Rules eased in ‘cautious’ move back to normality
Shoppers will still be required to wear face coverings (pic: Terry Murden)
Nicola Sturgeon today announced that most of the Scottish Government’s coronavirus restrictions will be lifted from next Monday, allowing more venues to reopen.
However, there was disappointment that the First Minister did not encourage a return to offices which is having an impact on city centre hospitality, retail and travel businesses.
Employers will be advised to encourage hybrid working, so that home working should remain part of the mix, and continued financial support will be considered.
The law requiring Scots to maintain physical distancing when visiting shops or hospitality venues will be scrapped, though face coverings will remain mandated in law “for some time to come”.
Close contacts of those who test positive for Covid will no longer have to self-isolate – as long as they are fully vaccinated
In an update to MSPs today, the First Minister confirmed “no venues will be legally required to close” from 9 August.
It will be particularly good news for nightclubs, live music venues and theatres which can finally reopen their doors after being forced to stay shut for 18 months.
But customers will still be expected to register their details when visiting entertainment venues as the Test and Protect service will continue to operate to monitor future outbreaks of Covid.
Nicola Sturgeon announcing the easing of measures
The Scottish Government is looking at a ‘status certification’ or vaccine passport app for international travel and a more limited system for access to “high risk venues”, but will not introduce it for access to public services.
Her announcement came as New York City said it will require proof of vaccination to enter all restaurants and fitness centres. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced: “If you’re unvaccinated, unfortunately you will not be able to participate in many things.” The policy will take effect over the next few weeks.
The First Minister, confirming Scotland’s move ‘beyond level zero’, said: “This change is significant and hard-earned. The sacrifices everyone has made over the past year-and-a-half can never be overstated.
“However, while this move will restore a substantial degree of normality, it is important to be clear that it does not signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as we knew it before Covid struck.
“Declaring freedom from, or victory over, this virus is, in my mind, premature.
“Its ability to mutate may yet pose us real challenges.”
School pupils will continue to use face coverings for the new term and social distancing will remain in classrooms for six weeks after children return in August.
Secondary pupils and school staff will be asked to take a lateral flow test before they return, followed by regular testing in future.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said there remains some confusion over the rules and accused the government of creating “grey areas” with no clarity on when existing barriers will be removed.
Douglas Ross: ‘we can now look forward’ (pic: Terry Murden)
Ms Sturgeon responded by saying she was elected “to take the tough decisions to keep people safe, and if Douglas Ross does not understand that then perhaps this is not a position he should ever want to be in.”
She defended her measures as a “cautious, steady route through this, “adding that “Monday is probably the most significant date so far and it is positive, but I am not going to shout ‘freedom’ from this virus because I think it misleads people.”
Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader, warned that the government must take vaccination centres ‘to the people’ to ensure those in low uptake areas are not left behind.
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Scottish Retail Consortium head of policy, said: “Retailers will hope next week’s relaxation of Covid restrictions will spark a shopping recovery after a very difficult year.
“Removing restrictions such as physical distancing in shops and welcome changes on self-isolation rules, should simplify store operations.”
Marc Crothall, CEO Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “Further clarity around the definition of ‘high risk venues’ which may require Covid certification will need to be given over the coming days; it’s also hugely important that the legal requirement for wearing masks is placed on the consumer and not just the venue.”
Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scotland policy chairman, warned that “the removal of the public health restrictions doesn’t guarantee the recovery of either an individual business or a local economy.”
He added: “Operators now face trading conditions permanently changed by the crisis and new debt that they’ll need to manage in the months and years to come. Some business leaders are nervous that the sacrifices they’ve made will be forgotten.”
Scottish Chambers of Commerce Chief Executive, Liz Cameron said: “The removal of physical distancing requirements and changes to self-isolation rules will have a major positive impact on all businesses.
“This will enable us to increase capacity, whilst removing the massive pressures on staff being forced to self-isolate due to close contact guidance which has left many businesses unable to fully operate if at all. These are both sensible, appropriate, and welcomed changes.
“Many businesses however believed that moving beyond the levels system would result in the removal of all restrictions, however some uncertainty remains as to mandating the continued use of face coverings in certain settings.”