THE outbreak of Covid-19 in Aberdeen feels as significant a moment as when the first case of the virus was confirmed in Scotland.

As the first area in Scotland to be put back into lockdown, the city should serve as a warning that not only has the virus not gone away, the risk of another full lockdown hasn’t either. During yesterday’s daily briefing, Nicola Sturgeon announced that the cluster in Aberdeen now totals 101 cases. There have been 313 close contacts identified through Test and Protect and the First Minister said she expected that number to grow in the coming days.

These numbers are clearly sounding alarm bells within the Scottish Government. And rightly so, because all the chaos and heartbreak the virus has brought started with just a handful of confirmed cases in the UK. So while we rightly feel relief that we’ve had no new recorded Covid deaths for Scotland in 21 days now, we really can’t afford to get complacent.

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It is wholly unsurprising that the first significant outbreak since lockdown restrictions were eased seems to have emerged from a group visiting a pub. NHS Grampian has now released a list of 28 pubs that it is believed people with Covid-19 have visited.

Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged yesterday that the “common link” in this outbreak is the hospitality industry. While she praised the hard work and responsible approach taken by the sector as a whole, she was clear that some businesses and patrons are falling short.

“Any time one of us fails to abide by the rules, we put others at risk and we give this virus a chance to come roaring back again,” she said.

The First Minister announced that the Scottish Government will next week issue new statutory guidance relating to indoor hospitality to ensure greater compliance with safety measures.

Opening up the hospitality industry was always going to be one of the most risky aspects of lockdown easing. In the coming weeks we’ll find out if pubs and restaurants remaining open really can be compatible with the goal of suppressing a deadly virus.

Even those venues that have adapted admirably and taken every possible measure to keep their customers safe are only as safe as the people who visit. And it goes without saying that alcohol and social distancing aren’t natural bedfellows.

If you’ve been to a pub in recent weeks, you may have seen first-hand the gradual disintegration of social distancing with every drink that’s poured: the hand sanitising stations aren’t as popular when the sun sets.

WHILE many patrons are careful with their alcohol intake and keep their wits about them, others don’t. We might be mask-wearing, hand-washing bastions of virtue when we’re sober, but when there’s drink involved? Not so much.

This outbreak comes as Scottish children are preparing to start the new school year. Getting our kids back in education – and keeping them there – has got to be the priority.

In an interview this week, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman emphasised that controlling local outbreaks was important in terms of public health, but also so that the long-awaited return to schools could be protected.

Lockdown has been hard on us all, but our kids have lost out on so much. They’ve been isolated from their friends and family and removed from the routine and stimulation that school brings. Home schooling was a necessary but poor substitute.

Then there are the children who aren’t safe at home and who had their refuge taken away. We don’t yet know what they have endured behind closed doors during lockdown or what the lasting impact of that will be.

Aberdeen may be the first area forced back into lockdown, but it probably won’t be the last.

We should see the city as the canary in the coal mine and prepare ourselves for the possibility that the relative return to normality we’ve enjoyed in recent weeks may be shortlived.

For as long as there is no vaccine and we have to live alongside this virus, there’s going to be tough choices for our leaders to make and hard realities for us all to come to terms with.

One of those might be the decision to close all indoor hospitality.

If we see another outbreak that necessitates a local lockdown, and it is found that – as in Aberdeen – it is linked to pubs, then it will be hard to justify keeping them open.

Hopefully, it won’t come to that and the new measures announced by the Scottish Government next week will mean that these venues are as safe as they possibly can be and can remain open.

But if not? Then Nicola Sturgeon will have to take decisive, preventative action; even if she is criticised for appearing to be overly cautious.

Us adults can enjoy a drink at home, if we so wish. Children being outside of the home getting the proper education and socialisation they deserve should be given priority above all else.