IT IS entirely understandable that at this stage of coronavirus there should be those advocating a gradual, managed, easing of restrictions and others warning that precipitate action risks a second spike in infections and a return to a higher rate of deaths.

The former need not be selfishly chafing at constraints, or valuing “the economy” above human life; there are real human costs, as well as financial ones, to lockdown that might ultimately prove even more damaging than the disease itself.

Similarly, the more cautious are correct to point out that any hasty return to anything at all like the status quo risks returning to the earlier, most virulent point of the pandemic, which would entail returning to full lockdown in any case.

In the absence of a vaccine, or the ability to contain cases, test widely and contact trace, coronavirus will not disappear. But it is worth remembering that that was never the object of the current restrictions: they were intended to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, to protect the most vulnerable groups, and to buy the time for frontline services to be in a state of readiness.

Whatever failings there have been in the approach to date – and it is clear that there are serious questions which will eventually need to be asked about the advice on the likely impact on care homes, and about the provision of PPE for frontline workers – it looks as if those objectives have been largely successful. Thanks to the heroic efforts of NHS workers, and the compliance of the overwhelming majority of the population with isolation, frontline health services have been resilient.

The fact that the Nightingale (and Louisa Jordan) hospitals were so quickly prepared, but have not yet been inundated, ought to be welcome news, as is the fact that there have been no new coronavirus ICU admissions in Scotland for at least ten days. But it also gives an indication of the most important change that should be made to current arrangements, if the moment of initial danger has receded.

That is to restore, as quickly and as safely as possible, the other normal operations of the health service. The rise in the number of overall deaths, compared with those in previous years, is not all due to coronavirus, but to those who have been unable to obtain treatment for other, often equally serious conditions.

If we are to avoid a spike in avoidable deaths from other causes, governments must heed the advice of the Royal College of Physicians that planned procedures and other treatment be resumed as soon as possible. The three-month suspension of routine operations will not only have caused hardship and suffering for many, but it risks producing a blockage in treatment that could undermine the NHS as seriously as the virus itself. The capacity to deal with potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, cancer and stroke is now available. If anything is to start going back to something like normal, that must surely be the priority.

Digital non-natives

THE privations of our current circumstances may have been tough, but for many of us they would have been insufferable without the lifelines offered by technology. The internet has provided us with online newspapers and other sources of information, the ability for many office workers to operate, more or less as usual, from home, the chance to keep in touch by video links, to access doctors’ surgeries and other health services, to order groceries without leaving the house, and the diversions of streaming TV, film and music services.

So spare a thought for the elderly and most vulnerable – already a group hard hit by these restrictions – who are less than comfortable with the digital world, and feel isolated and ill at ease. Providing them with the skills and tools to do even the simplest online tasks – shopping or making a video call – could prove genuinely transformative.