Scotland, he said, has built up levels of immunity to Covid that “very much reduces the likelihood of us ever having to return to lockdown again”. There were, it must be noted, important caveats about new genetic variants of the virus that could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccines. However, for those not involved in planning our medical defences, that is something to worry about at a later date, if it becomes a significant problem.
We have been through so much for so long that now really is a time to be hopeful, not fearful.
It is also a time for government to be at the very top of its game. We need the authorities, local and national, to be working hard to ensure the re-opening goes well and to help, rather than hinder or punish, businesses that have problems with the remaining rules.
Clarity about the regulations is particularly important. The vast majority of businesses are trying to do the right thing and any confusion over what is and is not allowed needs to be cleared up quickly.
There should also be a rapid review to judge whether restrictions are effective and sensible under real-world conditions and whether or not they can be relaxed further or changed to make life simpler for firms.
Work also needs to continue on developing digital Covid ‘passports’ which should speed the relaxation of lockdown considerably. Scotland’s national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, has said this is “not near yet” but it clearly has the potential to make a real difference – if civil liberty concerns can be addressed. The system, being worked on by all four UK nations, would provide a digital record of vaccination, a recent negative test for Covid or natural immunity after recovering from the disease.
But this is not just about government and the business community. The behaviour of customers – especially when drink is involved – will be key. We must not allow ourselves to get too carried away and throw caution to the wind. Of course, some will which is not going to help the re-opening process continue at the pace we all want to see; what matters is that the number of flagrant rule-breakers is low.
We should also co-operate with the test-and-protect system. Subject to some conditions, people over 18 can order free ‘lateral flow’ Covid tests, which are able to give a result in about an hour.
If everything goes well, Scotland can look forward to the summer with considerable optimism and not a little excitement. The return of big crowds to sporting events, concerts and festivals is on the horizon.
But if Dr Smith’s optimism that lockdown is on its way out is to be realised, we should keep in mind what he called the “three-pronged” defence strategy against the virus: vaccination, test-and-protect and “the behaviours that you, myself and others take every day in society and how we interact with others”.