Stormont now needs to be bolder and give dates out of lockdown

News Letter editorial of Monday April 12 2021:

Monday, 12th April 2021, 8:00 am
News Letter editorial

The full return of school pupils in Northern Ireland from today is a very welcome milestone in the easing of lockdown.

Children were out of school from last March until September, then from December until now.

It has left a major gap in their education, worst affecting disadvantaged children. Exam year pupils also suffered badly.

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There have been shocking reports of young people falling behind in essential areas of development such as literacy.

There are powerful arguments to be made that such closures were a gross over reaction to Covid, given that children are least at risk from the virus, and least likely to spread it. Teachers are no more at risk than shop workers.

There were also plausible arguments for closing schools, including the fear that keeping them open would have created a sense of normality and diminished other efforts to maintain social distancing.

Whether or not shutting classrooms for so long was the right decision remains to be seen. But in other areas of life, Northern Ireland is also moving very slowly out of lockdown.

There are from today modest relaxations of rules, such as that 10 people from two households can meet outdoors in a garden and 15 people can take part in outdoor sports training.

This is a much slower relaxation than England, which will allow pubs and restaurants to serve customers outside and hairdressers and non-essential shops to resume business.

No wonder business leaders in NI are exasperated and pleading once again for clear dates.

Northern Ireland has reached the milestone of 1 million vaccinations administered, more than half the population. The rollout of the doses is one of the key benefits of being part of a wealthy country, the UK, which is a pioneering in science.

Stormont now needs to be bolder and bring to an end an unfair situation in which much of the Province is untouched by lockdown while other sections, including small business owners, face huge damage, perhaps even ruin.

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Alistair Bushe