Scottish hospitality faces 'lockdown by the backdoor' as social distancing returns

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Scottish hospitality faces 'lockdown by the backdoor' as social distancing returns

Related tags: Scotland, Coronavirus, Social Distancing

Hospitality businesses in Scotland will be required to reintroduce social distancing measures and collect contact tracing information under new curbs aimed at slowing the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament today (14 December) that the Scottish Government will amend regulations to make it a legal requirement for businesses providing services to take measures to reduce transmission, which will take effect from midnight on Friday (17 December).

It was announced alongside a £100m financial package to help businesses impacted by the new restrictions.

While further guidance on additional measures announced by the First Minister will be published by the end of the week, for hospitality this will include a requirement to reduce crowding at bars and between tables and a reinforcement of the rule to collect contact details of diners and drinkers.

Following Public Health Scotland's (PHS) call last week for people to cancel festive parties​, guidance has now been updated on reducing social interaction at home or in indoor public places to a maximum of three households at any time, with everyone encouraged to take a lateral flow test before meeting. 

Sturgeon was clear to add that she was not asking anyone to ‘cancel’ Christmas, but in the run up to and in the immediate aftermath of Christmas, she is asking everyone to reduce as far as possible, and to a minimum, the contacts they have with people in other households. 

Addressing MSPs, she said: “While we are speeding up vaccination, we must also try to slow down Omicron. That is why we are also proposing today, albeit reluctantly, some further protective measures.

"I am appealing to everyone to follow today’s advice, to help slow Omicron down while more of us get our boosters."

The £100m in business support funding has been allocated to enhance adherence to the necessary public health measures and support businesses in hospitality and food supply, as well as in the culture sector.

While the support has been welcomed by trade bodies, there are warnings that the damage has already been done and more additional support will be needed from the Westminster Government.

“Of course, we all want to do what we can to stop the spread of the virus and the licensed hospitality sector has gone to enormous effort and invested millions of pounds in mitigation measures and will continue to do so for as long as it can," says Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA).

“The shutdown of the licensed hospitality industry, effectively by stealth, puts most businesses in an even worse scenario than last Christmas when there was some finance available via Government grants and the furlough scheme was in place.

“While the restrictions that we feared have not yet been imposed, there still remains a great deal of uncertainty for our industry which was beginning to recover, albeit slowly, and looking forward to reasonably good prospects during the key festive trading period."

According to the SLTA, some operators have reported cancellations of between 60 to 70% after Public Health Scotland advised deferring Christmas parties until another time.

“We have not been ordered to close our doors yet but many have no choice when so many bookings have been cancelled," adds Wilkinson.

“Last week’s call from Public Health Scotland not to have festive parties – endorsed the next day by the First Minister – killed Christmas and, I fear, will kill some businesses who will not survive without financial support."

A 'bitter blow' for pubs

Emma McClarkin CEO of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA), says the additional restrictions coupled with the PHS advice has effectively created lockdown by the backdoor.

“This is another a bitter blow to Scotland’s pubs," she says.

"The advice to cancel Christmas parties last week already devastated the sector and these further restrictions effectively create lockdown by the backdoor. 

“Pubs needed all the trade they could get this Christmas after taking on significant debts during the pandemic and without furlough support to fall back on, it is very worrying for businesses and staff."

McClarkin adds that it is welcome the calls for financial support have been listened to, by both the Scottish Government and the Treasury, but says it is critical that the amount of funding for individual businesses is confirmed and distributed to them as soon as possible.

"We have had discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance following the statement and welcome her commitments on this," she continues. 

“It is also critical that full details of the restrictions are published imminently, so businesses can understand and plan for their enforcement. Covid isolation rules are also having an impact on business viability, and we will also be raising this with Government in discussions over the next few days.”

Related topics: Business & Legislation

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