- in Science
“We will only open again when I think it is safe”
Dawn Forrest runs Blether tea room in the suburb of Cults, on the outskirts of Aberdeen.
The small family-run venture had been open for less than a year when it was forced to close in March as lockdown was introduced across the UK.
The cafe reopened after restrictions were eased in Scotland on 15 July – but its return proved to be short-lived.
Three weeks later Aberdeen was locked down again as it experienced a spike in coronavirus cases, linked to the city’s pubs and nightlife.
Bars, cafes and restaurants had to close their doors once more.
On Wednesday, the restrictions were extended for a third week – a move which has split opinion in the city.
Those who spoke out against the continued lockdown included the administration leaders on Aberdeen City Council, which is run by a coalition of Conservative, Labour and Independent councillors.
They said it would “make a bad economic situation even worse” and warned that more than 5,000 jobs were at risk.
A review will be carried out on Sunday, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped some restrictions could be eased from Wednesday.
Blether is now serving takeaways, and Dawn says she will not necessarily fully reopen when she is allowed to do so.
Dawn, 48, said: “Cults is a great local community with a lot of retired people – many of whom have been shielding.
“I cannot have people who have kept safe putting themselves at risk.
“The last thing we want is a customer or member of staff to get Covid. It can just be pure bad luck.
“I will wait and see and open when it feels right.”
Dawn says that she agrees with the continued lockdown “to a certain extent”.
“I am quite happy to do what needs to be done,” she said.
“It’s very difficult. I want to open when it’s safe, and it may not be when [Nicola Sturgeon] says.”
Stuart McPhee is director of Siberia Bar and Hotel in Aberdeen, and is part of a newly-created group called Aberdeen Hospitality Together.
“The hospitality industry in the city directly employs around 14,000 people and that does not involve anyone in the supply chain or contractors beyond,” he said.
“I am into the economic argument. Businesses need to see light at the end of the tunnel.
“What people need is just a bit of confidence.
“We want to do it (re-open the hospitality trade) better this time, be more collaborative.”
He said he was “encouraged” by the introduction of a midweek review due on Sunday, as “every day lost is money lost”.
But he was “not overly hopeful” that a decision would be taken to allow bars to reopen.
“I do not envy the people that make these decisions,” he said.
“We would hope for a bit of clarity, such as indicative dates. We are in the tunnel, but we cannot see the end of it.”
People have been told not to travel to Aberdeen during the local lockdown, and those living in the city face a five-mile limit on travel.
That means Andrew McDonald and his girlfriend Amanda Lightbody can no longer see each other.
Andrew, 31, lives in Aberdeen and Amanda, 28, stays more than 15 miles south of the city in Stonehaven.
After the original lockdown in March, the couple – who have been dating for nearly three years – maintained contact by phone and online to “keep the relationship going”.
Science ‘A terrible year’
Andrew, 31, a visitor experience assistant at Aberdeen Science Centre, said: “I haven’t seen her since July.
“I hate not seeing her. It’s not been easy.
“However, locking down Aberdeen is the right thing to do because it has the potential to save lives.”
He said it had been “a terrible year”, but added: “We need to try to stop the spread of Covid – that should be our priority.”
Public health officials in Aberdeen believe they have the original cluster linked to pubs in the city under control – but it’s the number of other new cases in Grampian that has prompted the Scottish government to hold fire on lifting restrictions, for now.
It takes time for a clear picture of any incident to emerge but to break that chain of transmission local teams need to act fast. Better to stamp out little fires quickly than allow it grow out of control.
As restrictions are eased we are seeing more pockets across Scotland, but the incidence of coronavirus is still low.
Experts tell me these spikes are to be expected but they are a reminder of how finely balanced the whole system is.
There is no need to worry, but no room for complacency.
We are in a far better position now than we were in March when we didn’t know where the virus was in the community.
Getting a test is actively encouraged, while targeted testing in areas where there is an outbreak will inevitably mean you find more positive cases.
So far there has not been a marked increase in hospital admissions; that would be a worrying sign. But it is still a tricky time as our Test and Protect system is tested.
With every step forward there comes a new level of risk.
Gyms, bingo halls and theatres are all next on the list to reopen, and you can add into the mix thousands of students arriving in towns and cities in Scotland to take up their places. All as winter approaches.
We are much better prepared, but there are still uncertainties, and Aberdeen may have had a tough taster of what could happen elsewhere.