When the term Covid-19 was first heard, and the danger it posed swiftly became clear, there was a real sense of fear. I doubt any of us will forget the early days of lockdown in March 2020, when the eerily empty and silent streets symbolised a world turned upside down.

Fast forward almost four years. A new variant of Covid is spreading along with the old, yet despite worrying levels of hospitalisations, most of us shrug it off in a week. We are under no legal obligation to test ourselves or to self-isolate. Covid today for the majority is merely an inconvenience, not the potential death sentence it was before vaccinations turned the pandemic from a global calamity into a manageable disease.

Read more: Second home tax rises are not a minute too soon

In fact, its threat has so significantly receded that figures for last winter in Scotland show more people died from flu than Covid-19, a terrible toll representing the highest number of such deaths in 20 years. Covid’s sting, it would appear, has been drawn.

So it would be fair to assume, would it not, that by now we have essentially recovered from the pandemic. Its legacy will long remain with us, as will memories and images we would rather forget, but surely we can - and probably already have - put it behind us?

I suspect the Scotland Covid-19 Inquiry, which began its hearings earlier this week, will prove quite the opposite. Just the other day I bumped into someone who had collected a form from the GP’s surgery allowing her to get in touch with the inquiry. She intended to describe the misery she experienced when her elderly mother was in care in her last months, when no physical contact was allowed. Her eyes filled with tears and she put a hand to her heart as she recounted the cruelty of a situation where she had a 200-mile round trip to collect and return her mother’s laundry, yet was not allowed anywhere near her. Sadly, her story is far from unique. (To contribute to the Inquiry, go to https://www.covid19inquiry.scot).

It would have taken a tungsten heart to listen without emotion to evidence given on the opening day of the first stage of the inquiry, which is dealing with the health and social care impact of the pandemic. Drawing on the testimony of members of groups such as Care Home Relatives Scotland, Scottish Covid Bereaved, National Autistic Society Scotland and Children’s Health Scotland, the panel, chaired by Lord Brailsford, heard of the elderly in care homes who had to be physically restrained from trying to approach and hug their relatives. One lawyer spoke of a woman whose mother had advanced dementia: “A carer could sit beside her and hold her hand, but not her daughter.”

Those with Alzheimer’s or dementia found it especially hard to understand why they were “suddenly left alone with no visits, no touch, not even allowed to see others in the home”. When family members did arrive, one witness recalled that residents were “paraded out for visits behind glass like an exhibit at a reptile museum or a prisoner.” Just typing those words is upsetting; one can only imagine the distress of those involved, and its ongoing impact on their lives.

Already it is becoming clear that the elderly in care homes, and those with disabilities and additional support needs, such as young people with autism, were in the front line when it came to collateral damage. They were actively and sometimes irreparably harmed by the impact of harsh and inflexible regulations. Nobody doubts that the rules were there for the protection of the whole country, but the suffering of individuals left isolated, confused, without access to help for their mental or physical health, remains scandalous and - there is simply no other word for it - unforgiveable.

One of the aims of the inquiry, which might run until 2025, is to understand what went wrong when trying to contain the disease. By so doing it can make recommendations for how to prepare more effectively in future. Those in charge at Holyrood at the time will be chastened by a wealth of evidence showing that, even though they were acting with the best intentions, some things could have been done with a great deal more care, foresight and compassion. The Scottish Inquiry is running in parallel with that at Westminster, but I would be surprised if we hear evidence of chaos and conflict behind the doors of Bute House as there was at No.10. In a time of unprecedented crisis, despite its failings the Scottish Government, under Nicola Sturgeon, managed to convey a reassuring sense of calm, clarity and cohesion.

Read more: A peek inside the closet of Jane Austen

Possibly the inquiry’s findings, and the chance it gives for people’s stories to be told, will prove cathartic for society as a whole as well as for the people directly affected by the pandemic. Certainly, it is important for a public record to be kept of what happened, and why, and how things could be done better when next faced with a similar emergency. Whether it will mark a turning point in how we view the dark years of 2020-22, however, remains moot. In a matter of hours the hearings have already demonstrated that many still bear the scars of Covid, and will do so to the end of their days.

But I think we already knew that. You don’t need to be an anthropologist to observe that older generations remain leery of crowded venues. Younger folk are still scrabbling to regain lost time, those frozen years when their lives were put on hold. The very youngest continue to catch up, but some never will overcome their compromised schooling. Whenever we pass empty shops and To Let signs on our high streets, we remember those whose businesses went bust because of lockdowns. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, the vulnerable and their loved ones now realise that there are no guarantees when it comes to their security and care.

So no, we are not over Covid, not by a long way. Traumatised is not too strong a word for the way some feel; even for those fortunate enough to have emerged relatively unscathed, its aftershock will be felt for years to come. The events of 2020-2022 marked a watershed, a moment when the unthinkable happened. I doubt any of us will ever feel completely safe again.