Tougher restrictions regime to be considered for Scotland
A tougher regime of Covid-19 restrictions for Scotland is to be considered amid concerns the existing measures in the nationwide tiered approach are not strong enough.
Nicola Sturgeon announced that East Lothian, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will all move up to level three, prompting an angry response from local council chiefs and business leaders.
The First Minister also confirmed the nine cases of the new variant strain of Covid-19 had been discovered north of the Border in the Greater Glasgow & Clyde area, after recently emerging in England.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs on Tuesday that some areas of Scotland were seeing significant rises in Covid-19 cases despite level three restrictions across most areas in recent weeks. These include Edinburgh and Midlothian, with case numbers up by 40 per cent in the Scottish capital.
A review of the levels system of restrictions in Scotland is now to be undertaken to assess whether the tiered approach is tough enough.
"Over the next two weeks, we will also be using the experience of the levels system to date to consider whether the specific restrictions in each level remain adequate or require amendment in any way," Ms Sturgeon said at her weekly review of levels in Holyrood.
"Broadly speaking, we think the levels approach has worked well. But we know the winter will put it under greater pressure.
"And we also know - and indeed see this in some of the data I have reported today - that case numbers are rising in some areas despite level three restrictions having been in place for some weeks.
"So the time is right to review this and I will report the outcome of that to Parliament after recess."
The latest Covid-19 statistics for Scotland on Tuesday saw 845 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. A further 24 deaths were recorded.
There are also now 996 people in hospital, with 45 people in intensive care.
The decision to move East Lothian up to level three came after case numbers increased by more than 50 per cent last week, on top of increases over the previous fortnight.
Aberdeen has similarly been moved to level three after a 50 per cent hike in cases, while case numbers are also rising in neighbouring Aberdeenshire, albeit not as sharply.
Ms Sturgeon said: "It is therefore our judgment that level three restrictions are necessary to bring the situation in both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire back under control.”
The move will mean pubs and restaurants must close at 6pm and can no longer serve alcohol prompting criticism from the hospitality trade.
But Norman Hampshire, deputy leader of East Lothian Council, hit out at the move after the region only recently moved down to level two from level three.
"We’re extremely disappointed,” he told BBC Radio Scotland.
"Getting that move to level two was a huge boost for the businesses in East Lothian, especially in hospitality.
“For a lot of businesses not having the evening meal part of the business means that it’s not really viable for them to operate and this could be really crucial in their survival if this can happen.”
He added: “I don’t think there’s any need to move East Lothian to level three at this stage. We could have continued at level two and could have had the get together at Christmas.”
Mr Hampshire said public health experts had told council bosses they were not recommending the the region move up to level three.
Douglas Lumsden, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, said he would have preferred to axe the five-day relaxation of the Covid rules over Christmas – if it meant the region could stay in level two.
“We heard before that the virus doesn’t go away for the Christmas period,” he told BBC Radio Scotland.
“So I would like to have retained the restrictions we have in place at present for the long-term benefit of the economy.
"Personally I would like to have retained things with the tiers we’re at and didn’t relax things over Christmas.”
Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, called for increase in compensation for firms facing increased restrictions.
“Businesses across Scotland are now facing the worst possible situation,” she said.
"Hampered by the stop-start implementation of yet more lockdown restrictions, together with the continued travel ban effectively cutting off the majority of Scotland, is not the news we were hoping for. For hospitality businesses across Scotland, today’s decision will be devastating at what would have been a time of hope and opportunity for vital trading in the lead up to the festive period.
“Compensation has not been enough to keep our doors open. The Scottish Government needs to substantially increase the level of financial compensation for the increasing loss of trade for businesses and our employees."
Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licenced Trade Association, said increased restrictions will undermine the efforts of many firms fighting for their survival.
"We are bitterly disappointed as we had remained hopeful that any relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in relation to the licensed hospitality trade at this time would have given businesses a fighting chance to trade more viably in the last week before Christmas,” he said.
“Even a further relaxation of the rules, allowing pubs and restaurants to trade later in all tiers and allowing alcohol with a main meal and giving the opportunity of two sittings in the evening, would have helped these businesses enormously during a key trading period.”
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