No guarantees on hospitality lockdown easing as Nicola Sturgeon warns Scotland 'cannot afford to throw caution to the wind'
Scotland must “continue to be careful” in its easing of lockdown restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon has said, ahead of an announcement to be make to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
The First Minister’s warning comes after five major hospitality industry bodies issued a joint letter to the Scottish Government on Monday, calling for an accelerated route out of lockdown more in line with that laid out for England by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The group called for changes to the existing levels system of restrictions in Scotland which Ms Sturgeon said was under review by the Scottish Government.
The First Minister’s announcement on Tuesday will offer proposed dates for when the stay-at-home order might be lifted, further relaxation around meeting people from other households, and a return to shopping and both outdoor and indoor hospitality.
But Ms Sturgeon would not be drawn on further details, maintaining only the plans will be “realistic and feasible”, and that she will “try to give as much clarity as far ahead as it is possible to do”.
She said the Scottish Government had considered some changes to the content of the levels.
“As well as deciding when we think the whole of the country that’s currently in level four will be able to come down to level three, we’ll be looking at, based on our experience, based on the greater transmissibility of the virus, whether we need to modify the content of the levels,” she said.
"That has been part of the process that we have been undertaking, but I’ll set that out to Parliament tomorrow.”
Ms Sturgeon said the country “remains in a volatile situation”, and that “we have got to continue to be careful in terms of how we come out of this lockdown”.
"As soon as we start to lift restrictions, transmission will increase, and we know this is a faster spreading variant of the virus than the one we faced coming out of lockdown last year,” she said. “That’s what we have to balance.”
But there is scope to begin “significantly easing restrictions” from the middle of April, after everyone over 50 is offered their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, Ms Sturgeon said.
Asked about the claims from hospitality groups that a slower easing of lockdown in Scotland than in England would put them at a disadvantage, Ms Sturgeon said: “I want to treat everybody fairly, but I want to treat the people of Scotland fairly by making sure we don’t let this virus get out of control again and set us all back.
"I have no interest in keeping any part of the country in lockdown any longer than is necessary.”
Her statement comes after the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG), UK Hospitality Scotland, Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) and the Scottish Beer & Pub Association called on the government to abandon its “data, not dates” approach based on public health markers.
The group presented research from economic consultancy firm BiGGAR Economics, commissioned by Diageo, which found that under the previous level three framework, 54 per cent of hospitality businesses in Scotland could operate, generating a £269 million turnover and supporting almost 22,000 jobs.
The alliance of hospitality groups wants social distancing restrictions to be removed in venues from as early as June 28.