New Scots lockdown will be 'final blow' for struggling firms
The introduction of level four restrictions across large swathes of Scotland is a “body blow” for thousands of struggling businesses, which will be forced to shut for good, industry leaders have said.
Nicola Sturgeon is now being urged to give a "cast-iron guarantee" that the strictest set of Covid measures will be lifted after three weeks as planned, after 11 council areas were moved into the top tier.
The level four measures, similar to a full lockdown, will apply from Friday in Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.
The announcement was made by the First Minister as she set out the latest weekly review of Scotland's five-tiered system of restrictions on Tuesday.
Plans for a legal travel ban in and out of Scotland's hotspots, including a further nine areas in level three restrictions, were also set out.
The First Minister insisted the three-week imposition of "short, sharp" restrictions for level four areas should mean a relaxation can be allowed for Scots at Christmas.
More than two million Scots will be hit by the strictest restrictions, which will mean restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars will be closed. All holiday accommodation is closed to tourists.
Business leaders warned the latest lockdown for many areas of Scotland will be the final straw for many struggling firms.
Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: "The economy has been dealt another blow today.
"Returning to lockdown makes Christmas an increasingly bleak prospect, particularly for those people and their families whose jobs rely on businesses being able to trade. Several sectors have faced damaging loss of trade and are failing to make a return on investment.
“Businesses have done their utmost and have stuck with it through initial lockdowns and restrictions. They are now running on fumes.
"They have invested significantly to ensure they’re operating safely and can rightly feel aggrieved that commitments on Test and Trace, which are supposed to be another key method of reducing the harm of both the virus and the lockdowns, have so far fallen short."
Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, said: "This latest announcement comes as a body blow for businesses across many parts of Scotland with the all-important festive trading period already upon us.
“Businesses, particularly in the hardest hit hospitality, retail and tourism sectors, have been told continuously that they must endure short-term pain for long-term gain. With many firms still operating under what were originally described as short, sharp restrictions, we now need a firm guarantee that the Scottish Government will stick to their timetable for lifting level four restrictions."
Takeaways can operate as normal, under level four, with with face coverings and physical distancing rules being followed.
Hotels and other accommodation providers can serve food up to 10pm to guests. Room service, including alcohol, is allowed.
Hotels, B&Bs and self-catering can remain open for essential customers - for example anyone who is staying for essential work purposes.
But Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “The First Minister’s announcement today that 11 of Scotland’s local authorities will move into level four from Friday will be the final blow for many of Scotland’s tourism and hospitality businesses in these areas, which have struggled to survive throughout this pandemic."
He called for a targeted support package for tourism and hospitality businesses in coming days.
"The reality is that without a robust increase in funding support, businesses will continue to close," he said.
Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chair, also hit out at the new restrictions.
“Today’s changes shut the doors of thousands of smaller Scottish firms at their busiest time of year, resulting in despair and anger amongst independent shopkeepers, publicans, restaurateurs, barbers and beauticians," he said.
“Ministers must provide a cast-iron guarantee to our small business community that they will be given an opportunity to trade normally ahead of Christmas, especially when many big businesses face few operating restrictions."
Although the spread of Covid has stabilised in many areas of Scotland, including those moving into level four, Ms Sturgeon said it remained at too high a level and further sudden spikes could threaten to overwhelm the NHS.
Edinburgh, Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, Dundee, Fife, Perth & Kinross and Angus will all remain at level three under the latest review. Ms Sturgeon said East Lothian and Midlothian will move from level three to level two after "marked decline" in the prevalence of the virus.
The First Minister told MSPs: "I know people are frustrated that other restrictions have remained in place longer than planned, but level four is intended to be short and sharp.
"And in this situation, it is specifically intended to have an impact in advance of Christmas and the most challenging winter period.
"Lifting the level four restrictions then - as we will do - also means that they will not be in place for most of the Hanukkah period, so again, while celebrations may be different, there will be a greater degree of freedom."
She added: "We will assess nearer the time the level that will apply in each area when the level four restrictions end on December 11."
The First Minister said she hopes affected areas will be able to move to level two "much more quickly than would otherwise be the case”.
Restrictions around outdoor socialising for those in level one are to be extended to allow eight people from three households to meet outdoors. Previously only six people from two households were permitted to meet outdoors.
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