The Northern Ireland Executive announced on Thursday a raft of lockdown easing measures over the coming weeks. These include the opening of bars, restaurants and cafes; competitive sport to return; gyms, museums and galleries to reopen; and a halving of the two metre social distancing rule. Deaths and infection rates have fallen markedly. There is hope for guarded optimism, a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.
The vast majority of the Northern Irish public have stuck to the plan. We have kept to the rules and stayed at home. The death rate per 100,000 people for Northern Ireland is the lowest in the United Kingdom. Our politicians, normally a petty, dysfunctional bunch who can’t agree on anything, have pulled together and displayed real gravitas and leadership. I’ve been both impressed and surprised. It’s sad it has taken a global pandemic to garner consensus and common sense.
I return full time to work on Monday and the shops will be open as I stroll through Belfast city centre towards my office. Yes, I may have to wear a mask on the train and queue outside the local Tesco, but we are a quantum leap from the dark days of April where the city resembled an apocalyptic ghost town. There has been real progress. Whilst there is still much to be done and no room for complacency, there is hope for better days ahead. And soon.
Then I look elsewhere. Deaths in England are still near 200 as day, yet their beaches were packed two days ago when record temperatures hit. Despite being warned to stay away, the masses flocked to seaside resorts such as Bournemouth. Cars were abandoned, rubbish bins overflowed and fist fights broke out. It was the ideal breeding ground for a virus that needs no second invitation to wreak havoc. Did the beach goers give any consideration to this? It would appear not.
The death toll in Brazil has surged past 50,000 this week. And that’s a very conservative estimate. It is believed that many, many more may have lost their lives to coronavirus. The Brazilian President has headed an appalling government response to the crisis, describing it as nothing but a ‘little flu’ as he posed for selfies with supporters. The arrogance and callousness of the man has been staggering. The people he was elected to serve have been utterly betrayed and left horribly exposed to an invisible killer.
The same can be said about other nations. The virus seems to be ripping through countries such as Mexico, Chile and India. New infections are breaking out in Germany and New Zealand, nations who thought they had beaten the bug. Then there’s the USA. 49,000 new infections yesterday. Fresh outbreaks in Florida, Texas and Arizona. A nation led by a man who seems oblivious to the suffering of millions so long as his huge ego is massaged and nurtured.
If the rise in infections continue we could be looking at 10-15,000 deaths a week by mid summer in the States. These are heartbreaking figures for the supposed most advanced nation on earth. Trump supporters holler about the freedom to swagger through their towns and cities, toting automatic weapons. An assault rifle will be no use to anyone when they’re in an intensive care unit in a medically induced coma, their lungs turning to mush. Are they really that blind?
I’m not a politically minded person but I had to write these words. The land of the free and the home of the brave? Bravery is heeding the medical and scientific advice, taking the necessary precautions and keeping you and your loved ones safe. Freedom is staying healthy and living to see the other side of this crisis. You may not agree and I stand to be corrected, but how could such a global power have gotten it so wrong? And is there any way back?