Covid Scotland: Hogmanay event cancelled as Sturgeon tightens restrictions

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay event will not go ahead this year, Nicola Sturgeon has announced, as restrictions are tightened from Boxing Day in a bid to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.

Spectators will also be banned from football and other sports matches, as numbers at large gatherings are limited for three weeks from December 26, the First Minister told MSPs in a Covid-19 update on Tuesday.

Events will be limited to 100 people standing indoors, 200 people seated indoors, and 500 people at any event outdoors.

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Table service will be re-introduced at pubs and other venues serving alcohol, and indoor hospitality and leisure venues will be required to keep a one metre distance between separate groups of customers.

Members of the public take part in a torchlight procession through the streets of Edinburgh in Scotland on December 30, 2016, as the city begins to celebrate Hogmanay. Picutre ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty ImagesMembers of the public take part in a torchlight procession through the streets of Edinburgh in Scotland on December 30, 2016, as the city begins to celebrate Hogmanay. Picutre ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images
Members of the public take part in a torchlight procession through the streets of Edinburgh in Scotland on December 30, 2016, as the city begins to celebrate Hogmanay. Picutre ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

Some £375 million will be allocated to support businesses suffering as a result of these new rules, Ms Sturgeon said.

But business leaders have warned this will not be enough and labelled the new rules “another hammer blow” for employers and Scotland’s economy.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called on the First Minister to speed up the rollout of support, saying a wait until the new year could decide whether or not a small business can survive.

And Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the new restrictions would “spell further darkness for the events sector that is already on its knees”.

But Deputy First Minister John Swinney said he regretted the Scottish Government not making the decision to limit numbers at events sooner.

Mr Swinney told the BBC that football matches which have already taken place could have been “super-spreader” events.

Rules around household mixing over Christmas will remain unchanged, but Scots have been asked to limit socialising as much as possible once the Christmas weekend is over.

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It remains the Scottish Government’s priority to re-open schools after Christmas, Ms Sturgeon said.

Covid cases in Scotland have increased by 50 per cent in the past week, she announced.

The Omicron variant now accounts for 62.9 per cent of cases.

Stephen Reicher, professor of psychology at St Andrews University and a member of the UK Government advisory body the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group, welcomed the tightening of restrictions.

"Thank God someone is listening to the science and has the moral courage to say the things that all of us wish weren't true, do the things all of us wish didn't need to be done, but which have to be done in order to avoid much worse,” he wrote on Twitter in reference to Ms Sturgeon’s announcement.

The decision comes as accident-and-emergency departments in Scotland recorded the second-worst waiting times on record, with just 69.7 per cent of patients seen and admitted, transferred or discharged within the Scottish Government target of four hours.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) said it was “deeply concerned” about emergency care in Scotland, warning that staff absences due to Covid may prevent the health service from delivering effective care.

“The crisis is extremely worrying,” said vice-president of the RCEM in Scotland Dr John Thomson.

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"The coming weeks will be a significant challenge. Morale is already plummeting as concern for whether the health service in Scotland will be able to cope is escalating.”

Additional restrictions are needed to avoid “super-spreader events” and protect the NHS and other key services, the First Minister said.

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“We know that the much higher transmissibility of Omicron means large gatherings have the potential to become very rapid super-spreader events, putting large numbers at risk of getting infected very quickly,” she told MSPs.

“Limiting these events helps reduce the risk of widespread transmission. It also cuts down the transmission risks associated with travel to and from such events.

"And second, these large events put an additional burden on emergency services, especially the police and ambulance services.

"At a time when these services are already under severe pressure and also dealing with high staff absences, limiting large scale events will help them focus on delivering essential services to the public."

Underbelly, which operates Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, confirmed the event cancellation.

Co-Directors Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam said: “We are incredibly sad to announce the cancellation of the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme for 2021 following new restrictions announced by the Scottish Government today.

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"After such a tough year for so many people, we were looking forward to helping bring people back together safely at Edinburgh’s iconic Hogmanay celebrations.

“We know this news will be disappointing for so many people, but we also know that Edinburgh is a wonderfully innovative and resilient city, and we know it will recover from these difficult times and return to the forefront of the world’s new year celebrations in the future”.

Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey said: “Our first and foremost priority must always be to protect the health and wellbeing of the public, our staff and the city as a whole. I know it will be hugely disappointing for people, particularly young people who were planning to attend these events.

“Given the spread of this variant, reflected in the rising infection numbers, we need to avoid any additional burden on our health and emergency services.”

The Scottish Parliament will be recalled during recess to discuss the Covid-19 situation and Omicron variant, it was announced on Tuesday.

Parliament will sit on December 29, and possibly also on January 5.

Opposition leaders called on the Scottish Government to accelerate and increase support to businesses.

Mr Ross said: “We need to know when the first grants will start to reach businesses – and it really should be before Christmas.

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“It’s unacceptable that small businesses may be left waiting until the New Year to get this vital funding that could be the difference between them surviving or not.

“It’s also absolutely crucial that we see the Scottish and UK governments working together constructively, fully focused on tackling Omicron.”

Labour leader Anas Sarwar called on the UK and Scottish governments to work together, following a week of rows over funding for business support.

“This is a time of anxiety for people worried about their lives and livelihoods, especially for the hospitality, events and leisure industries,” Mr Sarwar said.

"There must be an increase in the level of statutory sick pay, more significant financial support for impacted businesses and the self-employed and for the sectors that are shut down, and a furlough-type scheme so we don’t have businesses going bust and thousands becoming unemployed.

“Here in Scotland – the money on offer will go nowhere near covering the losses over Christmas.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said the new restrictions would “spell further darkness for the events sector”, adding: “The doors will be locked on pantos and theatres. Stadiums will close, Hogmanay is cancelled again.

"The knock-on effect will be customers not going through the doors of pubs and restaurants too. They all need compensation pound for pound and drink for drink. There is no time to waste in getting the money out to them.”

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