Leading article

Defining stage in the coronavirus battle

Yesterday's tragic confirmation that a second coronavirus-related death had taken place in Northern Ireland was widely expected and there can be no doubt that further grim updates will follow in the coming days.

The pandemic has now claimed five lives in Ireland, north and south, with the total number of cases across the island officially passing the 1,000 mark last night.

However, it is obvious that the real figure is much higher, and, as in Britain, is heading relentlessly towards the frightening percentages already recorded in Italy and Spain.

The passionate message sent out by video on Friday by Dr Julia Courtney, a respiratory consultant at the Ulster Hospital, was a compelling summary of the threat faced by the entire community and has deservedly made a major impact.

She stressed the enormity of the crisis which is looming and the huge numbers of people who may die as well as forcibly pointing out the crucial importance of slowing the spread of the virus.

Dr Courtney said; "What you do today will affect the intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the hospitals in the next two to three weeks. So please, please, please, stay at home if you can."

The vast majority of the population observed her heartfelt plea, with the enforced closure of bars and restaurants which was announced on Friday evening a fully justified step which will help with the overall process.

It was unfortunate that young people continued to congregate in a number of areas, with further reports that some supermarket customers were failing to properly observe the Public Health Agency's clearly stated guidelines on social distancing.

These developments may have been caused by oversights or general carelessness but it almost defied belief that the outdoor market at Nutts Corner in Co Antrim which regularly attracts large crowds quite deliberately opened for business as usual yesterday.

Widespread concern was expressed on social media with justice minister Naomi Long describing the decision as `completely reckless' before the organisers bowed to the mounting pressure and accepted that trading on the site would have to cease until further notice.

It is essential that each and every one of us treats our responsibilities with the utmost seriousness as we reach what is plainly a defining stage in the battle against coronavirus.

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