Leading article

Clarity in lockdown exit plan essential

EMERGING from Covid-19 lockdown restrictions safely was always going to be a huge challenge, with the original blunt, clear 'stay at home' message replaced, as the prevalence of the virus allows, with a series of specific and gradual relaxations.

It is perhaps inevitable that this approach will lead to some confusion from time to time, particularly as Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain are each pursuing their own roadmaps to recovery.

Clearly, a joined-up all-Ireland plan would be desirable, though for now both jurisdictions are following their own plans.

The move in Northern Ireland, announced 11 days ago, to allow groups of up to six people from different households to meet outdoors with social distancing was enormously welcome.

Though the Stormont Executive has not yet given permission for people from different households to meet indoors - this is still deemed too risky - it has announced a range of other relaxations that, if the Covid-19 infection rate remains under control, will be allowed from June 8.

These include permitting more retailers to open. Small outdoor weddings and pet grooming could resume too, underlining the specific nature of how relaxations will be made in the coming weeks and months.

Hotels, B&Bs, self-catering accommodation and caravan parks would also be able to accept bookings, but this has sparked confusion because the Executive has declined to indicate a date when reservations can be fulfilled.

This has led to warnings from the industry that, in the absence of a timetable, redundancies are inevitable.

Nor is it yet clear what shops may or may not reopen from June 8.

Both the retail and hospitality sectors have been hit very hard by lockdown, and deserve greater clarity.

The Executive's 'Pathway to Recovery' plan is undated; this allows, at least in theory, greater flexibility in how restrictions may be relaxed. And yet, as we are already seeing, it is also causing some further uncertainty.

It underlines the complexity of the balancing act that governments everywhere are performing as they seek to exit lockdown.

But the public must play its part, too - for example, by acting sensibly and maintaining social distancing, despite the temptations of the current spell of fine weather, in order to minimise the spread of the virus and to keep the 'R number' as low as possible.

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Leading article