Leading article

North-west Covid-19 spike concerning

A vaccination programme backed up by comprehensive testing was always going to be the way out of the coronavirus crisis.

The success of both thus far is why we have been able to take some significant steps out of lockdown in recent weeks, including the reopening of shops and the return of outdoor hospitality.

Another important relaxation in the restrictions which have so dominated our lives since last year was made yesterday, when changes in hospital and care home visiting rules came into effect.

Care home residents, who have been subject to some of the strictest Covid measures, can now receive two one-hour visits each week.

Two-thirds of the Northern Ireland adult population has received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, with almost one-third having had both.

This must be regarded as tremendous progress.

It reflects the efficiency of the vaccine programme and is a tribute to the public's willingness to accept the vaccine as a means of protecting others as well as themselves from falling seriously ill.

The north's vaccine rollout is being delayed by several weeks after new advice that under-40s should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca jab over a link to rare blood clots.

This should not be allowed to deter vaccine uptake, and it is sensible that the programme adapts to the latest medical advice.

Some have questioned whether the pace at which restrictions are being eased is too slow.

Complacency is, however, a real and present danger with Covid-19; caution is essential.

There is little doubt that the comparative slowness of the Republic's vaccine programme, where around one-third of the population has so far received a first dose, means that particular vigilance is required in border areas.

The persistent concentration of high case rates in Donegal and the Derry and Strabane areas amply illustrates the dangers, with the situation alarming enough for health minister Robin Swann to call on Stephen Donnelly, his counterpart in the Republic, to stop non-essential cross-border travel "by enforcement if required".

While the spike in the north-west is concerning, the fact that cases are being identified shows that the tracing system is working; it is up to the health authorities, as well as the public, to respond appropriately.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has played an important part in the relief effort in India by sending much-needed oxygen generation units.

It is a vivid reminder that there is some way to travel before the world can escape the deadly reach of Covid-19.

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Leading article