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Dramatic Covid u-turn

Festivities curtailed to Christmas Day only

Nicola Sturgeon: firm action is necessary

Christmas festivities have been dramatically curtailed and millions of family plans and businesses thrown into disarray to halt the spread of a new coronavirus variant.

Indoor mixing in Scotland will be allowed within bubbles for a maximum of eight people from three households on Christmas Day only.

The toughest level four restrictions will be applied across the country from Boxing Day for three weeks, with the exception of the islands. It will mean closure of hospitality and non-essential shops.

Apart from Christmas Day there will be a strict travel ban throughout the festive period. The Scotland-England border will be closed to all but essential travel. The position on international travel will be reviewed next week.

Schools will remain open until the scheduled holiday break, with lessons resuming on 11 January but online only until 18 January, except for key workers’ children and the most vulnerable. 

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was forced to follow an earlier decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tighten the restrictions announced for England at a Downing Street briefing.

Ms Sturgeon said the situation in Scotland is not as bad as in other parts of the UK, but the new strain of the virus could be up to 70% more transmissable.

Scotland has the lowest case rate in the UK, with 112.6 cases per 100,000 of the population. This compares to 571.7 in Wales, 219.6 in England and 174.9 in Northern Ireland.

The First Minister said maintaining a “strict travel ban” would prevent more of the new strain entering Scotland from other parts of the UK, and reduce the risk of it spreading further within Scotland.

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Delivering an unscheduled briefing from Edinburgh, she said: “It is the most dangerous juncture we have faced and we have to act accordingly.

She said: “To limit, as far as we can, the risk of this strain spreading further than it has within Scotland, we intend to apply Level 4 measures to all of mainland Scotland for a period of three weeks from one minute after midnight on Boxing Day morning.

“If you had people travelling to join you from elsewhere in the UK that will no longer be permitted.

“Very firm preventative action is now necessary. If we do nothing now things will get much worse.”

She admitted the decision had been difficult but unavoidable. “Standing here makes me want to cry,” she said.

The whole of Wales is also placed under lockdown from midnight with festive plans cancelled for all but Christmas Day. Northern Ireland has already announced a stringent six-week lockdown to come into effect on Boxing Day during which all non-essential retail must close, including click & collect. 

The u-turn on relaxing the restrictions between 23 and 27 December followed new scientific evidence that in London 28% of cases were as a result of this new mutation in mid-November. That has now increased to more than 60%.

The toughest new restriction was announced for London and the south east which will be placed in tier four. Non-essential retail and close contact services, such as beauty salons and hairdressers, are to be forced to close across  from close of business today until at least 30 December.

Mr Johnson said: “We cannot continue with Christmas as planned.”

He told the Downing Street briefing: “I know how disappointing this will be, but we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science.

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“When the science changes, we must change our response. When the virus changes its methods of attack we must change our method of defence and as your prime minister I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me.”

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical adviser to the UK Government said anyone who was packing their bag to get out of London to ‘please unpack it’.

But the announcement prompted a mass exodus from the capital as people sought refuge ahead of the clampdown.

Huge queues developed at stations and on the roads, with reports that trains could not cope with the numbers of people fleeing the city.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said there were reports of people jumping into cars and taxis and even hiring vehicles to escape London before new rules were imposed at midnight.

Ms Sturgeon is hoping that a more measured approach will maintain order in Scotland, though frontline businesses will again feel the brunt of the new restrictions.

Tracy Black, CBI Scotland Director, said: “With a more infectious strain of the virus in circulation, mostly in other parts of the UK, it’s understandable the Scottish Government wants to prevent a sharp spike in our own case numbers.

Tracy Black

Tracy Black: ‘government needs to look at more support’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“But news that all of mainland Scotland will come under Level 4 restrictions will be hard to take for many businesses already struggling badly.

“While much of the impact of Level 4 will be on people’s family lives, many retailers were counting on clawing back some lost ground after a really hard year.

“Should such widespread restrictions carry on for a concerted period, in the new year both Westminster and Holyrood will have to take a serious look at what more can be done to support businesses through to Spring.” 

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, called for additional financial support for shops and an extension of business rates relief into 2021-22.

“This decision comes only a week after the end of the local lockdowns in west central Scotland and slap bang in the middle of peak trading which so many are depending on to power their recovery and tide them over the leaner winter period,” he said.

“Faced with this news – and the prospect of losing £135 million each week in revenues during the lockdown – many stores will be in serious difficulty.

“Many could be lumbered with unsold pre-Christmas stock which will be difficult to shift in the absence of the usual Boxing Day and new year discounted sales events, adding to cash flow woes.”

The restrictions

  • the planned easing of restrictions around Christmas will be limited to Christmas Day itself, and not the previous five day window that was planned
  • from Boxing Day, all of Scotland will have Level 4 restrictions applied, including the closure of non-essential retail and hospitality, gyms and cinemas. The only exceptions will be Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, and the other island communities where restrictions have been reduced in recent weeks, who will be placed in Level 3
  • click and collect, on-line services and outdoor retail, such as garden centres, outdoor markets and car lots, can also remain open.
  • travel within Scotland will be allowed on Christmas Day
  • from Boxing Day, in line with existing law, travel across local authority boundaries between areas in Level 3 or 4 will not be legal other than forspecific exempt purposes
  • all holiday accommodation is closed to tourism. Hotels and other accommodation providers can still serve food to qualifying guests i.e. key or exempt workers, staying in their premises up to 22:00. Room service, including alcohol, is allowed as normal.
  • takeaways permitted for alcohol and food as per existing arrangements
  • legal household limits will still apply – a maximum of 8 people from 3 households – however advice is to minimise the numbers. Where possible, people should celebrate the festive period at home in their own household and meet with others outdoors.
  • public buildings will be closed
  • stadiums remain closed to spectators
  • no live events are permitted
  • places of worship can remain open with restricted numbers (20 people)
  • weddings/civil partnerships – maximum 15 people – no receptions
  • funerals and wakes – 20 person limit
  • early learning and childcare can remain open. Enhanced and targeted protective measures are in place.
  • colleges and universities can operate using a more restricted mix of face to face and distance learning.
  • all indoor visitor attractions such as museums, galleries, heritage attractions, indoor areas of zoos and aquariums are closed
  • outdoor visitor attractions, such as parks, gardens and the outdoor areas of zoos may remain open, to enable exercise and recreation to be undertaken with appropriate physical distancing in place, but should only be visited in line with travel restrictions.
  • visitor attraction retail and hospitality facilities will be closed.


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