Covid Scotland: 'Elation and worry’ as life beyond Level 0 is revealed

Business and hospitality leaders said they were both relieved and “very disappointed” after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that Scotland would move “beyond Level 0” from Monday.

Legal requirements on social distancing will be scrapped, large events will be allowed and nightclubs will be able to open.

Adults who have been double vaccinated and children with no vaccine will be exempted from self-isolation after contact with a positive Covid case.

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But face coverings will still be required, including for older children in schools, and the advice to work from home if possible will continue. Guidance on whether face masks will have to be worn in nightclubs has not yet been finalised.

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Test and Protect will also continue to trace positive cases, with hospitality venues still required to collect customer details.

In an update to MSPs on Tuesday Nicola Sturgeon said it was “premature to declare victory” over the virus, as Long Covid and vaccine-resistant variants remain a threat.

Winter may pose fresh challenges, she said, adding that she “cannot guarantee” that restrictions lifted on Monday will not have to be re-imposed in future.

It comes as 1,016 new cases of Covid were reported on Tuesday, with 406 people in hospital, 61 patients in intensive care and nine new deaths.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said hospitality operators will be “popping champagne corks” after the best news received in over a year, but hoping any remaining restrictions will be short-lived.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said removal of social distancing and changes to self-isolation requirements “will have a major positive impact on all businesses”.

But chief executive Dr Liz Cameron said many businesses believed all restrictions would be lifted beyond Level 0.

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Businesses need more clarity on how long these will continue, she said, with clear end dates to inspire customer confidence.

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"Moving towards greater individual and business choice is vital and any measures remaining in place to mitigate and manage risk must be proportionate and appropriate,” she said.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the Scottish public was “losing patience” with continued restrictions.

"Continuing with so many Covid restrictions indefinitely will hold Scotland’s recovery back,” he said.

"These restrictions will have serious consequences for businesses, family finances and young people’s education.”

Mr Ross warned the “halfway house” of maintaining some restrictions could create confusion, as the “goalposts have been moved again”.

And Glasgow Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stuart Patrick said businesses in Glasgow, which has faced longer restrictions during the pandemic than elsewhere in Scotland, have been left “stranded” by the continued lack of footfall from returning office workers.

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“While there is a lot to be welcomed, we are very disappointed that with Covid case numbers continuing to fall the First Minister did not openly encourage a return to the office,” he said.

The Federation of Small Businesses said Ms Sturgeon’s statement hailed a “cocktail of elation and worry” for business leaders.

“Firms will be relieved that the bulk of the remaining restrictions will be lifted,” said Scotland policy chair Andrew McRae.

But operators now face trading conditions “permanently changed by the crisis” he said, calling for more support for businesses.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will engage with businesses to offer guidance as necessary, ensure safe environments for staff, and support a gradual long-term return to the office or hybrid working.

Marc Crothall, CEO of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said while the easing of restrictions is welcome, the need for support for tourism and hospitality businesses “cannot be overlooked”.

The Scottish Government is developing a Covid passport app to be launched next month, which will allow people to prove vaccination for international travel.

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It may also be used in some domestic settings, with Nicola Sturgeon saying use of certification to access some high risk venues is still under consideration.

She added: “I would be passionately and fundamentally opposed to their use for access to public services or anything that was seen as essential for people.”

Clarity must be given in the next few days over which venues will qualify as “high-risk” in terms of possible vaccine passports, Mr Crothall said.

The Scottish Greens warned there is a “worrying emphasis” on vaccine passports.

“The First Minister referred to their use in relation to accessing higher risk venues, but without physical mitigations, the use of certification may risk giving people a false sense of safety and potentially make venues less safe,” said co-leader Patrick Harvie in response to Ms Sturgeon’s statement.

Liberal Democrat interim leader Alistair Carmichael said the scheme would be a “massive imposition” on people and businesses.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) head of policy, suggested the Scottish Government could find ways to entice people back to the high street.

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“Hopefully the changes for events and hospitality should give customers a good excuse to return to the high street to restock wardrobes and homes; albeit that may be tempered as there is no timeframe for workers to be encouraged back to the office,” he said.

He added: “If next week’s relaxation doesn’t spark some economic activity then the case for intervention from policymakers to encourage shoppers back to retail destinations will become more urgent.”

“This could be through temporary free parking, an advertising campaign to encourage people back to city centres, or a high street voucher scheme like Northern Ireland is introducing.”

The Scottish Government will review guidance on ventilation in schools, while face masks and the requirement for staff to social distance will remain for at least the first six weeks of term.

Teaching union EIS welcomed these announcements, saying the six week timeline will give reassurance to staff.

"The Scottish Government’s acknowledgement of the importance of strengthening the guidance around ventilation and the additional funding to close any gaps in this provision is extremely welcome and a significant improvement to the current mitigations,” a spokesperson said.

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