WHAT a year it’s been.

New words and expressions have entered our everyday vocabulary.

Who’d ever heard of Covid before 2020? Granted, our scientists knew what it was, but all of a sudden it was given a suffix - ‘-19’.

And we learnt it was a type of coronavirus - bet you’d never heard of that one either.

Then came social distancing, face masks, lockdown, pandemic, quarantine, the new normal, stay at home, the rule of six.

More recently Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna are on the news.

There’s even talk of vaccine wars, of variants, mutations and long Covid.

The clocks may have gone forward at the weekend, but if you could turn them back to early 2020, you’d realise just how much things have changed.

Our way of life and that of the whole world has altered in a way we could never have imagined.

The cases worldwide are counted in their tens of millions, deaths in their millions.

Of course it’s tragic, but life goes on.

The new watchwords are light at the end of the tunnel, the roadmap to freedom.

Monday - just days after the anniversary of the first lockdown that shook the nation - saw the second phase of the first stage of the easing of the prohibitive restrictions we have been subjected to in recent months.

We’re now allowed to meet in groups of up to six or one other household outside, including in our own gardens. (It’s not really as confusing as it sounds).

We’re no longer being ordered to stay at home, although we’re being advised to stay local as much as possible.

The more energetic among us are being allowed to have a round of golf, knock up on the tennis court or take part in organised sports once again.

But if you were thinking of heading for a sunny holiday on a Spanish beach, you can forget it.

People’s spirits have been lifted by the easing of restrictions, coupled with the fine weather so far this week, although the colder weather waiting to invade in the coming days might send us all scuttling back indoors.

With our taste of freedom, everyone is savouring the thought of the second stage of easing on Monday week (April 12).

Provided cases of the virus remain low and Covid beds in hospitals continue to empty, all shops will be allowed to open.

We’ve not seen such dreadful hair since the 1970s, but all that will hopefully change with hairdressers’ fingers already itching to get hold of their scissors again in anticipation of their grand re-opening.

There will be fierce competition to book a slot in our pubs and restaurants, which are being allowed to offer food and drink once more - but only outdoors.

The Ring of Bells, in <a href=Taunton, plans to open with customers seated in a marquee on April 12">

The Ring of Bells, in Taunton, plans to open with customers seated in a marquee on April 12

Lucky those establishments that have garden space or somewhere to put up a marquee.

Anyone who enjoys exercise will be well-advised to take fewer steps at a time as gyms re-open because fitness levels may well not be what they were.

Also welcoming people again on April 12 will be beauty salons, zoos, theme parks, libraries and community centres, while people in the same household can holiday in the UK in self-contained accommodation.

And up to 30 people will be able to attend funerals, while 15 will be permitted at weddings.

There’s plenty to look forward to and most of us feel we need a bit of enjoyment in our lives after the hellishness of everything that’s gone on.

The next key date is May 17 (at the earliest), when groups of 30 people will be able to meet up outdoors and six people or two households can get together indoors.

You’ll be able to sit indoors in a pub or restaurant, cinemas and theatres will put on plays and films and large events will go ahead, with limits on the size of audiences.

You’ll be able to head off for a break in a hotels or B&Bs in this country.

It will be possible to hold exercise classes and groups sports indoors.

Then on June 21, it’s possible, if everything remains in the right lane on the roadmap to freedom, that life will approach something like the old normal.

We’re being offered an end to all limits on social contact, funerals and weddings.

It will be interesting to see if people’s shape throwing on the dance floor has deteriorated during the lengthy closure of clubs, which are hoping to spring back into life on midsummer night.

As for international travel, we’ll have to wait and see.

We owe a huge debt to so many people for helping us through such tough times.

Everyone in the NHS, from cleaning staff, to nurses, doctors, surgeons and cooks, have all been simply fantastic.

Our emergency services have more than answered the call of duty.

Brilliant scientists have worked around the clock to reduce the impact of Covid and amazingly come up with a vaccine in record time.

Thousands of volunteers across Somerset have given a helping hand to those most in need.

A big thank you to you all.