Ben Lowry: Colum Eastwood is right to say that vaccine passports allow us to open up

Yesterday I was at the Balmoral Show, at the News Letter and Farming Life stand.

Saturday, 25th September 2021, 12:43 pm
Updated Sunday, 26th September 2021, 7:59 am
The Balmoral Show yesterday. The show required proof of Covid double vaccines or other tests to gain entry but even so it could have adopted an even stricter approach

The Alliance politician Sorcha Eastwood says in a tweet, quoted above, says she has loved it since her aunt took her when she was in P2.

My memory of Balmoral goes back even further, to when I was about three and my grandfather, James T Kernohan, worked at the King’s Hall for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS).

I was reminded of that yesterday as I walked through the major amusement park rides that they have now at the show.

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There was nothing like that when I was a child. It was enjoyable enough to clamber up the vast, then state-of-the-art, combine harvesters that they had on display.

It was good to see Balmoral having expanded in such ways.

It was grey and at points drizzly at Balmoral yesterday yet the atmosphere was happy — perhaps due to the yearning of people to be able to get back to such gatherings.

I was struck by Balmoral’s Covid requirements: either proof of full vaccination, or proof of a recent negative NHS Lateral Flow test, or proof of antibodies from PCR test.

These seemed to be to be responsible requirements for an event of many people in close proximity. Indeed they seemed to me to be a minimum, because proof of a negative Lateral Flow test on its own is not a strict requirement, due to the possibility of ‘false negatives’ (people who are found to be in the clear but are in fact infected).

I agree with Colum Eastwood, SDLP leader, on vaccine passports.

A curious feature of Covid is the bitterly divided way in which many people approach the topic.

Hardcore anti lockdown believers morph into anti vaxxers.

Zero Coviders want severe shutdowns and dismiss any attempt to assess the overall cost of that tactic.

And both sides seem to be, at best, selective in use of statistics.

For example, I have been since the beginning a mild lockdown sceptic. This was not because lockdown doesn’t work — it obviously does if you deprive people of all human contact. My concern was whether coronavirus was worth such drastic measures.

This is still not clear, because we still do not know the exact societal cost in loneliness, mental illness, impact on non Covid NHS treatments, impact on economies, ruined livelihoods, impaired education and so on.

In particular the enduring inequality of it all. The way the public sector is untouched and politicians won’t even countenance, say, a 5% pay cut to non frontline public sector workers to help fund the devastated self employed.

Or the inequality of much of the population living through confinement in houses with ample outdoor space, and others stuck in flats with no garden. These are among reasons we must avoid third lockdown.

Yet hardcore lockdown supporters rarely seem to acknowledge these problems.

They dismissed the importance of statistics that showed the massive age gradient to Covid, in particular the almost non existent risk to the under 30s. Yes, the Delta variant has somewhat changed that, and there is a worry with long Covid, but even so it is overwhelmingly fatal only for people who are already gravely ill or nearing end of life.

But those of us who accept that reality should be embracing vaccine requirements, and yet many lockdown sceptics are anti such an approach, talking of freedom of choice rather than compulsion. But they should embrace compulsion, in order to ensure freedom of action and freedom of movement!

The value of the vaccines is clear in Northern Ireland hospitals intensive care stats. Some 72% of people in ICUs are entirely unvaccinated, while only 12% of the adult population is without even one jab.

Yet these statistics are turned on their head. It is said that 20% of people in ICU are double jabbed which proves they don’t work. In fact, given that 80% of adults in NI have had both doses, it shows you vaccinations slash risk of a severe response to Covid (also showing that double jab is no guarantee of protection).

I was slow to get double jabbed because, in my 40s, I felt at low risk and the vulnerable people I care about had already had both doses before I became eligible. I soon realised that I was not thinking hard enough about my possible role in spreading infections. I have had both jabs since summer, and think it is a fair bargain for society to open up extensively but give preferential access to people who have two doses.

I understand the dismay of people who have loved ones in care homes, and who got their double doses so that they could safely visit, and yet are seeing that resident potentially cared for by staff who have not protected themselves against Covid in the way the relative has.

This is all the more painful given how people were not able to see visit home residents for so long.

It is a tricky issue because there is already a shortage of care staff. Even so, England is right to move to compulsion for such carers in the coming weeks.

• Ben Lowry (@Benlowry2) is News Letter acting editor

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