While we continue to experience record levels of new positive Covid cases, both here and across Scotland, the move into Level 0 restrictions this week offers further hope that we can finally move forward into a recovery phase in the months ahead.
The last 16 months have been exceptionally difficult, not least for businesses, which have suffered unprecedented closures and restrictions to the way they operate. I hope that the further easing of restrictions will aid our vital local businesses with their recovery, especially those in the hard-hit tourism and hospitality sector.
This is particularly important as we move towards the planned closure of the UK furlough scheme at the end of September. If businesses are not able to open fully and recover ahead of that date, many of the workers who remain furloughed will be at a higher risk of unemployment as the scheme winds down. It is vital both for the individuals affected and the wider economy that we avoid such a rise in unemployment over the coming months.
While the return of greater normality is of course welcome, caution was very much the watchword of the First Minister’s announcement on the easing of restrictions. I agree we should all remain vigilant about public health and hygiene measures and wearing face coverings to help restrict the spread of the virus. It is also vital that people continue to be vaccinated, including taking advantage of the new drop-in vaccination centres.
However, rapidly growing infection rates across Europe and other parts of the world are also a reminder that this pandemic is far from over. While we can enjoy greater freedom again, other countries are facing renewed lockdowns and other restrictions.
This highlights the fact that the pandemic will not truly be over until most of the world’s population is fully vaccinated and the importance of the UK helping lead efforts to achieve this goal.