Yesterday’s latest, tentative step towards unlocking was – for those businesses able to take it at least – another sign that the end of this pandemic might finally be in sight.

There is, though, a world of difference between being legally allowed to open and being able to do so practically. Many of those rolling the shutters up yesterday are still subject to all manner of restrictions on when they can open, how they can operate, and how far apart everyone needs to be.

Others point out that, in reality, this makes it impossible to even cover their costs, far less turn a profit – meaning they’re staying closed until things ease further. Some beauticians, for example, highlight that, because they can’t remove a customer’s face mask at any time, they can’t currently offer a sufficiently wide range of services to make reopening viable.

That’s bad news. For many businesses in the hardest-hit sectors, this is a crucial trading period in the year. Wherever possible, we need to be stimulating economic activity, not curtailing it.

When financial breathing space is so limited, a small change to regulations here or there could be the difference between a shop, café or pub being able to come back to life or not.

And, it’s precisely because it’s such a tight call that the mishandling of the new occupancy capacity guidance in the last week or so has been so damaging.

To quickly recap, less than a fortnight ago, a new government guidance document on “physical distance based capacity” – how many people you can let through the door – suddenly appeared.

This set out a new methodology for calculating the capacity of your premises – sparking panic, then anger, among business owners whose plans for reopening and premises layout were already well advanced.

Cue a frantic weekend of reassessing plans and looking again at the numbers to see if reopening was going to be worth it.

It was only the following week that ministers sought to clarify that not much in this new guidance was in fact new.

The methodology, they said, “was intended to be illustrative rather than prescriptive”. It was “absolutely not their intention” to ask “businesses to adjust their premises to deal with different rules".

Sighs of relief all round, but just look at the impact of the avoidable confusion.

Of course, on one level, this is just a dull, government business regulation story. But it matters because it also underlines a couple of wider, persistent problems that have bedevilled the government’s efforts to mitigate the economic effects of Covid.

For example, there is clearly a break somewhere in the chain between the announcement of government policy and how that is then implemented. Putting policy into practice is a challenge for any government, but there seems to be a particular issue here with the high-level concept, detailed guidance and explanatory advice, communications and messaging all being developed sequentially, rather than as a whole.

Further, despite everything we’ve learned in the last year or so, the importance of clear, reliable, practical advice for businesses is still overlooked – as is the price of getting it wrong.

Yesterday’s date had been in everyone’s diary for over a month, but still we had to push and push for a practical business advice guide to be ready in good time. Alas, none was forthcoming so, in the end, we at FSB got together with some expert environmental health officers and our friends at Business Gateway and took it on ourselves to produce a reopening top tips guide.

This is what businesses who are busy trying to stay afloat need – not another hefty guidance document or set of practice notes landing without warning or explanation.

Colin Borland is director of devolved nations for the Federation of Small Businesses