Northern Ireland news

Analysis: Stormont secrecy around lockdown exit strategy must be banished to win public trust

The lockdown exit strategy plan for Northern Ireland is due to be published tomorrow
Seanin Graham

Secrecy has surrounded Northern Ireland's lockdown exit strategy for weeks with warnings from the health minister its publication could lead to complacency as the public "rush toward that date".

For the vast majority of the population who have obeyed the severe restrictions imposed on their lives for the past seven weeks, the notion that people will become suddenly lax over social distancing and handwashing is not only mis-guided but deeply patronising.

The goal-posts shifted last Friday evening when the Republic's government unveiled its five-stage plan to get them out of lockdown, with a detailed breakdown of dates over coming months.

READ MORE: Easing of coronavirus restrictions could begin within days

Although it was stressed this 'roadmap' was contingent on suppressing coronavirus and preventing further outbreaks, it gave some hope as to what life can be like on the other side.

With Boris Johnson yesterday announcing that the UK is start easing restrictions next Monday, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy has now pointed to the Executive publishing a plan today on "phased relaxation".

While Mr Murphy cautioned against acting too early he also accepted that people need a blueprint to offer some "light at the end of the tunnel".

The decision-making for our political leaders in the months ahead is probably the most important they will ever deliver in their careers as they battle against the uncertainty of a lethal virus while trying to steer our health service, education system and economy towards some type of normality until a vaccine and drug treatment can be found.

Seanin Graham

It is now accepted that the British government's strategy to ignore international health experts and turn their backs on testing and contact tracing in mid-March was catastrophic, with the UK death toll the highest in Europe.

For the Stormont government, there is still some hope as the impact of Covid-19, while devastating for the hundreds of families who have lost loved ones, hasn't been as brutal as forecast in terms of projected fatalities of "biblical proportions" and an overwhelmed hospital sector.

But following the errors of previous months, our politicians must now heed the pleas of public health doctors and follow an all-island approach on testing, tracing and isolation to get us out of lockdown and keep the virus at bay.

However, they must also learn to trust the public and improve transparency at the highest level to have a fighting chance of any successful exit.

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Northern Ireland news