NOW that we’re in the second stage of easing restrictions – you can travel more than five miles, except in Dumfries and Galloway; visit a self-contained holiday home; and distancing rules for children under 12 have been dropped – and there has been a sustained fall in deaths and the R rate, there is a case for cautious and provisional optimism.

Only cautious and provisional, though, not just because those have characterised the moves out of lockdown, and there are economic reasons to be pessimistic about their effects, but because even for the health results – which look much more heartening – we need to bear in mind that much is still unknown.

On current evidence, it looks as if the Scottish Government has handled the urgent issues, those literally of life and death, reasonably well, if far from perfectly. It may be that it has done so more effectively than the UK Government; it has certainly looked more competent, and deserves to be commended for that.

But until we can realistically compare international data, reliably test the rate of infection, and have information about levels of immunity (if, indeed, there are any), it is too early to say so definitively.

There is still no cure, no vaccine, and no indication of whether a second, even worse, spike is likely. It is even theoretically possible that countries with what look like the worst results now will fare best in the long run, though to pin hopes on that would certainly have been an unreasonable basis for government responses. The trouble is that no one knows, so the precautionary principle – what scientists lean on when the science is uncertain – is the obvious approach to the medical risks.

The damage wrought by coronavirus is not merely to health, however: while it is understandable, and correct, that the Government should have made that the immediate priority, it also has to consider other costs and risks.

In education, employment, the economy – particularly tourism, hospitality, arts and retail sectors – welfare, taxation and other issues, excessive caution has produced devastating, measurable costs, not all economic. Some, including poverty, home care for the vulnerable and the impact on non-covid medical treatment, from transplants to chemo to mental health, threaten lives and qualities of life as seriously as the coronavirus.

It was always impossible completely to eradicate risk from life (or we would ban motor vehicles and garden tools), and accepting that is still true in the age of coronavirus should inform the Government's approach to emerging from lockdown. Some firms cannot function at all under current restrictions; the solution is to listen to business leaders and find ways of mitigating risk, with clear guidance.

Some of Scotland’s distinctions – the need for face masks in public, or easing open pubs and restaurants from Monday by beginning with outdoor spaces alone, proposals for reducing distancing if, for example, screens are installed – look perfectly sensible and proportionate, though greater clarity in specifying the rules is still needed.

Others – a delay of a couple of days or tiny distinctions in numbers at gatherings – raise the suspicion that they’ve been created for the sake of difference. That’s perhaps unworthy (especially if Scotland’s rules are more effective), but it’s a complaint critics – not just political opponents, but those desperate to get back to work or see their families – are bound to make.

And there are areas where such minuscule distinctions are not merely petty, but pointless and unworkable. Holyrood shouldn’t be bounced into decisions by Westminster, but – when mutual arrangements have been made among all the major European countries – it’s absurd to maintain a travel ban when air bridges are in place, especially since plenty of holidaymakers travel from and back to English ports and airports. Caution may have contained the virus, but it can’t constrain all of life.