Edinburgh bars welcome longer drinking time under Scotland's move to Level 0
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Although the First Minister changed the original plan to let venues follow local licensing laws and instead introduced a new midnight closing time, it still represents a significant change from Edinburgh's current Level 2 drinking curfew of 10.30pm.
And at Level 0, which will apply from Monday, there is no requirement for customers to book a two-hour slot to go to a pub or restaurant, although they will still have to provide contact details to help Test and Protect, they will still be required to wear face coverings except when seated, and they will need to observe one-metre distancing.
Anna Christopherson, co-owner of Boda Bars, which runs Joseph Pearce's in Elm Row and the Victoria in Leith Walk, said the fact places could stay open until midnight instead of 10.30pm was a definite improvement.
"That's why I think the announcement was quite positive news," she said. "The face mask is fine, one-metre distance we can live with but the self-isolation rules I think we need to look at because it is affecting a lot of people."
But she said she hoped for further relaxations from August 9, the current date set for going beyond Level 0.
She said: "I'm hoping we're going back to normal, where people can actually stand at the bar and we can go back to our events."
Garry Clark of the Federation of Small Businesses said the announcement had positive steps forward for next week but everyone would be looking ahead to more restrictions being lifted on August 9.
"It's good news we are moving to Level 0 next week with most of the increasing freedoms in place," he said.
"One-metre social distancing inside is quite positive - a lot of bars have had one-metre-plus up to this point, but this is one-metre across the board indoors. And events not having to have two-metre social distancing is a step forward."
But he said the fact zero social distancing outside would only apply to groups of 15 could cause difficulties for outdoor concerts or even where groups gathered around a street performer.
He said: "It will be really important where the country goes from August 9 onwards - timing-wise that is really crucial for the Festival in particular."
Mr Clark said the fact places could stay open until midnight instead of Edinburgh's current Level 2 closing time of 10.30pm would be a boost.
He added: "And the fact you won't have these two-hour bookable slots means it will be a bit more free-flow. If people see a bar that's not too busy they'll be able just to pop in. They'll still have to register their details, but if it's a simple barcode scan that's not too onerous.
"So it's a lot more freedoms, but we need to see where we go on August 9 and the sooner we have clarity on that the better."
However, the Scottish Beer & Pub Association said the decision to maintain a curfew was hugely disappointing and would exacerbate the financial difficulties faced by many hospitality businesses.
Chief executive Emma McClarkin said: "The sector has suffered the brunt of the restrictions for over a year now and this last-minute change is another blow to the trade. The Scottish Government must look at reversing this decision or allocate further economic support to the businesses impacted.”
The First Minister also announced she was delaying the intended gradual return to offices until the move beyond Level 0, which she still hoped would be on August 9. Until then, the guidance would remain to work from home where possible.
Roddy Smith chief executive of Essential Edinburgh representing hundreds of city-centre businesses, said he was disappointed at the move. But he said: "As long as the delay is not for too long I think most businesses would be happy enough. Lots of businesses are still grappling with sorting out their offices and making sure they're Covid-safe."
A manifesto for Edinburgh's recovery from Covid published last week by Edinburgh Business Resilience Group listed an accelerated return to the workplace as an immediate priority to breathe life and energy back into the city centre.
But Mr Smith said: "I don't think two or three weeks is a big issue. I wouldn't like to see it extended into late September or October. The important thing is as soon as it's deemed safe to do so businesses get their staff back in offices."
Depute council leader Cammy Day welcomed the move to a modified Level Zero.
He said: “It’s very good news that case numbers appear to be falling now but there’s no getting away from the fact they remain uncomfortably high in the city and we have to take action to mitigate the spread.
“I think residents will share our view that it’s right to go for a more cautious reopening on 19 July so that we can enjoy greater freedoms, but not at a pace which puts our road to recovery at further risk.”
He acknowledged there would be some disappointment in the hospitality sector about the mandatory midnight closing time.
He said: “However, it’s crucial we don’t run unnecessary risks while cases are still so high locally. We’ve been working extremely closely with the business community to help advise and support them through and out of this crisis and to highlight all our city has to offer through the Forever Edinburgh promotional campaign. And I very much hope the Scottish Government will continue to support the hospitality industry, which has been one of the hardest hit during this crisis.”