Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA Northern Ireland Council, said: “It is imperative that any easing of lockdown restrictions is done in a safe way, led by the data and under constant review. No-one wants to go into another lockdown situation again and frontline healthcare workers – who are exhausted after a year of battling this pandemic - do not want to see a fourth surge in infections.
“Children returning to school is extremely important for their educational and social development as well as their mental health. Many doctors and frontline health care workers have had to juggle home-schooling with working long hours on the frontline of this pandemic, so getting children back into a school learning environment now that transmission rates are falling will benefit everyone. However infection levels will have to be under regular review. The introduction of testing for older pupils and in special schools is welcome and we would hope it would identify infections before they have a chance to get hold and should reduce the numbers of pupils having to isolate.
“The vaccine programme is progressing well and has given us hope that we did not have a year ago when we entered our first lockdown. However, Covid-19 is still here and transmitting within the community. It is because of this that it is crucial everyone continues to follow the social distancing guidance: keep their distance from others outside of their households, wear face-coverings and come forward for a covid vaccination at the appropriate time.
“The health service has a mountain to climb now in terms of restarting non-covid care. With the health service workforce staffing gaps and high levels of exhaustion, brave and timely decision-making will continue to be needed from the government.”