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Christmas relaxation agreed with ‘clear boundaries’

Edinburgh Christmas

No street celebrations this year

Christmas will not be cancelled after the four UK administrations agreed to to ahead with relaxing the restrictions over five days.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today said the unanimous decision was based on “pragmatic considerations”, including acknowledgement that people had made travel arrangements.

But there will be “clear boundaries”, she said at her daily briefing. She urged people not to meet another household for more than one day and not to stay overnight.

The decision came after Cabinet Office secretary Michael Gove led talks this morning, amid mounting pressure to scrap “Christmas bubble” plans.

Under the current plans, three households will be able to meet and form a “bubble” between 23 and 27 December.

Discussions held on Tuesday broke up without a decision on any changes as two leading medical journals described the relaxing of restrictions allowing families and friends to meet up in “bubbles” between 23 and 27 December as “rash.

MPs from all parties haver publicly expressed concern, particularly as a new “mutant” strain of the virus has now emerged.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for a Cobra meeting to assess whether the loosening should go ahead, saying he was ‘increasingly worried’. Westminster health committee chairman Jeremy Hunt said the government should be listening to the concerns ‘”very very carefully”. 

Keir Starmer: ‘worried’

The public is also growing increasingly anxious, with a majority of Britons now saying Christmas gatherings should be cancelled this year.

A YouGov poll of 3,856 adults found 57% think the current rules should be maintained over Christmas instead of allowing up to three households to mix.

Those involved in Tuesday’s call said there was a need to make the guidance clearer, but external voices are saying that is not enough and that changes must be made to limit contact between people.

The issue of people travelling between high and low tier areas was discussed and will be difficult to manage with so many people potentially on the move.

Business concerned by constant changes

Businesses, meanwhile, are becoming frustrated by regular changes in the restrictions and the impact it is having on their ability to plan ahead.

The sixth review of the Covid-19 Strategic Framework in Scotland moved Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and East Lothian from level two to level three.

It means people will no longer be allowed to travel outside of their own council area unless it is essential. Pubs, cafes and restaurants will have to stop serving alcohol and must shut at 6pm. Indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas, and bingo halls must also close.

The latest moves come amid growing alarm at the slow pace of delivering promised financial support for businesses, with some saying that payments pledged in October have still not come through.

Taxi drivers are expected to converge on the Scottish Parliament today to protest over what they say is the lack of Scottish Government support in contrast with other public transportation industries such as the bus and rail networks.

Unite Scotland is demanding clarity and the urgent release of the £19 million promised by the Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes last week and a commitment that continued support will be available.

Read more: Taxi drivers protest at Scottish parliament

A group of hospitality companies has called for slight changes to the regulations, arguing that such a move would save 1,800 businesses, while one business leader said Christmas “has already been cancelled” for many in the trade.

Read more: Tweaks to Covid rules ‘could save 1,800 businesses’

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Businesses across Scotland are now facing the worst possible situation. 

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“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. 

Liz Cameron

Liz Cameron: ‘compensation has not been enough’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“This is needed even more urgently than before and paid out now. The longer this continues the more jobs are potentially placed at risk. 

“Government needs to pull out all the stops to ensure businesses can come through this crisis – behind every job loss or business closure are real people and families. “

“Scottish Government must pro-actively take steps to re-open the economy and urgently publish clear timetables for the re-opening of vital sectors such as live events.”

Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “Although support schemes remain in place for now, they do not begin to cover the costs of businesses forced to mothball or remain open with limited custom.

“Christmas is now cancelled for large parts of our business community. We are already hearing that after Friday many bars and restaurants plan to remain closed until at least February or longer. Some might never re open at all.

“And retailers in our city centre and towns had been planning for far from normal but passable Christmas shopping numbers but now find around half of their catchments cut off as people cannot travel between Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.’

“Given that the economic and social eco-system of this region does not recognise local authority boundaries, this makes little sense.’’



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