Describing the Scottish Government's strategic framework for easing lockdown as 'deliberately cautious', the First Minister confirmed in an address to MSPs at Holyrood earlier today (23 February) that Scotland will return to a regional system of restrictions from the end of April, adding that the country should begin to see a 'phased but significant' reopening of the economy, including hospitality, at the same time.
Sturgeon said she hoped all parts of Scotland currently in Level 4 – the highest level on the country’s five stage scale - will be able to move initially to Level 3 when the country returns to a variable Levels approach.
However, she added that some revision to the content of the levels could also be introduced.
Under current Level 3 restrictions, hospitality is subject to a 6pm curfew and is prohibited from serving alcohol.
Sturgeon said today’s announcement will be followed by a document in mid March giving more detail of lockdown easing.
Following on from Prime Minister Boris Johnson's more detailed announcement on plans to gradually ease lockdown measures south of the border between March and June, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said that hospitality businesses have been left 'bitterly disappointed' by the lack of clarity on when the country may see a greater relaxing of restrictions.
It adds that while the announcement of a prospective late spring reopening is encouraging, for many businesses it will be too late, and for those who do survive there remain serious challenges ahead.
“While it is encouraging that our sector can hopefully reopen from the end of April, we are concerned that a return to the previous tiered system will lead many operators to decide that such restrictive reopening conditions are simply not worth the time, effort and money involved," says Paul Waterson, SLTA media spokesman.
“Hospitality is not a ‘one size fits all’ sector given the breadth of premises that operate within it – pubs, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and so on – and depends on events and functions to survive.
“For us, it is now a case of waiting to hear what the First Minister puts on the table in her next announcement in three weeks’ time – until then, we will work with her officials to help the Scottish Government make the best decisions for our industry.”
The First Minister acknowledged that her cautious approach will be 'extremely difficult' for many businesses, adding that the Government is committed to continuing financial support for those firms suffering as a result of the pandemic.
She also said that she is considering 'some form of tapered support' for businesses that may still face trading restrictions and reduced demand, even if they are allowed to reopen.
"We will also ensure that when local authority areas move out of Level 4, businesses which are allowed to reopen will continue to receive payments from the [Strategic Framework Business Fund] for at least the next four weeks as they transition back to trading more normally," she said.