The pubs may have reopened – but forget about going for a casual drink

Sean O'Grady
·3-min read
<p>The Great Unlock has to be cautious – and indeed ‘irreversible’, as Boris Johnson says</p> (EPA)

The Great Unlock has to be cautious – and indeed ‘irreversible’, as Boris Johnson says

(EPA)

This may not be the best moment for a quick game of lockdown one-upmanship, but those of us in Leicester are justified in feeling especially liberated as things open up, because our great city has been stuck in full lockdown for longer than anywhere else in Britain.

A glass of Everards Tiger (a rich golden ale, in case you’ve not tried it) will taste especially good today – though I’m not sure I’ll be able to grab one, as normal pub arrangements are far from being restored.

Although we’ve been mostly forgotten for the past year or so, I am delighted to see the BBC’s Maxine Croxall in the beer garden of the Cradock Arms, in the charming Leicester suburb of Knighton; an establishment from which I am pleased to say I was once barred. Mine’s a pint – and I’ll tell you all about Roy the landlord.

A bright day, then, but also pretty frustrating; because we’ll still not be able to drop in for a casual drink for some time yet – and, I have to say, rightly so.

I can well remember when – a few weeks after the first lockdown was lifted – Matt Hancock got up in the House of Commons and slammed the city back into tough restrictions. Answering him was Jon Ashworth, shadow health secretary and MP for Leicester South, and, given the circumstances, he had no option but to support the government.

It was painful, and no one should want to repeat that crushingly disappointing experience this year. The Great Unlock has to be cautious – and indeed “irreversible”, as Boris Johnson says. Taking things step by step, watching the infection numbers and above all maintaining social distance and hygiene regimes, will make sure we don’t have to throw everything into reverse. Can you imagine?

The temptations are great, and some have succumbed to them. It was right for Leicester City’s brilliant manager, Brendan Rodgers, to drop three footballers over the weekend from the game with West Ham United after they were found to have broken lockdown rules.

James Maddison, Hamza Choudhury and Ayoze Perez could have been fined, but instead they were banished from the pitch. It might have cost us the game and, thus, top flight European football next season, but it was still the right thing to do: for this city, for the game and the country. It’s a matter of discipline – indispensable in football and public health, alike.

The other key to making the Great Unlock stick is, of course, the vaccination strategy; both persuading people to take their dose, and incentivising them to do so through offering greater freedoms through so-called vaccine passports, ie Covid status certificates.

I can’t help but wonder how much more wonderful these days would be if those of us fortunate enough to have had the vaccine – or a recent negative Covid test – could just, say, stroll into a restaurant; remain inside the place while we enjoy our supper, secure in the knowledge that all patrons and staff are Covid-protected and safe from this still-deadly disease.

Theatres, cinemas, night spots, hotels, the King Power Stadium... imagine, too, how joyful businesses would be – how many could open sooner and survive, how many jobs would be saved – if only we had managed to do what they’ve done in Israel: implement a consumer-friendly, efficient “green card” scheme to back a supremely successful vaccination drive.

As things stand, and given that I was too slow to book my table in the beer garden, I’m effectively banned from the Cradock again – even though I’m much more socially responsible and better behaved these days. Ironic.

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