Sammy Wilson: NI should follow Sajid Javid’s lead and allow us to ditch masks and social distancing in a fortnight

Northern Ireland should follow England’s example and remove all coronavirus restrictions from July 19, a DUP MP has said.

By Niall Deeney
Monday, 5th July 2021, 6:30 am
Pop-up vaccination clinics were held across Northern Ireland at the weekend, including at Belfast City Hall on Saturday
Pop-up vaccination clinics were held across Northern Ireland at the weekend, including at Belfast City Hall on Saturday

Sammy Wilson urged the Stormont Executive to adopt “exactly the same arrangements” in an interview with the News Letter.

He was speaking after the new UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid, writing in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, said England remains on course for its so-called ‘freedom day’ a fortnight from now.

Mr Javid, who acknowledged that cases of the virus were likely to increase, wrote: “We are going to have to learn to accept the existence of Covid and find ways to cope with it – just as we already do with flu.”

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In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health on Sunday reported the largest increase in cases of the virus since January, with more than 500 new infections recorded in the most recent 24-hour reporting period. But with hospital numbers remaining low, Mr Wilson believes Northern Ireland should be poised to follow England in dispensing with any remaining pandemic restrictions.

“The public are sick and tired of all these restrictions and if Sajid Javid can say ‘we’ve got to learn to live with this, let’s get back to normality, no masks, no social distancing’ then we should do exactly the same,” he said.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride, meanwhile, urged more people to take up the offer of a vaccine after a number of ‘pop-up’ clinics were held across Northern Ireland at the weekend, including at Belfast City Hall on Saturday.

Dr McBride said: “We are unable to even think about the mission being accomplished. We must push on.”

And the Northern Ireland chair of the BMA, Dr Tom Black, suggested the “majority” of people would continue to wear masks even if the legal requirement was discarded.

Dr Black also acknowledged an increase in the number of people travelling from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland, and vice versa, amid a disparity in the severity of the restrictions between the two jurisdictions.

“If you look at the rates of infection in Derry and Strabane they’re exactly the same as east Donegal, the Buncrana and Carndonagh areas, so there is already that mixing,” he said.

“The politicians obviously see a border there between north and south but the community doesn’t. People come up north for hospitality. The Derry ones, the Northern Ireland ones and even the Belfast ones, go to Donegal for their holiday. So there’s already that mixing across the border.”

Mr Wilson, however, suggested lower vaccination rates in the Republic of Ireland shouldn’t constrain Northern Ireland’s approach to the end of lockdown.

“That’s a problem for the Republic,” he said.

“We have always argued this, particularly on the protocol — just because the Republic is in the EU we shouldn’t tailor our policies to suit them.

“Similarly with coronavirus, we should tailor our policies according to the work that we have done.

“We have lower infection rates, higher vaccination rates. Our hospitalisations are down therefore we should be getting back to normality.”

On people travelling north to visit pubs and restaurants, he said: “We now are the haven for covid refugees from the Republic. What does that tell you? People want liberty.

“They come to a country where there is greater freedom from covid restrictions than their own country.

“We should learn from that and give even greater relaxations.”

The East Antrim MP added: “If it’s good for the tourist industry then that’s good, and equally it’s good for individuals in Northern Ireland.”

On Mr Javid’s comments in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Wilson said: “We have to stop this nonsense about new variants that might emerge and a thousand and one excuses why they don’t do what needs to be done. I must say I was very encouraged when I heard what Sajid Javid was saying. Let’s just learn to live with this virus. Let’s get these restrictions lifted and let’s get back to normality.

“The aim of our Executive should be the exact same and we should do it by the same date, the 19th of July.”

Asked if this represented his personal view or the view of his party, Mr Wilson said: “Don’t forget, we [the DUP] have been the ones who have argued all along and been the most sceptical of these restrictions.

“The party view is that we cannot allow this to keep going on indefinitely because some scientists and some doctors are ultra cautious.”