THE face masks, hand-sanitising stations and two-metre markings provide reminders that, however heartening current figures may be in Scotland, we remain in a potentially lethal pandemic. These conditions might have seemed unimaginably abnormal at the beginning of the year but – if far from the status quo – they have allowed most of us a gradual easing of lockdown.

We should remember, however, that for a significant portion of the population there has been little relief – not even the dubious consolations of a weekly grocery shop or socially distanced exercise. Around 180,000 Scots have been shielding. By definition amongst those most vulnerable, until last week, they had been expected to maintain physical distancing even from others in their own households.

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So the news that this group – which includes those with certain types of cancer and respiratory conditions, and those who have received organ transplants – is to be free to stay in holiday accommodation, visit parks and gardens and outdoor markets, and can be reunited with those with whom they do not share a house is very welcome.

Better still is the announcement by the First Minister that she hopes, if conditions allow, that the need for shielding can be dropped at the end of the month. However, the word used was “paused” – an indication that the government is proceeding with caution, conscious that the virus has not been conquered or eradicated, but merely brought within the bounds of control.

Nicola Sturgeon and her government’s medical advisers, nonetheless, deserve congratulations that we have reached a position where those shielding will be able to return with a degree of confidence to more interaction with others.

But it is incumbent on the rest of us to realise that getting this far required not only the restraint and forebearance of those shielding and careful government planning, but the efforts of frontline staff and key workers, and the compliance of everyone else. The improvements of the past days and weeks should be seen not as licence to relax our behaviour, but as a vindication of the notion that – if we abide by the rules and do our duty – we can make progress.

This is a time, not just to tick the boxes and stay in line, but also to consider what we can do to give a little extra help, encouragement or cheer to those who have been most severely affected by the lockdown restrictions.

And while those successes on the social front are very heartening, there is still a considerable hill to climb when it comes to other issues, many of which cannot be addressed by public behaviour alone. There must be a determined effort by government to turn, with the same co-operation with those in the best position to advise, to wider health issues, including the needs of those with long-standing conditions, or in care homes.

There is an urgent need for focus, too, on the restoration of the economy to health, something that will require attention to the advice of business leaders, and support in those areas that they identify as priorities, rather than the things bureaucrats or politicians think easy or desirable.

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Just as matters began to improve only when the government concentrated its efforts on the points that scientific experts thought the most important, the process of economic recovery will depend on the expertise of those who actually create jobs and know best the recipes for stimulating productivity and growth. And it will demand as much resolve and imagination from government as the pandemic’s immediate impact.

We can be proud if, for now, we seem to be past the worst. We should be delighted that respite for those hardest hit is in view. But there is still a long way to go, and vigilance, energy and mutual support will be essential on the journey.