Covid Scotland: Businesses 'cannot afford' delay to beyond level 0

Businesses have warned Nicola Sturgeon they “cannot afford” to wait any longer for social distancing and other restrictions to be scrapped as the First Minister prepares to announce whether Scotland’s move beyond Level 0 will go ahead today.

Parliament will be recalled so the First Minister can update MSPs on planned measures, including the possible scrapping of social distancing requirements, mandatory face coverings in some settings, and self-isolation requirements for those who have had two vaccine doses from next Monday.

The Scottish Government may also end advice to work from home where possible.

Dr Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said businesses were “waiting with bated breath” for the announcement that all major legal restrictions will be lifted.

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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“With business support schemes such as furlough now beginning to wind up, it’s essential that we see a rapid acceleration towards the full re-opening of our economy, to facilitate a strong recovery and to start rebuilding damaged consumer confidence,” she said.

“Scotland’s businesses can’t afford any further delay and we need the Scottish Government to remove physical distancing requirements in business settings, give businesses the green light to re-open offices and extend the list of roles eligible for self-isolation exemption."

She added: “The business community expects the Scottish Government to confirm the move to beyond Level 0, without any further delay and to set out clear timetables and end dates for any mandated baseline measures which are retained beyond August 9.”

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The First Minister has previously said the move to Level 0 will depend on an assessment of the Covid situation in Scotland at the time, and all over 40s having been given two vaccine doses at least two weeks previously.

According to figures published last week by the Office for National Statistics, the rate of Covid in Scotland began to fall in the week to July 24, for the first time in a month.

Scotland also recorded a fall in the average number of patients in hospital with Covid for the second week in a row last week.

Some 799 new positive cases were recorded on Monday, the lowest since June 14.

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As of July 26, two weeks before the proposed move to Level 0, 91 per cent of Scots over 40 had been given two doses of Covid vaccine.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said those it represents were “pinning their hopes” on this announcement.

Scotland Policy Chair, Andrew McRae, said small businesses owners wanted to see social distancing requirements scrapped in order to boost turnover.

The “blunt instrument” of self-isolation for all close contacts of Covid cases should also be removed, he said, adding: “This can’t come soon enough for small workplaces, on whom the impact has been particularly severe.”

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It comes after this requirement was scrapped for some critical workers earlier this month, including health and social care staff.

Mr McRae called for “absolute clarity” on what will and will not be allowed beyond Level 0.

“Everyone – business owners, staff and customers – need to know what is a legal rule, and what’s up to individual businesses to decide,” he said.

Ms Sturgeon has hinted that while the legal requirement to wear face coverings in some settings may be removed, advice to do so is likely to remain in some settings.

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Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said it was important to remember late-night and entertainment venues which have not opened at all.

“They desperately need help to get back on their feet. For the rest of the sector, we’re now looking at some broader questions and issues, such as, what can the government do to help businesses recover from a year and a half of misery, what can it do to give staff and customers the confidence they need to have in hospitality, how can government and industry work together better in future,” he said.

"We’ve also got various issues around self-isolation and it’s frustrating that three weeks after we proposed a solution to one of those problems that we’re still waiting for some dialogue with the Scottish Government.”

A spokesperson for Unison said the Scottish Government must prioritise the safety of workers returning to the office, ensuring both that businesses provide safe environments and that workers are not pressured to opt out of self-isolation requirements if they do not want to.

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"It’s the responsibility of government to make sure that not only are there provisions for safe working, but that they are clearly explained and enforced,” they said.

Unison and the Royal College of Nursing have said there is still a lack of clarity over the exemption to self-isolation for double-jabbed healthcare workers, with attitudes varying across health boards.

Opposition parties also called for clear guidance from the First Minister.

Scottish Labour said businesses must be given “far greater support” going forward, especially if any restrictions are continued.

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“We need to ensure that people are kept safe and that businesses are helped to restart the economy,” said party leader Anas Sarwar.

The Scottish Conservatives said self-isolation and face covering requirements should be dropped in schools, and that there should be no “rowing back” on the easing of restrictions.

"Businesses can’t afford any more last-minute, snap decisions that hit their cash flow and potentially results in job losses,” said Conservative leader Douglas Ross.

"They need certainty and a more optimistic outlook, in light of the encouraging public health data.”

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Scottish Greens called on Ms Sturgeon to address the return of universities and colleges in her announcement on Tuesday.

“Students must also have easy access to testing and vaccination on campus, and while many younger students won’t be fully vaccinated, it’s essential that guidance around mask wearing and distancing is clear. Support must also be made available for anyone who tests positive,” said Gillian Mackay MSP.

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