Editorial: Vaccines remain only route out of pandemic
WHEN the first Covid vaccines were administered in Northern Ireland in December last year, it appeared a major turning point had been reached in the fight against this deadly virus.
A mass vaccination programme soon began, targeting the most vulnerable groups first, and by May this year more than one million first doses had been distributed - a remarkable achievement.
Progress in inoculating the population raised the hope of making stringent restrictions on daily life a thing of the past, along with the associated disruption to children's education and the economy.
But with the emergence of the more contagious Delta variant, along with a reluctance by some young people to take up the offer of a vaccine, the north now finds itself making headlines for the wrong reasons.
The Department of Health yesterday reported a further nine deaths linked to Covid, bringing its total so far this year past the 1,000 mark.
This month has also seen the most deaths recorded in a single day since February, and the most new cases during the whole pandemic.
An estimated one in 40 people had the virus in the week ending August 20, far higher than levels in Britain or the Republic.
It led to chief medical officer Prof Sir Michael McBride appealing to people to socialise outdoors where possible over the bank holiday weekend, as well as maintaining good practice around hygiene, face masks and social distancing.
With 350,000 pupils returning to schools this week, there is inevitably a concern that infection rates could rise further.
In Scotland, record Covid cases have been partly attributed to the new academic term, although health officials in the Republic yesterday sought to reassure parents that classrooms are not a major source of transmission.
Hospitals, meanwhile, continue to operate under extreme pressure, with emergency departments in Craigavon and the Ulster in Dundonald both struggling to meet demand last night - with coronavirus admissions "adding significantly to bed pressures".
The only comforting news among all these grim statistics is that vaccination has been proven to be effective in reducing transmission and protecting from serious illness and death.
It remains the only realistic route out of this terrible pandemic and it must be hoped that those not already vaccinated heed calls from across society to do so as soon as possible.