Failure to co-ordinate lockdown exits on both sides of Border would be ‘very foolish’

Divergence between Dublin and Belfast could ravage Border areas, say medical experts

Failure to exit lockdown restrictions at the same time on both sides of the Border would be “very foolish”, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.

As the Stormont Executive announced its plan to ease out of coronavirus closures, Dr Tom Black, chairman of the BMA in the North, cautioned that divergence between Dublin and Belfast could ravage Border areas as people flock from one side to the other.

“They should co-ordinate non-essential retail and should definitely co-ordinate hospitality and personal services, because there would be concerns people will move across the Border to venues that are open,” he told The Irish Times.

"It would be very foolish of the Republic and Northern Ireland to differ in that respect, because we would just end up with high rates of infection around the Border counties.

A timetable

“It would basically be encouraging people to move outside their own areas and mix and I think the police on both sides of the Border would struggle to control people moving back and forth, particularly for hospitality late at night.”

On Tuesday, the North’s Executive agreed its Pathway out of Restrictions blueprint, which maps a return to some normality over five phases in nine areas.

These include home and community, education and young people, work, retail, hospitality, worship and ceremonies, sport and leisure activities, culture, heritage and entertainment as well as travel and tourism. Unlike a plan in England, it does not include a timetable.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was a “careful, cautious and hopeful approach” which allows for movement through the phases at different speeds in each of the nine “pathways”.

“We will not be driven by hard dates. We do not want to set out unachievable dates only for people to be disappointed,” she said.

Noting more than 2,000 deaths and 112,000 positive cases in the North, she added: “It is, however, time to look to the future with hope and the conditions for doing that are starting to emerge.”

Ms O’Neill said she didn’t expect “any major changes” to current restrictions before Easter, but hoped there would be “more room and flexibility” after the holidays.

The first phase is in effect the current lockdown. Under phase two restaurants and cafes not serving alcohol will be allowed to open with table service for six people from two households. All outdoor visitor attractions would reopen and religious services could resume, under risk assessments.

Weddings and funerals

Increased numbers would be allowed to attend weddings and funerals, workplace restrictions would be relaxed and up to six people from two households could meet in gardens, or 10 people from two households in public places.

Outdoor sports facilities will reopen for training, competitive sports could return without spectators while non-essential retailers would resume click and collect services for customers.

In phase three, all non-essential retail could reopen, close contact services like hairdressers and beauticians can start operating again with restrictions and premises serving alcohol, other than wet pubs, can serve tables of six people from two households.

Swimming pools and gyms reopen, as well as indoor attractions and libraries, there would be a full return to classroom teaching, while hotels, guest houses and caravan sites could reopen with measures in place.

Wedding receptions and funeral gatherings would be allowed with “mitigations and limited numbers” as would gatherings of up to six people from two households indoors in private homes. Restricted numbers would be allowed at indoor events.

In the penultimate phase, wet pubs could open their doors again for table service for up to six people from two households, limited numbers of spectators could attend sporting events outdoors and indoors, while theatres, cinemas and concert venues could reopen.

Retailers could increase customer capacity in outlets, small organised outdoor events could be permitted and there would be no limits on numbers attending religious services.

Live music

Limited live music would be allowed at wedding receptions, work conferences could resume, and 10 people from two households would be allowed to gather indoors at home, while overnight stays would be allowed.

The final phase would involve the further relaxation of outstanding restrictions. There will be four-weekly reviews starting on March 16th.

Ms O’Neill said the North would not be operating “in a vacuum” and would “work closely with other jurisdictions including the Irish Government” to share its experience and learn what works best elsewhere.

Dr Black said there had to be “consistency in restrictions on both sides of the Border.Otherwise people will regard it as an á la carte menu”, he added.

Two further deaths related to Covid-19 and 149 new cases of the virus were reported in the North on Tuesday.

Police also said they issued fines totalling £11,000 for breaches of Covid-19 restrictions between 8pm on Monday evening and 4am on Tuesday, after breaking up parties at seven houses in the Holyland area of south Belfast, popular with students.

Three people under 18 were issued with community resolution notices and a 16 year old “was brought home to their parents”, police said.