Nicola Sturgeon's 'myths' claim branded 'very disappointing' by hospitality body
Nicola Sturgeon faced criticism from hospitality bodies for “unnecessary uncertainty” and “incongruities” after the First Minister claimed “myths” had been circulated surrounding the latest round of Covid-19 restriction changes.
The First Minister confirmed at a Scottish Government briefing on Tuesday the planned changes to the Covid-19 restrictions would go ahead on April 26, meaning pubs, restaurants and all non-essential retail would reopen on Monday.
But the leader of the SNP hit out at “myths” around draft guidance for the hospitality industry.
Ms Sturgeon said the rule had not changed from last year, agreeing with comments from the Scottish Beer and Pub Association that claims otherwise were “scaremongering”.
The guidance had been criticised by the Scottish Hospitality Group for suggesting an extension to physical distancing measures in pubs and restaurants, with venues having feared a 3.5m table would be required for a group of six.
Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for the group, said in a statement: “We’re reassured to hear that what premises did last year will still be acceptable this year.
"It’s extremely frustrating that the government’s communications on this created confusion and alarm. It’s also very disappointing to have genuine concerns, expressed by anxious business owners, described as myths.”
Indoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen up to 8pm, though alcohol sales will remain outdoors-only until May 17.
Cross-border travel to England, Wales and Northern Ireland will also be allowed, with travellers now being asked to take two lateral flow Covid tests before travelling to any of Scotland’s island communities.
Ms Sturgeon was also criticised by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross for “undue caution” around lifting restrictions, which he claimed was “killing the economy and costing jobs”.
Ms Sturgeon said she expected households to stay at least one metre apart while in pubs or restaurants.
She said the rule had not changed from last year, agreeing with comments from the Scottish Beer and Pub Association that claims otherwise were “scaremongering”.
The First Minister said: “I would actually say that we should not have myths about the rules circulating because it doesn’t help anybody, least of all those in our hospitality sector.
“There is no change to the physical distancing requirements in our revised guidance for the reopening next week, compared to the guidance that was in place the last time pubs and restaurants and cafes were allowed to open.
“Anybody who says otherwise is misleading people.”
The only change to the guidance, she said, was that venues will have to display what their capacity limits are.
Further guidance around the taking of customer details was published on Tuesday. Details of all customers must be recorded by venues once they reopen, not just the “lead” customer.
However, the Scottish Beer and Pub Association said the draft guidance had “caused a degree of unnecessary uncertainty”.
The body said: “We welcome the clarity from the First Minister today that we will be able to open on the same basis as last year.
"Unfortunately, the publication of the Scottish Government’s draft guidance on calculating capacity limits has caused a degree of unnecessary uncertainty and confusion for the hospitality industry.
"We look forward to that document being updated to reflect the concerns of our sector and small businesses across the country.”
UKHospitality Scotland executive director Willie McLeod welcomed “some real positives” in the announcement, but also criticised the “peculiar position” whereby hospitality was only able to sell alcohol indoors to those attending a funeral or a wedding, labelling them “incongruities”.
He said: “The increase in the number of guests allowed at weddings and funerals to 50, for example, is encouraging, but comes at the same time as indoor hospitality service has an 8pm curfew and a ban on sales of alcohol.
“This puts operators in the peculiar position of not being able to serve alcohol to customers indoors unless they are attending a wedding or a funeral, in which case they are allowed to do so until 10pm.
“The new requirement to display the capacity of premises based on physical distancing requirements will also place yet more burdens on the hospitality trade, as will the social distancing rules between different households.
"The current legislation allows for six people from two households to meet indoors, or six people from up to six different households to meet outdoors, but they must maintain one metre distance from each other.
"This means far lower capacity for businesses already struggling after months of being closed and the unfair burden of enforcing social distancing has also been placed on long-suffering hospitality staff.”
Other restrictions which will be lifted on Monday include bans on driving lessons and tests, with non-essential childcare and indoor work permitted alongside the reopening of gyms and swimming pools for individual exercise.
The First Minister also set out further indicative dates for when Scotland would move through the ‘levels’ in the Scottish Government’s strategic framework, with a move to level one expected on June 7 and a move to level zero in late June.
Non-essential retail will also reopen from Monday as part of the change to restrictions, leading to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) of Scotland calling for the election campaign to now focus on getting local and independent retailers “back on their feet”.
Andrew McRae, the FSB’s Scotland policy chair, said: “These businesses are saddled with billions of pounds of debt and face ongoing restrictions, which will hamper their capacity to generate revenue.
"There’s a big difference between being legally allowed to open and being able to trade profitably”
Reacting to the announcement, Mr Ross said the SNP must end “confused messaging” around guidelines and to reopen more quickly.
He said: “Undue caution is killing the economy and costing jobs.”
Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, called for a faster rollout of the vaccine to help with the move out of lockdown.
He said: “We still need to see the rolling out to a much greater extent of the vaccine and we still need to have a robust testing and tracing system, so that we can recognise that this pandemic has not ended and that lives and livelihoods are still at risk.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton called on people to “remain careful”, adding: "If new strains arrive in the Scotland, we must have the resources in place to swiftly crush them.”