal. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Border. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Dr Tom Black the Northern Ireland chair of the British Medical Association, argued that it would be in the UK’s self-interest to share surplus vaccine supplies with the Republic of Ireland.

He was speaking to the News Letter after First Minister Arlene Foster had expressed concern about the south’s slower roll-out, and urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to share UK supplies.

Dr Black, meanwhile, said the easing of restrictions here could be held back by a number of weeks because of the differential.

“There’s certainly an incentive for Northern Ireland to try and make sure the UK shares its vaccine with any other country in a common travel area, and that would be the Republic of Ireland,” he said

“And there’s certainly an incentive for Northern Ireland’s Executive to co-ordinate their programme of restrictions with the Republic of Ireland government, and vice versa. I think the last thing we need is outbreaks of infection in border areas which become really difficult to control.

“And we could end up with restrictions in the whole country because we can’t control border areas.

“I think that would be a profound mistake.”

On the need to co-ordinate restrictions, Dr Black continued: “Let us imagine that we open up non-essential retail, hospitality, and personal services before they do, and we get an influx into Northern Ireland who haven’t been vaccinated. That would suggest that we should co-ordinate restrictions and it would also suggest that the UK should help with supplies of vaccines.

“I’m not suggesting that we should deprive anyone in the UK of a vaccination, but there will certainly come a point during the summer where there will be spare vaccines.

“We know that the UK has ordered 300 million vaccines.” He added: “I think once you start compromising with other governments you will, naturally have to adopt the pace of the person who is slowest. If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk a long distance, walk with somebody else.

“If you get this wrong and we’re sitting here at the end of summer or the beginning of autumn and we’re sitting here with a major outbreak around the border we will have driven the public mad.

“People are just fed up with this.”