Covid lockdown: Government imposed restrictions to save lives, now they must help society open up again – Stephen Jardine

If you want to discover the true meaning of anticipation, head along to The Foot of the Walk pub in Leith on Monday morning.

The Wetherspoon’s emporium opens at 8am and offers an extensive breakfast menu. However I suspect the early birds won’t be attracted by the egg and bacon muffin, excellent as I’m sure it is.

Instead their eyes will be on the clock as it ticks down the seconds to 9am when alcohol can be served indoors for the first time since Christmas.

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If they survive that initial rush, the bar staff will have a busy day ahead because Freedom Monday is a big deal. Up to six people from three households will be able to meet indoors in places such as pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Cinemas, theatres, music venues and comedy clubs will also be able to reopen. Crucially, we are also going to be able to hug our loved ones for the first time this year. For many people who have struggled through the past year alone, that is going to be a big moment.

But before we get carried away, Scotland’s National Clinical Director reminds us we are not out of the woods yet. Professor Jason Leitch went out of his way to emphasise we should not be hugging “random strangers” from next week.

Professor Leitch has clearly not spent much time in Edinburgh if he thinks that is a concern. Here newcomers are lucky to get a grunt, never mind an embrace but it is a sign of how hard it is for the authorities to relinquish control.

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Pubs will be able to serve alcohol indoors from this Monday (Picture: Tom Maddick/SWNS)

Over the past year, individual common sense has been replaced by a complex set of ever-changing regulations. Some people like a rule and there have been plenty of them to go round. Others find being forced to follow a one-way system around a garden centre empty of other visitors, illogical and irritating in equal measure.

The vast majority of people have complied in the face of the pandemic to save lives and protect the NHS but make no mistake, the past year has seen the biggest restrictions on individual liberty since 1945. Who would ever have thought we would allow a politician to tell us when we can hug someone?

We should be proud of the way most people have worked together and sacrificed so much for the greater good. But those well-established controls mustn’t stay in place a moment longer than necessary.

As infections decline and the impact of the pandemic subsides thanks to the vaccines, the government need to use public health campaigns to restore confidence. The stay-at-home message was stark to scare the nation into complying but we now need to think about how we reassure people that workplaces, restaurants, bars and shops are safe places to be.

New figures this week cast doubt on the projected staycation holiday boom with poor occupancy in many areas. No wonder. For a year we’ve been telling people to avoid each other, wear masks and stay at home as much as possible.

It is hardly surprising recovery is slow. The government put us into lockdown so it’s up to them to lead us out of it, blinking in the sunlight and reassured by the message that the worst is behind us and better times lie ahead.

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