Indian Variant demands common sense and caution over lockdowns – Andrew Vine

I DIDN’T go rushing out to the pub or a restaurant yesterday to experience the novelty of once again being able to have a pint or a meal inside.

Customers inside a pub as indoor hospitality and entertainment venues reopen to the public following the further easing of lockdown restrictions in England.

We’ve all learned to be a little more wary than that. Let’s see how the next few days pan out with numbers of new infections, even though a majority of us who are over a certain age are now very glad to be fully vaccinated and as protected as we can be.

If things carry on as they are, and the number of Covid cases remains low, then yes, I’ll be more than happy to stroll down to the local and have my first pint of hand-pulled bitter in more than a year.

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It’s great that we’ve moved a step nearer normality, but as so often with the life we’ve come to know over the past year, there’s a cloud on the horizon.

Passengers prepare to board an easyJet flight to Faro, Portugal, as the lockdown is eased.

And that horizon is uncomfortably close to Yorkshire – just across the Pennines in the North West where the Indian variant of Covid is cause for concern.

Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into a repeat of last year, when the optimism of the summer faded into the grimness of autumn and winter as cases – and deaths – soared.

But we didn’t have vaccines then. Now we do – and the over-35s have started getting theirs – but if the new variant means next month’s scheduled relaxation of all Covid restrictions has to be delayed, then so be it.

A few people I know are getting pretty worked up about the possibility of that happening, but I can’t see it’s any big deal. If we have to stick to wearing masks and social distancing for a while longer than the end of June, it really isn’t a problem.

Crowds were present at Wembley on Saturday to witness Leicester City's FA Cup Final win.

Yes, it would be great to be done with it all, but we’ve got used to it, and nobody much complains about it hampering the way they go about their everyday business.

It’s easy to overlook how far we’ve travelled, amid all the talk of new variants, continued risk and the spectre of a third wave later in the year.

There was a crowd inside Wembley for the FA Cup final on Saturday, and as of yesterday, pubs and restaurants are back in business properly and in with a fighting chance of making a decent living once more.

There will be concerts, plays and festivals before the summer ends, and audiences back in the cinemas.

People are returning to their workplaces, and getting back on board buses and trains. The children are at school without it causing an upsurge in infections, and at the opposite end of the age range, the elderly in care can once more be hugged by their loved ones.

So if the price of making sure all those things can continue happening is a few more weeks of being cautious beyond an arbitrary date in June, then bring that on.

Much better to do so and maintain the level of normality we’ve achieved thanks to forbearance and following the rules than to throw all caution to the wind and end up with more onerous restrictions, or even another lockdown.

It’s the same with travel. A rush to holidays abroad just isn’t a good idea this summer, however understandable people’s desire for a break in the sun.

A survey yesterday by the hotel chain Travelodge indicated that most people have already reached that conclusion, with four out of five planning to holiday in Britain – with the welcome consequence of a boost to the economy of up to £31bn.

Good for them. Our tourism industry needs all the help that it can get, and it’s a win-win for the country if holidaymakers are spending pounds here instead of euros abroad and staying safer in the process.

We should know by now that Covid is no respecter of either timetables set by the Government or the keenness of families to get on a plane and head for two weeks on a beach.

Easing restrictions too quickly blew up in our faces last year and it is a mistake that must not be repeated, even against the backdrop of an outstandingly successful vaccination programme.

Boris Johnson would be well advised to dial down the expectations he has raised of a complete return to normality in a little over a month’s time, because if that has to be abandoned at the last minute, as were the much-trumpeted freedoms at Christmas, it will undermine the national mood.

Far better to adopt a softly-softly approach that trusts the country to understand the gains won so far will have to suffice for now.

That is much more in tune with the generalised feeling of cautious optimism we are gradually emerging from this long ordeal by taking things one step at a time.

We will get back to normality. But maybe not quite as soon as next month.

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