With omicron is retreat it is time for Northern Ireland to reopen society

News Letter editorial of Wednesday January 19 2022:

By Editorial
Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 8:24 am
Updated Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 8:30 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

In today’s newspaper Dr Tom Black, of the British Medical Association, says that medics are hoping for some return to normality with omicron now in decline.

Stormont is this week looking at restrictions in Northern Ireland, which include closure of nightclubs.

Dr Black’s remarks are all the more striking because he has been scathing about politicians for being too slow to take action against covid, or taking insufficiently robust measures.

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Indeed in December, he made ill advised and alarmist comments when he said that if people “go out and mix with a crowd next week, one of them will have omicron... it’s so infectious, you’ll then come home with it”.

While it is true that omicron was infectious, it is far from clear that infection in such gatherings was as guaranteed as he said. And even if it was, the public could have misread such remarks as meaning they were in great danger, when it became apparent late last month that omicron was having a minor health impact. However, it is welcome to hear Dr Black now speak in a reassuring way, and admit that “our worst expectations haven’t been reached”.

The covid crisis is not yet over – there have been too many twists and turns so far to be sure of any scenarios in the near future – but it is at a sufficiently mild level where we cannot tolerate the ruin of certain livelihoods and groups of people.

Most society leaders — medical, scientific and political —who have demanded rigid controls are themselves financially untouched by lockdown because they are paid by the state.

If lockdown does return, the financial burden should be more evenly spread so that there is extra money for sectors such as hospitality. Politicians could show leadership by accepting voluntary pay cuts. But let us hope that it does not return.

We cannot keep planning for worst case scenarios of virus mutations. Best to continue to try to get almost everyone jabbed, to encourage (as opposed to force) mask wearing as a considerate behaviour, to warn vulnerable groups of the ongoing risks, and then open up fully.

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