How do we have a careful hug? The government’s Covid advice from Monday makes little sense

·5 min read
<p>The prime minister has confirmed people in England are allowed to hug their loved ones, drink inside pubs and dine inside restaurants from 17 May</p> (Getty)

The prime minister has confirmed people in England are allowed to hug their loved ones, drink inside pubs and dine inside restaurants from 17 May

(Getty)

The restrictions that will still be in place after Monday’s reopening are a good example of why the government is richly deserving of the mockery it sometimes receives.

Six people, or two households, will be able to meet indoors, including for overnight stays. So, what, are the police now going to be at the door if an unexpected guest turns up and you get seven?

It’s 30 outside. Could someone please tell me why 30 is OK and 33 isn’t? And who’s going to police that? Are council officials going to be dispatched with those click-counter thingies?

Oh and you can have a hug. But be careful about it.

Quite how one can have a careful hug is beyond me? Are we expected to be like, I don’t know, two blokes meeting for the first time in a couple of years? When you get that sort of awkward pause while they’re deciding whether it’s appropriate to a) shake hands, b) pat each other’s backs, or c) go for a full-on brotherly embrace.

Hang on. Just wait one moment; Dave’s got a bit of a sniffle. Best go with, um, b?

The reality is people are going to make their own choices irrespective of the government’s advice. Given how little sense it makes, who’d blame them?

This means that some are going to jump in and head down to the boozer where, if it’s big enough come Friday, there may well be 30 people grouped together indoors. There may be 33. There may be even more.

Others will be far more circumspect. I’m in the latter category. No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stay in the house, even though I was briefly in the “clinically extremely vulnerable” shielding group and have a Covid age of 79 (which never fails to make me shudder).

I was pretty sick with the thing last year but I survived and I now have two shots worth of Oxford-AstraZeneca in my bloodstream to help protect against a second encounter should I hit snake eyes at the viral craps table for a second time.

So on Monday, or maybe Tuesday, I’m going to take in a movie on a large screen, in the dark, with an overpriced raspberry-flavoured Diet Coke sat next to me. I might even run to a similarly costly and even less healthy snack too, that is if I can persuade myself to forget the result last time I stood on a scales.

I’m a professional cynic, but the cinemas I visited last summer impressed the hell out of me with the way they handled safety, so I feel good about a repeat.

Pubs? Don’t think so. Not yet. Certainly not indoors. Not when I still find myself shying away from the small knots of people that have started to develop in parks and other places when I’m out (which I’m not going to find at my local movie theatre in the early part of the week) even though the risks of catching anything outdoors are quite low.

Avoiding people, trying to maintain a social distance even when you don’t have to, becomes habit-forming. The polls I’ve seen suggest that’s true of a large number of people. This wariness is less prevalent among the young but you know what? It’s still there.

In my case, it’s partly informed by the news flow. The blowhard in 10 Downing Street says in private that he’d let the bodies pile up rather than impose another lockdown. But in public, Boris Johnson now says he’s anxious about the Indian variant and may have to impose local ones.

He doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence at the best of times. Now? It’s like listening to a used car salesman telling you the old banger he’s trying to palm off on you, which has no airbags, side-impact bars or even seatbelts in the back, is safe as houses. Go on, take it for a test drive.

It’s true that I’ve also seen a lot of data that shows that while none of the vaccines are bombproof, they are working. They’re not a perfect shield, but they are a shield. So there’s that.

I don’t think my reticence will be all that hard to overcome over time. The first time I visited Rough Trade East to get a vinyl fix after the first lockdown, the experience was fairly miserable. Record shops are places to linger, to spend time flicking through the racks but it just didn’t feel good doing that. I wanted out as quickly as possible.

Next time around, that feeling wasn’t there.

I imagine the same will apply to other activities, assuming all goes well (and that’s an admittedly big assumption). I’d just prefer to take it slowly.

The fact that a good chunk of the population is doing the same – and those polls suggest a lot of people are planning to take it even more carefully than I am – is probably no bad thing.

There will undoubtedly be an uptick in case numbers following 17 May. The scientists have said as much. Then there’s that variant.

The cautious among us could help to limit the impact.

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