In a statement released yesterday (9 December), Public Health Scotland (PHS) claimed that 'a number' of Covid-19 outbreak have been linked to Christmas parties, particularly those caused by Omicron.
Dr Nick Phin, director of Public Health Science, said: “We still need to learn more about the severity of disease caused by Omicron and the effectiveness of vaccines, but there are important things that we can do to help protect ourselves and our families now.
"To help minimise the further spread of Covid-19, and Omicron in particular, I would strongly urge people to defer their Christmas parties to another time."
Trade bodies for the Scottish hospitality sector have reacted angrily, with UKHospitality Scotland accusing PHS of single-handedly jeopardising the survival of businesses.
“Hospitality businesses in Scotland are already under severe financial pressure and this advice from Public Health Scotland for people to abandon their plans for Christmas parties is already hitting our sector hard," says Leon Thompson, UKHospitality’s executive director for Scotland.
“Within minutes of their statement being issued, businesses were receiving cancellations, leaving Christmas and Hogmanay trade in tatters. Businesses take up to a third of their annual revenue at this time of year.
"Public Health Scotland has single-handedly jeopardised the survival of businesses and the jobs people rely on."
In its own statement, posted on Twitter, the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG), which comprises many of the country’s largest and best-known restaurant and bar businesses, said: "It's a grim dark day for hospitality today. Don’t think anything else needs to be said."
PHS's announcement came hours after Scotland's Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, set out the Government's Budget for the next financial year.
Under the proposals, rates relief will be extended for the first three months of 2022-23. However, it will be cut from a 100% reduction to 50%, and capped at £27,500 per ratepayer.
Forbes said the extension would prevent a 'cliff edge' for businesses, but trade bodies say otherwise, with warnings that the planned removal of the relief could spell the end for many businesses.
“The last two years have been incredibly challenging for Scottish hospitality businesses and the staff we employ," says Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for the SHG.
"The impact of the pandemic on our sector’s ability to trade has created long-lasting issues for our industry, and many of the businesses we represent have accrued significant debts as a result, which is why we called on the Scottish Government to use this Budget to support the recovery of Scotland's much-loved hospitality sector.
“The business rates relief may be helpful for a short period for some hospitality businesses - but the cap cripples many, and the significant cost challenges for hospitality will not end by summer next year.
"It is a fact that Scottish hospitality businesses are facing a cliff-edge of rising costs - with inflation, supplier price increases, debt levels and other costs rising across our industry. The removal of rates relief next year takes away vital breathing space and could spell the end for many hard-pressed Scottish hospitality businesses.
"The Scottish Government must recognise these challenges and continue to work with industry on how we can overcome them.”
Following PHS's comments regarding Christmas parties, renewed calls were made for additional financial support to help beleaguered businesses, but Forbes said that while she understood it was a blow for the hospitality sector, she could not offer financial help unless Westminster provided more funding.
Thompson adds that hospitality businesses across the country are justified in feeling outraged.
“We need support and a joined-up approach from our government - not punishment," he says.
Nicola Sturgeon is expected to give a televised update on Omicron in Scotland later today (10 December).