Business dismay at delay in lifting face coverings
Businesses responded with dismay after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon retained a number of Covid restrictions for a further three weeks.
Retailers and hospitality businesses had expected the legal requirement to wear masks in shops and on public transport to be lifted next week.
But Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that the changes would now not take effect until 18 April because of the high level of infection in Scotland.
The requirement to wear a face covering in places of worship and while attending marriage and funeral services will end on 4 April.
Ms Sturgeon said this phased approach struck a “sensible balance between our desire to remove this one remaining legal measure and the common sense need for continued caution”.
Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said that the decision was “particularly galling” given that the First Minister was seen without a face covering while attending the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service in London this week.
He said: “While face coverings are not required south of the Border as the rules changed at the end of January, surely it would have set an example for the First Minister still to wear hers at the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service given her decision to insist that in licensed hospitality, in shops, on public transport and some indoor settings in Scotland we are required to still wear them until April 18.
“The lack of use of face coverings is already clearly evident in many settings and this extension of the restrictions will make little difference.
“We have already stated our view that Scotland not falling into line with England will confuse people – particularly visitors from south of the Border.
“We had hoped that all restrictions would have been lifted ahead of the Easter weekend when hospitality businesses traditionally see an upsurge in business.”
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Scotland’s businesses want to see the removal of all remaining legal requirements linked to Covid-19. Continuous delays are deeply disappointing.
“Even with the phased approach now announced by the First Minister, Covid rules remain more stringent in Scotland now than in England or Wales and the lack of a four-nations approach is causing concern, particularly its impact on a potentially unequal economic recovery.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “While the government’s cautious approach to masks is understandable, many Scots will be wondering why other parts of the UK which have looser rules on masks are experiencing a lower rate of Covid infection.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “We believe that anyone who wants to keep wearing a face mask should keep doing so – particularly if it will protect vulnerable friends and relatives – but it should be down to individual choice.
“We should leave it up to people and businesses to decide what’s best for them, based on public health advice. Nicola Sturgeon has to start trusting the Scottish public more.”
Case numbers have hit record levels in Scotland in recent weeks, with one in 11 people estimated to have had the virus in the week to 20 March.