Leading article

Lockdown regulations must be fully observed

Although we have already been in its grip for almost ten months, it needs to be accepted that we may well be entering the most dangerous phase of the coronavirus crisis to date.

January is a difficult time for the health service even in normal circumstances, with a range of familiar illnesses regularly running at a high level and hospital admissions rising sharply.

The pandemic has put massively increased pressures on all our medical services, with well documented fears that facilities could be stretched beyond breaking point if the trends continue in coming weeks.

Stormont health minister Robin Swann was fully entitled to yesterday highlight the urgent need for a responsible approach across the board over the remaining days of the festive season.

There are obvious concerns that, with bars and restaurants closed as part of the wider six-week lockdown period which began on December 26, some people may be tempted to attend New Year's Eve house parties.

Apart from being completely illegal, Mr Swann warned that such gatherings might act as ‘super spreader' events which result in an upsurge in deaths.

It has been a highly unusual Christmas, with social activity seriously restricted well before the latest restrictions were introduced, and there may be a temptation for small groups to meet outside their family units and mark the end of a tough year over a few drinks.

The health minister was correct to stress the grave risks involved in such behaviour, and to point out that only a `huge collective effort' will allow the covid figures to start moving in the right direction.

Most people understand the realities of the situation and are making sustained efforts to ensure that all aspects of what is effectively an 8pm to 6am curfew is fully respected.

Exceptions must be made for key workers in general and health service staff in particular, so it was unfortunate that confusion arose in Belfast over the use of taxis in this specific context.

Police clarified yesterday, after some initial uncertainty, that taxis maintaining the required hygiene precautions can continue to operate when required for essential purposes.

It is important that clear and consistent public health messages are sent out by the authorities and rigorously observed by all sections of society in the days ahead.

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Leading article