Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon confirms mandatory face coverings to remain amid concern over NHS

Businesses have accused Nicola Sturgeon of putting Scotland’s economic recovery into “reverse gear” after delaying the easing of face mask requirements for two weeks.

The First Minister confirmed the removal of all other legal restrictions from Monday, including requirements for businesses to take customer contact details and follow infection-related guidance.

Face coverings will remain mandatory in public settings, amid concern over high case numbers and pressure on hospitals. The measure will be reviewed in two weeks. Ms Sturgeon said she expects to convert it to guidance in early April.

“I know this will be disappointing for businesses and service providers such as day care services,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Face coverings are to remain mandatory until April

"However, ensuring continued widespread use of face coverings will provide some additional protection, particularly for the most vulnerable, at a time when the risk of infection is very high, and it may help us get over this spike more quickly.”

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce accused Ms Sturgeon of creating confusion and harming consumer confidence.

"Scottish businesses were looking forward to returning to greater normality and the decision to delay the removal of all remaining Covid-19 restrictions will come as a bitter disappointment,” said chief executive Dr Liz Cameron.

“Further delay will put Scotland’s recovery into reverse gear again, create confusion, dent business confidence, putting the buffers on economic growth.”

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday March 10, 2022.

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The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said Scotland appeared to have a “first-in, last-out” approach to restrictions.

"At a time when debt-laden firms are facing dramatic fuel and utility hikes, operators are looking for ministers to inject confidence, not seed doubt,” said Andrew McRae, FSB in Scotland policy chair.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association labelled the continued face covering guidance “hugely unfair” and called on the Government to “promote confidence and positivity”.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh welcomed the delay.

“Those of us working in the NHS are seeing rising hospital admissions, and we are seeing first-hand the continuing impact of Covid-19 on peoples’ health, including our health and social care staff,” said president of the college Professor Andrew Elder.

He added: “Older people and those of all ages made vulnerable to infection because of pre-existing conditions remain particularly at risk – we should remember that this remains the case. This virus has not left us.”

Some 1,996 people are now in hospital with Covid in Scotland, approaching the all-time record of 2,053 set in February last year.

The recent increase in cases appears to be driven by the Omicon subvariant BA.2, Ms Sturgeon said, which has had a growth rate around 80 per cent higher than the original Omicron strain since mid-February.

The Scottish Conservatives accused the government of a “U-turn”.

Party leader Douglas Ross said: "Covid has not gone away, but we have learned to live with it. The vaccine has been a game-changer.

“Yes, case rates at the moment are higher than any of us would like, but Covid cases were always going to rise as restrictions were eased. We can’t stay stuck with Covid rules forever.”

Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "It will be disheartening to many Scots that despite the extra sacrifices that have been made in Scotland, our infection rates are still so stubbornly high.”

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