Covid Scotland: Face masks may remain until 2022 amid fresh concern over nightclub rules

Face coverings may be a legal requirement in Scotland until 2022, it has emerged, as the Scottish Government finally revealed guidance for pubs and nightclubs ahead of the move beyond Level 0 on Monday.
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It has also been confirmed that children under 12 will be exempt from having to wear a face mask in any setting.

In the long-awaited guidance published on Friday, the Scottish Government confirmed face masks would not have to be worn while ‘dancing, drinking or dining’.

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However, a Scottish Government spokesperson said visitors to nightclubs would need to wear face coverings when moving around clubs or pubs. That includes walking to the dancefloor, going to the toilet, ordering at the bar and even while on the dancefloor but not dancing.

A shopper in Princes Street wears a mask.A shopper in Princes Street wears a mask.
A shopper in Princes Street wears a mask.

That has sparked concerns that the rules will be difficult to police, with some business and hospitality groups hitting out at the “concerning” continued requirement, and calling for further clarity.

The guidance states that some remaining restrictions may be kept in place until “early 2022” although does not state what they may be. The Tories branded that secretive, but it raises the prospect of face coverings remaining mandatory into the new year.

The guidance will be reviewed every three weeks, the Scottish Government said.

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The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) said it was “deeply concerned” that face coverings must still be worn in some situations in nightclubs, saying this creates “significant safety and security risks for both staff and other customers”.

Gavin Stevenson, Vice Chair of NTIA Scotland, said: “Some of the remaining baseline measures beyond Level 0 are problematic for the sector and place Scottish businesses at a disadvantage to their English counterparts, so we seek further clarity from Scottish Government on when the baseline measures will finally be removed, in order for businesses to return to full viability.”

The Scottish Hospitality Group said there was “still some way to go” on clarification of the guidance.

“We’re concerned about the impact of people having to continue wearing face masks into 2022, especially when Wales has today announced that the face coverings in hospitality will end from 6am on Saturday,” a spokesperson said.

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"We would encourage the Scottish Government to follow suit and make them a personal choice to eliminate any further confusion between the nations and for the benefit of our staff who have the difficult job of advising customers.

"Operators still have a duty to police the mandatory wearing of masks, so it’s not going to be easy doing that when there are still issues such as what’s happening with pool and darts.”

Paul Togneri, Senior Advisor at the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said the continued requirement for face coverings would have a negative impact on businesses and come at an economic cost.

"The sooner we can see these safely removed the better,” he said, adding: “Although ideally we would have liked to have seen the guidance much sooner, it’s positive that it’s now published, and Scotland’s pub operators can look ahead to Monday with some confidence.”

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It comes after complaints of confusion over the move beyond Level 0, which was announced by Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland on Wednesday that face masks would be needed when standing to drink at a bar.

The Scottish Government later said this would not be the case, and guidance published on Friday has confirmed this.

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The exemption for drinking and dancing will also apply to weddings, funerals and other life events.

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Face coverings must be worn by wedding guests throughout the rest of the event however, with the exception of the person leading the service, the couple getting married, and anyone leading someone down the aisle.

In pubs and restaurants, customers will be able to eat and drink standing at the bar, but the Scottish Government “strongly advises” that table service be retained.

The Scottish Conservatives labelled recent confusion over the new rules a “mess”, and said the plan to keepsome Covid rules in place until 2022 was “secretive”.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Annie Wells MSP said: “Instead of being honest and upfront with the public, Nicola Sturgeon has adopted a sleekit and secretive approach.”

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A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “This virus has hopefully taught everyone that we cannot know what new variant may be round the corner. We cannot therefore say when all restrictions will be eased.”

From Monday, children under 12 will be exempt from face covering rules. This previously applied only to children under five.

The Scottish Government guidance states: “We anticipate that it may be necessary to keep some precautionary measures in place until early 2022, in order to help manage the increased pressure the NHS will face over the winter period.

"However we will review the position every three weeks to ensure any measures remain necessary and proportionate.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Masks must be worn in hospitality venues, including nightclubs, except for specific circumstances such as whilst eating, drinking and dancing or seated at a table.

"Clinical and public health advice is clear that face coverings continue to be an effective way of stopping transmission.”

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce called for “absolute clarity” on guidance from the Scottish Government.

Chief executive Dr Liz Cameron said: “Businesses have repeatedly asked for any guidance to support re-opening be published as soon as possible, ideally at the same time as announcements are being made.

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"This would avoid potential uncertainty and to enable businesses to implement effectively what is being asked of them, in the timeframes provided.

“With many of the restrictions being removed from Monday, businesses now need to quickly review the guidance carefully which may result in some being unable to open up as they had planned.

“As we move forward, we need to ensure absolute clarity as restrictions continue to be eased.”

The Federation of Small Businesses called on the Scottish Government to lift the remaining face covering requirement “as soon as possible” when public health conditions allow.

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But many consider this an “acceptable trade off” for the removal of other restrictions, a spokesperson said.

“The big prize we’re going to scoop on Monday is the removal of all physical distancing and covid capacity limits on premises,” they added.

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