Leading article

Public deserve clarity around new Covid-19 restrictions

ARLENE Foster and Michelle O'Neill once again shared a platform on Thursday, and while their renewed united front was welcome, there was a frustrating lack of clarity about their announcement of new coronavirus restrictions.

This was an opportunity missed. A clear, simple message was essential but the general response to their statement, imposing the most drastic restrictions since lockdown in March, was confusion.

The persistent and rapid rise in positive Covid-19 tests in recent weeks meant that new measures to slow the spread of the virus were inevitable.

The executive has opted for localised rules, focused on the Belfast City Council and Ballymena areas as well as those living in the BT28, BT29 and BT43 postcodes. It seems likely that other postcodes with high infection rates may be added later.

People within these areas should not visit each other's homes and no more than six people from two households can meet in a garden.

Asking people not to visit, for example, their parents or grandchildren in their own homes while allowing groups, family or otherwise, to go to a restaurant for a meal will seem inherently contradictory to many.

There are also questions around how one is expected to define whether travel is 'necessary', as well as the difficulty in squaring the private home restrictions with the fact that the Executive hopes to allow pubs that do not serve food to reopen on September 21.

Persuasive arguments can doubtless be made to explain the logic behind the restrictions. For example, gatherings in houses in the affected zones have, we are told, been identified as a major means by which the virus is spread. It might therefore make sense to attempt to restrict these encounters.

But it is for the executive to make these arguments, and to present the evidence used to support its decisions.

Compounding the briefing's ineffective messaging was the absence afterwards from the media of any Stormont minister or senior health official to explain the new rules and clear up any areas of confusion.

A chatty Q&A-style entry appeared on the 'NI Direct' website yesterday afternoon, but more explanations will be needed as the public grapples with the changing demands being made of them.

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Leading article