The Irish Examiner View: It’s too early to relax most restrictions

The Irish Examiner View: It’s too early to relax most restrictions

There may be an opportunity for a certain type of person to sit up in their easy chair to harrumph a kind of historical vindication in the fact that, just as we marked the 104th anniversary of one of our last rejections of London's authority, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff have done the same. Though executions are not immediately anticipated the stakes may be even higher than they were in 1916. Our man at ease in his chair may buck at that suggestion but the Spanish Flu pandemic which began its scything not so very long after after the Easter Rising offers a sobering context.

That context is made all the more unavoidable as today's pandemic seems resurgent in the Chinese city of Shulan near the Russian and North Korean borders. It is made even more so as the second wave of Spanish flu was far more lethal than the first. The Shulan cases came a week after China designated all regions low or medium risk. On Sunday the country reported 17 new cases, its second day of a double-digit rise and its highest number in nearly two weeks.

The Shulan figures came to light just as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a tentative easing of restrictions. Mr Johnson said if the circumstances were right, schools in England and some shops might reopen next month - a half promise in contrast to what has been suggested here should the need for social distancing persist. The British government is also “actively encouraging” people to return to workplaces if they cannot work from home. These relaxations reflect decisions in some European countries and though understandable after weeks of cabin fever take a toll, it is very important that they do not undermine the mindset needed to limit a disease. At this stage of the pandemic psychological discipline is every bit as important as physical discipline.

That obligation is behind the decisions of the three leaders of devolved authorities to put the breaks on Mr Johnson's decision to indulge those who, irrespective of inevitable consequences, believe it is time to try to revive morbid economies. In Northern Ireland, First Minister Arlene Foster was clear: “On the whole, the message is to stay at home... we are not deviating from the message.”  The Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, was equally dismissive and stressed the stay at home slogan had not “gone away” in Wales. In Edinburgh, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said dropping the “stay home” message could have “catastrophic” consequences and ordered Scots to follow different, more restrictive advice. 

If those mixed messages are likely to deepen division then a looming conflict over travel arrangements may exacerbate them. Mr Johnson announced quarantine obligations for anyone arriving in Britain except for those travelling from France or Ireland. Dublin officials have, however,  warned we cannot reciprocate and that people coming to Ireland from Britain, or Irish people returning from there, will have to give their details and self-isolate for 14 days. Nevertheless, people can still travel freely to and from Northern Ireland.

More on this topic

Daily 200,000 coronavirus testing capacity target in UK hit a day early, says HancockDaily 200,000 coronavirus testing capacity target in UK hit a day early, says Hancock

Suzanne Harrington: Assault course must be completed before start of intense gardeningSuzanne Harrington: Assault course must be completed before start of intense gardening

Scally: Ryanair boss should 'leave public health' to the authoritiesScally: Ryanair boss should 'leave public health' to the authorities

Professor says travel restrictions should not be lifted too soonProfessor says travel restrictions should not be lifted too soon