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Opinion & Analysis

More than common sense, empathy

Images can sometimes be deceptive. Yes, there were lots of people on Main Street and out and about this weekend, but for the most part, they were doing their best to maintain social distancing and abide by the rules.

This is clearly not a time for window shopping, or for a leisurely stroll to see who or what we find, or to hang out with friends or family in the sunshine. But it’s also not a time for finger-pointing in a landscape where there is no well-trodden path.

Easing restrictions on shops and other outlets was a crucial step that had to be taken at some point, because the economic damage of lockdown was as real as the threat of this insidious virus that has upturned our world.

Common sense must now define how we edge forward into this new reality, and that includes not just our approach to the rules, but also our reactions to what we see around us.

Underpinning this must be a duty of care not just to ourselves, although that too is vital, but primarily to those around us. So alongside common sense, we need empathy too.

Such is the nature of this invisible threat that we might be walking around feeling fine, blissfully unaware that we are spreading a potentially-deadly ticking time bomb in our community.

This is a time to think and act collectively, to put others before ourselves. That must be our guiding principle, our North Star. We have to take steps to protect those around us, because doing so is the best defence not just for ourselves and those we love, but for our community as a whole.

There seems little point in repeating the advice, because we have heard it countless times and we all know what to do.

Yet people have complained of mixed messages, of confusing signals from officialdom. To a small degree, that is understandable.

The core message - indeed, the law - remains that the lockdown is still in place and, where possible, we should stay indoors except for exercise and essentials.

But that message sits uncomfortably with the decision to reopen shops, hairdressers, estate agents and construction sites.

And the weather doesn’t help. How can we be allowed to go for a swim but not sit on the shore even at a healthy distance from each other?

The answer is simple. Human nature being what it is, if we are given an inch, some of us are prone to taking Eastern Beach.

That is why we have guidance and rules. Not to rob us lightly of our civil liberties, but to protect us.

What we need is a healthy dose of prudence and civic duty. There really isn’t much to say beyond that.

We’re all sick of being stuck indoors, of working remotely. We’re bored of back-to-back Netflix bingeing. We all miss our families, our friends, our colleagues.

But let’s use our heads.

Because we have escaped the worst so far, but the alternative, in 10 to 14 days’ time, may well make us regret that meandering stroll down Main Street.