Leading article

Vital we combat Delta variant

While the focus recently has been on the quite astonishing disintegration of the DUP, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Covid-19 remains a serious concern and continues to have a major impact on everyday life.

On the positive front, the vaccine rollout has been a tremendous success. Belfast's SSE Arena yesterday vaccinated its 200,000th person. In total close to two million jabs have now been administered across Northern Ireland, 790,000 of them second doses.

The importance of vaccination has been underscored this week by the rapid rise in the number of cases involving the Delta variant.

The alarming increase in cases in England has already seen Boris Johnson delay the planned lifting of social contact restrictions until July 19 while the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations have also paused the relaxation of measures.

As the drama within the DUP was playing out on Thursday, the Stormont Executive was meeting to discuss the restrictions currently in place in Northern Ireland.

Last week ministers had outlined a number of indicative dates which were due to be ratified on Thursday, including the resumption of live music, removing the cap on outdoor gatherings and allowing ten people from two households to meet indoors.

However, given the concerns about the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the executive decided to delay further easements and will review them again next month.

There is no doubt this move will be disappointing for many, particularly those in the arts sector who have been badly hit by the pandemic.

But faced with a rise in cases of the Delta variant, which have more than doubled over the past week in Northern Ireland, ministers had little choice but to take a cautious approach.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Michael McBride has warned the variant is likely to become the dominant strain of the virus and urged younger people in the 18-30 age group to get vaccinated.

The Public Health Agency is also carrying out testing in parts of Omagh and Ballymoney after a number of probable cases of the Delta variant were identified.

People contacted in these areas will be encouraged to come forward and take part in a process aimed at helping to prevent and delay the further spread of the virus.

It is absolutely vital that we combat the Delta variant before it tightens its grip. Vaccination and testing will be crucial in stalling its progress.

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