Nicola Sturgeon has announced a nationwide ban on drinking indoors in licensed premises in Scotland for more than two weeks, with a full shutdown of all premises across the central belt where infection rates are accelerating most rapidly.
Announcing the targeted measures to the Scottish parliament as she confirmed a further 1,054 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, Sturgeon said they were intended to be a “short, sharp action to arrest a worrying increase in infection” and which she hoped would help to keep schools and businesses open over the winter.
For 16 days, from Friday at 6pm, all pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes must operate on a daytime-only basis, from 6am to 6pm, and for the service of food and non-alcoholic drinks only. They can continue to serve alcohol outdoors up to the current curfew of 10pm.
In five health board areas which are causing greatest concern: Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, the Lothians, Ayrshire and Arran and Forth Valley, all licensed premises, with the exception of hotels for residents, must close both indoors and outdoors, although takeaways will be permitted. Cafes which do not have an alcohol licence will be able to stay open until 6pm.
People living in those five areas are also being asked to avoid public transport, and not to travel outside the area they live in unless they have to, although Sturgeon added that she was not asking people to cancel half-term holidays they have already booked.
Sturgeon also announced that the Scottish government would be making available an additional £40m to support businesses that will be affected by these measures over the next two weeks.
Insisting that the temporary shutdown of licensed premises was “essential” in removing one of the key opportunities the virus has to jump from household to household, Sturgeon told MSPs: “That risk can be increased, in some hospitality premises, if good ventilation is difficult, and if it is hard to control the movement of people. And the presence of alcohol can of course affect people’s willingness to physically distance.”
Describing the shutdown as “a hammer blow to Scotland’s hospitality sector and the businesses that rely on it”, James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said: “This may seem a short-term, two-week hit, but it is targeted at businesses that are barely clinging on to survival.”
Sturgeon said her government would also introduce regulations to extend the mandatory use of face coverings in indoor communal settings, for example in staff canteens and corridors in workplaces, and that from this weekend and across Scotland, shops would be asked to return to 2-metre physical distancing and to reintroduce one-way systems.
National restrictions in Scotland were already more stringent than elsewhere in the UK. Last month Scots were banned from visiting other homes, with strict limits of six people from two households also in force for outdoor meetings and a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants.
The details comes after intense speculation intense about the nature of the “circuit-breaker” restrictions to stem the rising infection rate, which ministers and public health officials have been floating for more than a week.
On Tuesday, Sturgeon moved to reassure the public additional restrictions would not amount to a full lockdown following growing parental and business anxiety about the possibility of school or hospitality closures.
Andrew McRae, the Scottish policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said that the ongoing uncertainty had put an “emotional strain” on his members. “Days of unhelpful speculation regarding a new wholesale lockdown has harmed fragile business confidence and put new emotional strain on those that work for themselves. Ministers need the support of firms to tackle this crisis – action is required to rebuild trust between government and business.”