There are growing concerns about the economic impact on town centres across the country as cafes and sandwich bars, along with other firms reliant on officer workers, face a struggle to survive.
The First Minister said yesterday she understood the concerns, but a surge in virus cases means a return to offices must be put on hold.
Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said it was “disappointing” that virus levels are on the rise.
And she warned: “We can ill afford a return to stricter measures. Scottish Chambers of Commerce has been witness to the huge efforts and investments businesses have made to implement safe operating practices so that they are Covid safe and secure.
“We need to move forward to ensure our economy can recover and stem the loss of jobs where possible.
“That’s why we need our offices to be allowed to open quickly, particularly those where businesses have worked closely with employees and invested heavily in safety procedures.
“For the sake of our theatres, live music venues, soft play and indoor contact sports facilities, clear guidance on when they can reopen safely is also required quickly.
“We need effort and investment rolled out to ensure testing facilities are expanded and properly resourced.
“Until a vaccine or some other intervention is in place, we must learn to manage the spread of the virus smarter.”
Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland’s policy chair, admitted that the decision to halt a return to workplaces, which had been being looked at for next Monday was not a surprise. But he added: “That doesn’t mean that this decision comes without consequences for firms reliant on workers’ footfall in our town and city centres.
“It will also be frustrating for those businesses being denied the option to begin bringing staff back – and for those employees who are keen to get back to the office.
“We understand that many businesses and workers will be looking at reviewing their working practices even after this crisis finishes. But innovative new help might be required for those firms currently facing a footfall-drought through no fault of their own.”
The FSB is now urging the Scottish Government to detail a standard package of financial help for firms forced to close in the event of a local lockdown.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs yesterday that the reopening of call centres and offices will now reviewed on 1 October, but home working must still remain the “default position”.
“I am aware of the impact of long-term home working on many businesses and employees – and also on shops, cafes and bars which normally attract trade from office workers,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“However at this stage, a full return to office working – which would substantially increase the number of people meeting indoors, and travelling together on buses and trains – would risk a significant acceleration of Covid transmission.”