Covid Scotland: Hospitality sector warns of 'another lost summer' as Nicola Sturgeon announces likely further delay of restriction relaxations until at least July
Hospitality businesses are claiming they face the potential of “another lost summer” following Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement she is likely to delay further the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland until at least the end of July.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the First Minister said the planned date of moving the remaining parts of Scotland in level two, such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, down to level one would be delayed, along with the planned move to level zero for the rest of mainland Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed no changes to the levels applying to areas across Scotland would take place in the coming week and that it was “unlikely” any part of the country would move down on June 28 as planned.
However, the decision to delay further easing of restrictions until late July was also criticised as “unforgiveable” by retail groups, with representatives for the hospitality industry saying the announcement continued a “never-ending hell”.
The delay follows an announcement on Monday by Boris Johnson, who confirmed the planned full reopening of England would not take place as planned on June 21.
The Prime Minister said the date for lifting restrictions must be delayed by four weeks until July 19 due to the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19, which has caused a spike in cases.
Ms Sturgeon said the significant part of the population yet to receive two doses of the vaccine was the “biggest vulnerability” for Scotland.
She said a further delay to relaxing restrictions would allow for more people to get vaccinated before relaxing Covid-19 measures further.
The next review date will take place next week, but Ms Sturgeon said it was “unlikely” restriction easing would go ahead.
The First Minister told Holyrood: “Given the current situation – and the need to get more people fully vaccinated before we ease up further – it is reasonable to indicate now that I think it unlikely that any part of the country will move down a level from June 28.
“Instead, it is likely that we will opt to maintain restrictions for a further three weeks from June 28 and use that time to vaccinate – with both doses – as many more people as possible.
"Doing that will give us the best chance, later in July, of getting back on track and restoring the much greater normality that we all crave.”
She added: “The vaccination programme is going exceptionally well and it is being rolled out just as quickly as supplies allow. But there is still a significant proportion of the population that isn’t yet fully vaccinated.
“To be blunt, that remains our biggest vulnerability at this stage – and it is a significant one.
"So, we need to buy sufficient time for vaccination to get ahead, and that is the reason for caution at this juncture.”
Ms Sturgeon said on average younger people were more likely to be hospitalised when compared to earlier in the pandemic, stating those aged in their 30s and 40s were now the most likely to be hospitalised by Covid-19.
She said that it was possible the statistics showed people were being discharged “more quickly” and required a shorter stay in hospital when compared to earlier in the pandemic.
The First Minister added the Scottish Government would publish a paper looking at what life beyond level zero would look like in the coming weeks, alongside a paper on a review of physical distancing.
The latter review will examine whether theatres, cinemas and other arts venues may be able to operate more sustainably in the medium to long term.
However, the SNP leader’s announcement was described as “unforgiveable” by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
Andrew McRae, the FSB Scotland’s policy chair, said state support must be “proportionate” to the level of restrictions.
He said: “Any unlocking delay comes with consequences for Scottish businesses and jobs. Hospitality and tourism firms face further weeks of restrictions, which make it difficult to cover their overheads, never mind pay down their debts.
"We must remember that nightclubs, soft play centres and much of the events industry remain unable to trade at all.
“That’s why the bare minimum FSB expects is for state support to be proportionate to the scale of the restrictions.
"It would be unforgivable if governments in Edinburgh and London wound down the help on offer for firms while prolonging their difficulties.”
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) also criticised the announcement, claiming the decision would cost the industry “millions” and jeopardise the survival of many hospitality businesses.
Managing director of the SLTA, Colin Wilkinson, said: "The hospitality sector is at breaking point with today’s announcement that the brakes are on for further easing of restrictions.
"We understand the need for caution, but the Scottish Government must also understand that this delay will cost an already beleaguered industry millions of pounds and puts in jeopardy the future survival of many of the pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and late-night bars that form part of Scotland’s social fibre.
“For those still unable to open because of their size or the entertainment they provide, such as late opening premises and nightclubs, it is another devastating blow for an abandoned sector crippled by restrictions and with no route map out of the pandemic.”
Stephen Montgomery, the spokesperson for the Scottish Hospitality Group, which has campaigned for quicker opening across Scotland and criticised the Euro 2020 fan zone, labelled the decision the continuation of a “never-ending hell” for the industry.
He said: “This is a never-ending hell for hospitality workers and the businesses that employ them, especially those in the music and night-time sectors.
“Now is the right time to revisit the practical suggestions we put forward several times at the government’s request, such as tweaking the tiers so it’s easier for responsible businesses to trade viably while still protecting people’s health.
“This is especially important because the whole sector is facing a recruitment crisis that’s putting another brake on our recovery.
“The government has shown that it can be flexible and understanding when it wants to, as we’ve seen with the Euros and the fan zone. All we’re asking is for hospitality to be shown the same consideration.”
Reacting to the statement in the Holyrood chamber, Douglas Ross said most Scots would be “scunnered” by the news that restrictions would continue for weeks.
The Scottish Conservative leader said people were “thoroughly fed up with Covid”, but that vaccination would be the best way out of the pandemic.
He also asked the First Minister when all adults would receive both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, called for capacity limits at weddings to be lifted, and whether the delay to restrictions would extend to September.
Ms Sturgeon refused to put a firm target for all Scottish adults to have two doses of the vaccine and criticised Mr Ross for “putting words in my mouth”.
She said: “I would ask members and indeed those watching to pay attention to what I said.
"At no point today did I say I thought restrictions would be in place for a period of further months, I didn’t say that.
"I have tried all along not to commit to firm dates way into the future that nobody can be certain can be delivered.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also called for a review of “inconsistent decision making”, raising the Euro 2020 fan zone in Glasgow as an example when nursery graduations were unable to go ahead.
He said: “To maintain public trust and confidence we need consistent communications, consistent decision-making, adequate support for businesses and employees alongside a robust vaccination programme, and hot-spot protocols.
“I accept what the First Minister has said around the delay, but there has been mixed messages that I think do not help maintain public trust.”
Responding, Ms Sturgeon said she did not have the “magic solution”, but would look at the measures that were “apparent” contradictions.