by Colin Campbell
THE Jurys Inn hotel, or the Mercury as many still think of it, has been forced to explain why there have been so many cars in its car park.
Some residents in nearby Raigmore raised concerns that tourists may have been among the guests staying there, when it’s supposed to be open for essential workers only.
Hotel management said that every guest is asked to provide some form of evidence that they have a right to be staying in this area and that their presence is in fact “essential”.
What can be said about those who raised these concerns about cars in a car park? Are they snooping busybodies who should have better things to do with their time? Or are they responsible citizens keeping a dutiful lookout to see that the travel rules are obeyed?
People will have different views about that.
What is clear, however, is that we are quite rapidly coming to the end of a period dominated by many months of “stay away” warnings to people outside the region, interspersed by a fairly short time in autumn when they were allowed to come here.
And the end can’t come soon enough.
Nicola Sturgeon’s slowcoach crawl out of lockdown will last for a few weeks yet. But after that, unless she wants to destroy the hospitality industry completely, even she will have to concede that, in line with England, travel restrictions should be lifted and Inverness and the Highlands will be fully open to all. At the moment, it is still illegal for someone in Perth or Aberdeen who has been vaccinated to visit someone in Inverness who has been vaccinated. It doesn’t get much more restrictive – or absurd – than that.
However, we are in the final throes of a time when hotels have to give explanations for the number of cars in their car park.
By the end of April everyone over the age of 50 in Scotland and across the UK will have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and a substantial number of people under 50 will have received it as well.
By the end of May only younger people should be still waiting to get the jab. And a mountain of statistics show they have more chance of falling sick through eating a dodgy hotel restaurant prawn sandwich than they do of being badly affected by the virus, in the extremely unlikely event that they actually catch it in the first place.
Of course some rules will have to be followed and some restrictions will still apply, and there will be continuing warnings about “not dropping our guard”. And of course the media and various “experts” will be as eager as ever to pounce on any sign of new variants emerging, to doom-monger for a bit longer.
One of Sturgeon’s chief advisers, the publicity hungry Professor Devi Sridhar, was on BBC Scotland on Sunday morning where she warned of the potential need for a third lockdown later in the year if infections spiked again. This was broadcasting to make you choke on your cornflakes. A third lockdown? With most if not all of the population vaccinated? Some of these people who have exercised so much dominance over every aspect of our lives for the past year are clearly in no hurry to give up the adrenalin rush of power. But no matter how reluctant they are to fade back into obscurity, talk of further lockdowns just won’t wash.
Even they can’t stem the tide of feeling that the vaccine has changed everything.
After one dose you have close to a zero chance of being hospitalised by the coronavirus, and after a second jab only those who are paranoid to the point of being delusional will still be going around in the grip of anxiety, or fear.
This is not the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning. The situation is far further advanced than that. Some people, after being virtually brainwashed by constant dread warnings over the past 12 months, may unfortunately struggle to shake off their impact.
But the overwhelming majority of people, surely, will accept that the virus crisis – as a “crisis” – is nearing the end thanks to mass vaccination and will adjust accordingly.
Hotels, restaurants and shops will reopen and with foreign travel still limited and challenging, millions of people will be desperate to get away for a holiday. Inverness and the Highlands should enjoy a mass influx of visitors from across the UK and businesses which have been closed for so long and which have lost so much money can begin to claw it back in earnest.
The Highland capital could have its busiest ever tourist season.
That will be hugely welcome.
The “stay away” era will soon be over and no-one will be counting any cars in hotel car parks. We have seen false dawns before during the past very long year, but not this time. The last, final lockdown will end, any attempts at continued scaremongering will be ignored, and we can look forward in a relatively short space of time, if sanity prevails as it must, to getting back to something close to normal.