Most restrictions lifted but face masks remain
Scottish businesses will see a further move towards normality next week when most of the current Covid legal restrictions will be lifted.
Rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport will remain in place until April due to a rise in cases of Covid-19.
But the ending of other measures, such as the requirement to collect customer data in retailers’ cafes, coffee shops and wider hospitality businesses has been seen as a steady return to normal life.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it would be “prudent” to keep mask rules in place due to a spike in cases. These will be reviewed in two weeks, and are likely to be converted to guidance by 4 April.
She also told MSPs that mass testing will be wound down in April, with routine testing and contact tracing to end by May.
It had been hoped that all restrictions would be scrapped next week but the average number of new cases reported each day in Scotland is more than 12,000, up from an average of 6,900 per day three weeks ago.
There has also been a rise in the number of people in hospital with Covid-19, from 1,060 three weeks ago to 1,996 today.
Ms Sturgeon said she needed to “ask everyone to be patient for a little while longer on face coverings”.
She added: “I know this will be disappointing for businesses and service providers such as day care services.
“However, ensuring continued widespread use of face coverings will provide some additional protection – particularly for the most vulnerable – at a time when the risk of infection is very high, and it may help us get over this spike more quickly.”
The Scottish Conservatives said mask rules staying in place was “a blow for households and businesses” and Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said: “The decision to delay the removal of all remaining Covid-19 restrictions will come as a bitter disappointment.
“Further delay will put Scotland’s recovery into reverse gear again, create confusion, dent business confidence, putting the buffers on economic growth.”
Andrew McRae, policy chair for the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: “Businesses in Scotland face far fewer restrictions now than they did earlier in the pandemic. And today the First Minister outlined a timeline to lift many of the remaining rules, albeit slower than many would like.
“However, the impression that Scotland has a ‘first-in, last-out’ approach to covid restrictions frustrates many in business. At a time when debt-laden firms are facing dramatic fuel and utility hikes, operators are looking for Ministers to inject confidence, not seed doubt.”
Others were more sanguine, accepting that the recent outbreak of Covid cases required continued caution. Some business owners said publicly they would prefer that their customers continue to wear face coverings.
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Scots have now been required to wear face coverings in shops for 612 days, in contrast to other parts of the UK where restrictions have flexed more swiftly in line with the progress of the virus.
“Nonetheless, the direction of travel remains positive with the news the statutory guidance for retailers on mitigations and the requirements to collect customer data in retailers’ cafes, coffee shops and wider hospitality businesses will be ending from Monday.
“Rightly this new phase of moving beyond restrictions will mean much of the duty to keep shops and colleagues safe falls on businesses themselves not Covid-related regulations. It will be up to retailers and customers to continue to show consideration and good sense whilst Covid remains a risk.”