Surge in cases of coronavirus in Northern Ireland reinforces need for personal responsibility

News Letter editorial of Tuesday July 20 2021:

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

As society eased out of lockdown, it was inevitable that cases of coronavirus would again rise. Scientists and government ministers knew this, but had to balance that knowledge with two facts.

One was is now well-established: Lockdown cannot go on forever; it has saved many lives, yet could only ever be temporary because it is economically unsustainable and damaging to society in ways we still do not fully comprehend.

But a new fact was far more significant: The vaccine rollout had been so impressive that a growth in the number of cases now does not mean what it meant last year. Far higher circulation of the virus is possible without hospitals being overrun.

More than 82% of Northern Ireland adults have now had one vaccine dose and 67% have had both doses. The vaccine is a fine example of international cooperation but we can also feel deep national pride in the UK – from British scientists’ role in developing the vaccine to how everyone from medics to the Army came together to deliver life-saving injections.

The public response to the vaccine has also demonstrated the sensibility of the typical British person who discounted ludicrous online conspiracies and misinformation to play their part not only in protecting their own health, but, as the Queen said, in protecting others.

Nevertheless, the scale of the surge in cases is such that we should realise that even with a vaccine we must respect the capacity of this virus to cause serious illness and death. Last weekend the number of people testing positive for the virus almost doubled in the space of a week. Yesterday numbers went even higher. Society is now in a far more cheerful place than a year ago, but it is sensible for all of us to accept our personal responsibility and voluntarily minimise the riskiest behaviour.

Lockdown showed the limits of libertarianism: If people could be trusted to do the right thing to protect strangers, then the restrictions would not have been necessary. Having been given most freedoms back, it is important to realise that just because something is legal does not mean that it is prudent.

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Ben Lowry

Acting Editor