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Tuesday 23 July 2024
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Coronavirus / First Minister’s Covid-19 statement and local reaction

A clampdown on hospitality is widely expected as cases in the central belt continue to rise

5.20pm – Jonathan Williamson, manager of the bustling Fjara cafe-bar in Lerwick, is remaining upbeat and philosophical following Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement of restrictions.

He already opens for business at 8am and will look to serve food through until 5pm. While he would be permitted to serve alcohol outdoors until 10pm, perhaps not surprisingly as Shetland hurtles towards winter, it’s not something he intends to do.

“We’ve heard rumours for weeks so I was expecting some sort of restriction, and this is better than a lockdown,” Williamson says.

“It’s going to have an effect on business but it’s [not something] where we can’t weather the storm. I’m lucky enough to be busy for breakfast trade, lunchtime trade and usually nighttime as well, but it’s only for a couple of weeks right now.”

He was able to take all his staff off furlough several weeks ago and will now look to “move them around a bit and shuffle the pack”.

Williamson adds that he feels it is important for the community to stick together because “everybody is in the same boat” and he supports “a team effort between the public and the sector to see we’re all getting through it”.

5.15pm – Labour’s Highlands and Islands list MSP Rhoda Grant says it is “strange” Shetland and Orkney are “being treated the same as palces where there are substantial increases” in the prevalence of Covid-19.

Grant says it is “incredibly unfair” on hospitality businesses that have “invested in making changes to their establishments to fulfil the guidelines which are now rendered useless by these new regulations.”

She adds: “The Scottish Government now need to publish the science so that people can understand the thinking behind these new restrictions in order to ensure compliance,” she says.

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5.10pm – Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart has echoed calls from her party’s Scottish leader Willie Rennie for a “clearer roadmap” as the government strives to keep Covid-19 under control.

She says: “As the weeks have gone on [the guidelines] have not been so clear. It makes it difficult for people to fathom what they can and can’t do. The vast majority of people do want to stick by what we do for the good of us all, but it’s confusing to navigate your way through.”

Regarding the new measures affecting bars, restaurants and cafes, she said the 16 days coincided with the October school holidays “when perhaps more people might be going out – I get why it’s being done to stop the interaction between households, but it is very hard on hospitality businesses”.

She and other islands MSPs met health secretary Jeanne Freeman last week to discuss the possibility of localised variations and “they’re not closed to the idea of doing something different for the islands, whether that time is now remains to be seen”.

Wishart said appeared to be a mixture of views among constituents. Because the UK is around four weeks behind France and six weeks behind Spain in terms of a “second wave”, with cases rising sharply along with higher hospital admissions, “I do feel more cautious at this precise moment”.

Some islanders tell her they feel things have “maybe got a bit lax over the summer – are we washing our hands and sanitising our hands as much as we did in March/April?”

Wishart added that she thought the reintroduction of measures such as one-way systems in supermarkets and other large shops was “not unreasonable”.

4.55pm – NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson describes the First Minister’s announcement as “a precautionary response that acknowledges we have a different picture throughout the country”.

Many central belt hospitality businesses face a more stringent shutdown as opposed to the 6am-6pm hours and no alcohol indoors faced in Shetland and elsewhere but “we’re still going with a single Scotland-wide message”.

“I think that’s a really positive statement,” Dickson says. “It reflects the individual nature of the islands’ community, but also we’ve got to recognise the Western Isles as an unfortunate example.”

Its recorded Covid-19 cases rose from 10 to 53 in little over a week which “shows how quickly and easily this virus can spread”.

“I understand some people might be asking for a different message for Shetland, but what is being proposed is a proportionate response to the challenge the whole of Scotland is facing,” Dickson says.

“Everyone might not grasp the complexity of the epidemiology and the reasons why public health decisions are made in the way they are, which is why we’ve got a dedicated public health team that have guided the response to the pandemic. Realistically we are as an island where we are because the public have been amazing, they have been utterly astonishing.”

4.30pm – The Federation of Small Businesses’ Highlands and Islands development manager David Richardson says hospitality businesses in the area will be “dismayed” at today’s announcement.

“With some three months’ trading under their belts since unlocking, squeezing every last penny out of the season has been of paramount importance to their long-term viability, and now they are seeing what for many will be the premature ending of the 2020 tourist season.

“This will have a significant knock-on impact on our tourism sector as a whole, the hospitality supply chain, and on night-time economy operators like taxi drivers and takeaways.”

Business owners “must now take major and very urgent decisions about their businesses’ futures, and they need to know where they stand before doing so”.

He added FSB Scotland would work with the government to ensure the £40 million support fund “reaches those businesses in greatest need including those indirectly affected by the changes, in the shortest possible time”.

4.10pm – The Dowry’s managing director Stuart Fox says the popular Lerwick eatery will look to offer breakfast from 9am and a nighttime takeaway service in response to the latest measures.

The Dowry was fully booked on Friday and Saturday night this weekend and he fears losing up to 50% of their projected income, while facing all the usual costs, during the October school holidays.

“Weekends at nights is where we make our money, and we’ve been robbed of the next three weekends,” Fox says.

He had hoped Shetland might have been exempt from some of the restrictions and feels that prohibiting people from enjoying a civilised glass of wine or a beer “almost makes a mockery of licensing laws”.

“I was hopeful we’d escape some of the more severe measures, but it’s probably been worse than I imagined,” Fox says. “We have to remain positive. Losing our nighttime trade hits any real potential of some kind of profit, it’s about not making a loss. But we have to remain positive, and we will definitely go into some kind of evening takeaway mode.”

While the UK Government’s furlough scheme remains in place, albeit with more limited support than earlier this year, Fox added that it remains to be seen whether a Scotland-wide £40 million funding package would help bridge the gap his business faces in the coming days.

3.55pm – Council leader Steven Coutts says he welcomes the acceptance of the principle of local variation, something the three island authorities have been seeking for some time, but ultimately businesses here will be affected by the hospitality measures despite very low incidence of Covid-19 in the islands.

It has been a “very, very difficult year” for hospitality already and “clearly this restriction on openings that’s been imposed over the next 16 days is going to have a really damaging impact on those businesses”, Coutts says.

The SIC will continue pushing for a more localised approach and the opportunity for input prior to subsequent announcements being made by the Scottish Government, he says.

“We’ve been asking for an involvement in the decision-making process all along – whether it comes to being informed by Twitter that our lifeline ferry service is being cut, or whether it’s restrictions on visiting other households, and even these restrictions today, there’s been no consultation or involvement with local authorities.

“In terms of financial support [for hospitality], government might look to local authorities to administer that, but no prior conversations have been held at local authority level.”

Coutts adds: “Clearly there is a divergence of Covid-19 spread throughout the country and that’s demonstrated by increased restrictions in hospitality in the central belt and evidence that suggests that’s necessary, but I would like some evidence at a Shetland level that these are necessary.”

3.22pm – SIC North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson questions why, in the absence of any significant rise in cases here, “local businesses here have to close at 6pm and limit the products they serve. I miss evidence based decision making.”

3.20pm – Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives asks on behalf of hospitality businesses for more detail on the £40m funding package – what those affected can apply for and how.

Sturgeon says there will be “significant financial help” but she wants to allow “a day or so of consultation” with the sector “so we can hear from them how they best think it could be allocated”.

3.15pm – Sturgeon sums up by emphasising the measures “do not represent lockdown” and are designed to reduce the likelihood of one.

Schools will stay open, further education will continue, shops can continue to trade and manufacturing and construction will remain. It is intended to be a “short, sharp action to arrest a worrying increase in infection” and reduce the “very real risk that the virus will run out of control by the end of this month”.

She adds: “Please follow these new rules and continue to take other basic steps to protect you and each other. Please do not visit each other’s homes for now, work from home if you can, download the Protect Scotland app and remember FACTs.

“Sticking to all of this isn’t easy and after seven long months it is harder than it’s ever been, but it is essential. Now, more than ever, we need the spirit of love and solidarity that has served us so well.”

3.10pm – There will be stricter restrictions in five mainland health board areas where infections are highest.

The ‘R’ (or reproduction) number rose above 1 approximately three weeks after hospitality reopened in mid July, Sturgeon says. Over a fifth of those contacted by test-and-protect reported having attended such a setting and indoor environments where different households from different age groups can mix “inevitably presents a risk of transmission”.

Sturgeon acknowledges the “vast majority” of hospitality businesses have “worked exceptionally hard to ensure the safety of their customers” and says a £40 million fund to support affect businesses will be made available. The government will work to ensure the money reaches the affected businesses “as quickly as possible”.

3.05pm – As trailed today, Sturgeon confirms pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will only be able to operate indoors from 6am-6pm for the service of food and non-alcoholic drinks. Hotel restaurants can stay open to residents only, and without serving alcohol, beyond 6pm.

She says hospitality is not being closed completely because the opportunity to meet a friend for a coffee and a chat has benefits in reducing loneliness and isolation.

These measures will be in effect starting this weekend until Sunday 25 October inclusive.

3.00pm – Cases currently at 15% of March peak, but growing fast. That could see a return to the peak levels of spring by the end of this month, Sturgeon says.

Cases are increasing across the country, but especially in the central belt which will be reflected in today’s new measures. Shetland and Orkney are the only exceptions and “even they have had cases in recent weeks”, while the Western Isles has seen a more significant outbreak in recent days.

2.55pm – Latest figures show 1,054 new cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, 13 per cent of those tested. There are 319 Covid patients in Scottish hospitals, a rise of 57 since yesterday, and one further death was recorded.

2.50pm – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is about to announce in the Scottish Parliament restrictions to try and bring the spread of Covid-19 under control. Among the measures expected to be introduced is a nationwide clampdown on the hospitality sector, in particular focused on pubs and bars and possibly with extra measures in the central belt.

Today Scotland recorded over 1,000 Covid-19 cases – a rise of more than 200 on yesterday – and infections continue to rise. There have been no additional cases in Shetland or Orkney, while there were a further three cases in the Western Isles.

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