I am sure that for many of you getting out for daily exercise has been the highlight of your day during this latest lockdown. It certainly has been for me, particularly with the improved weather recently.
For many us, Spring will have been accompanied by quiet and cautious optimism that we are heading out of lockdown. We will all be looking forward to a time fairly soon when we can again enjoy all those freedoms which we’ve been missing. It’s been a couple of weeks now since the Government announced the dates which may be so key over the coming months – and the first of those happened yesterday, as all pupils began to return to school.
It was a really important day for young people and their families. Not only does the return to school bring an end to the pressures and logistical challenges of home schooling, but it’s a welcome relief for the young people, too.
I spoke to a family who were passing my house yesterday as their children returned to school. One of the youngest children was worried whether his friends were going to remember him. I think it’s easy to think that children are delighted not to be going to school, but in fact they have really missed that contact with their friends, their teachers, and classrooms.
Pupils at secondary schools will have to get used to some important changes – wearing masks in the classroom and, hopefully, participating in the regular testing which we need to introduce as far as possible. I know that some will feel a little nervous about the testing – not knowing what the procedure will be like. But I hope that they have found it easier than they thought it would be and not too unpleasant. I want to recognise how mature and responsible these young people are being – you are really helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and I want to say a huge THANK YOU to every single young person who is taking part.
On Friday, we arranged for the Greystone Bridge over the M62 to be lit in green as another gesture of our gratitude. This time we were thanking all those parents and carers who’ve juggled so much to support their children at home during the last nine weeks. And not forgetting those teachers and school staff who’ve worked throughout that period – supporting those learning remotely as well as the children of key workers and vulnerable children who have still been attending school. Again, you have all played a really important role and we are all immensely grateful.
Returning to school is the first step on the path out of lockdown – and it’s a date most of us had marked in the diary since it was given to us by the Prime Minister. We probably also have several other dates outlined in our minds – such as when we can meet family and friends outdoors, and when we can return to the hairdressers or to the pub. Of course, human nature means that we cling to those dates announced by the Prime Minister and we’ve probably all started to make tentative plans on that basis. But I really must join those cautious voices who are warning and reminding us that the dates given are NOT set in stone. They are simply setting out the earliest point at which things may be unlocked – all of this still depends very much on how well we continue to follow the rule. We all have to do what we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 and we all ned to go for our vaccinations when invited.
I’m also concerned that there are some who think that the lockdown is already over – and have decided to jump the gun and start mixing with others when they shouldn’t be doing so.
To those people I want to say this: please think about your responsibilities to yourself and to everyone in our community. It’s in all our interests to do what we can to ensure that this road to freedom is as easy and quick as possible. We have already lost so many months to this pandemic. We must not blow it now.
In closing, I’ll finish on a positive note – to parent and carers of school-aged children, I hope their first day back went well for them – and for you. Let’s all keep going so that we can start to enjoy all those other milestones which will mean so much to every single one of us.