Covid in Scotland: Hospitality ‘death knell’ fears over new rules

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New coronavirus restrictions will “sound the death knell” for some of Scotland’s hospitality business, industry leaders have warned.

In central Scotland where the infection rate is highest, pubs and restaurants will close for more than two weeks.

Elsewhere, hospitality venues will have reduced opening hours and be barred from selling alcohol inside.

The Scottish government said businesses would receive an additional £40m of government support.

The new temporary measures come into force at 18:00 BST on Friday and are expected to last until 25 October.

Pubs and restaurants will be closed in five health board areas – Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley, Lothian and Ayrshire and Arran – where about 3.4 million people live.

Elsewhere in Scotland, hospitality venues can open inside from 06:00 until 18:00 to sell soft drinks and food, and customers can be served alcohol in outside areas only until 22:00.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that without such measures, by the end of October infections could return to the levels seen early on in the pandemic in March, prompting a more intense lockdown.

She accepted the restrictions would be hard on businesses, especially as employers’ contributions to the furlough scheme have increased, but said £40m would be made available to support the sector.

‘Circle of madness’

Many businesses and industry leaders, however, reacted with dismay, complaining of a lack of consultation and claiming that hospitality was being unfairly singled out.

Carina Contini, who owns three restaurants in Edinburgh, said the restrictions were a “step too far”.

She said: “Here we go again. We did it in March when we thought that was a once in a lifetime shock to our business, shock to our communities, and you know, are we in a circle of madness? Having to have a 16-day closure, three weekends, significant cashflow implications, but most importantly our team are in shock, we’re in shock.”

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Crieff Hydro owner Stephen Leckie said there had been a raft of cancellations following the announcement

Stephen Leckie, who runs the Crieff Hydro hotel, said he had 50 cancellations from customers within an hour following the first minister’s announcement.

Mr Leckie, who is also chair of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the measures had caused confusion for business owners and customers.

“This industry is in tatters, it’s in trouble and now there’s turmoil. We have questions to ask, many customers are asking questions and are cancelling in their droves.”

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Michael McHugh said he is at the end of his tether

Pub owner Michael McHugh said he was struggling to reassure his staff.

Mr McHugh, who owns Alexander’s Bar in Clydebank, told the BBC: “I’m at the end of my tether now.

“I’m finding it harder and harder to continually support my staff and say ‘don’t worry your jobs are safe’… how can you run a business when every other week you’re getting shut down?”

Rules for the five health boards areas

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  • All licensed premises – with the exception of hotels for residents – will be required to close indoors and outdoors, although takeaways will be permitted
  • Cafes which do not have an alcohol licence will be able to stay open until 18:00
  • Snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls will also close in the five health board areas for two weeks from 10 October
  • Contact sports for people aged 18 and over will be suspended for the next two weeks – with an exception for professional sports
  • Indoor group exercise activities will not be allowed, although the current rules will remain in place for under 18s and gyms can remain open for individual exercise
  • Outdoor live events will not be permitted for the next fortnight.

There will be no travel ban in any of the areas, but people in the central belt have been urged to avoid public transport unless it is “absolutely necessary”.

And they have also been advised not to travel outside of the health board area they live in if they do not need to.

Rules for the rest of Scotland

  • Pubs, restaurants and cafes are being barred from selling alcohol indoors from 18:00 on Friday until 25 October
  • They can open inside from 06:00 until 18:00 to sell soft drinks and food
  • They will be able to sell alcohol for outside areas until 22:00

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “These measures will sound the death knell for businesses across the hospitality sector, especially pubs and bars.

“Restaurants and hotels, whilst remaining open, will also be constrained on what they can provide and this will place a large dent in their already reduced income.”

She said redundancies could rise as a result of the measures.

‘Hammer blow’

Stephen Montgomery of the Scottish Hospitality Group, which represents several restaurant and bar groups, said: “The first minister has effectively signed a death sentence for many businesses across the Scottish hospitality industry.”

He added there would be a “catastrophic” economic cost.

The Food and Drink Federation Scotland said it was “extremely disappointed” with the restrictions, while Scotland Food and Drink said the action was a “hammer blow”.

Andrew McRae, of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: “Without sufficient support from government, today’s moves could mean last orders for many independent pubs and restaurants.

“They’ll also cause a significant knock-on impact on our tourism sector, on our hospitality supply chain, and on those that operate in our night-time economy like taxi drivers and takeaways.”

Changes to shops

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Shops across Scotland will be asked to return to 2m physical distancing from this weekend, and to reintroduce measures such as one-way systems.

David Lonsdale, Scottish Retail Consortium director, said many businesses would be baffled at the request “in the absence of any evidence which shows shops are a source of infection”.

He added: “These additional restrictions may make it impractical for some to trade at all for this period, and the government must urgently provide details of the proposed support for these viable businesses.”

‘Full support’

Many public health experts, however, backed the changes and said they were a necessary step.

Gabe Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Directors of Public Health, said: “The measures announced by the first minister today focused on those areas which are associated with increased risk of transmission, and have the full support of the Scottish Directors of Public Health.

“The accelerating number of cases in a number of NHS Boards demonstrates the need for immediate action to halt the spread we’ve seen in these areas over past few weeks, and the potential for further transmission across wider parts of Scotland.

“Taking action now to restrict the spread of Covid in our communities will save lives, help protect our NHS, and – as we begin to see a reduction in transmission – avoid the need for more extensive restrictions.”

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