'No evidence' to close Scotland's hospitality sector claims group

No evidence was produced by the Scottish Government, the chief medical officer or SAGE to prove the Scottish hospitality sector was a key transmitter of Covid, it has been claimed.

The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) has said a Freedom of Information request to discover what underpinned the decision to close pubs and restaurants was initially refused by the government as there were “potentially 3,000 documents in scope”, but after a three-and-a-half-month wait they received just a single paper.

The SHG said it had now “secured the truth there was no specific evidence to justify the restrictions placed on our industry”.

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The Scottish Hospitality Group has said there was no evidence to close pubs and restaurants.

Spokesman for the organisation, Stephen Montgomery, said: “Incredibly, the government is asking us to believe that there was no email correspondence with the office of the national clinical director about the evidence base for restrictions on hospitality, considered by them to be one of the main transmission vectors.

“It’s deeply disappointing to see no thought given to the knock-on effects of closing hospitality, such as driving people towards house parties, which we know has been a major issue.”

The group said it had received a reply from the government that said: “Neither the Scottish Government, the chief medical officer's (CMO) advisory group nor SAGE have produced evidence papers on a sectoral basis. Instead we have used scientific evidence on transmission coupled with the social and economic benefits of particular sectors, which ministers have used to make decisions.”

The reply also referenced an already published Covid-19 note by the CMO, chief nursing officer and national clinical director in October last year, which states: “Up to 15th July, hospitality was closed.

"Following entry into phase three of the route map, hospitality reopened. Our modelling of R at that time shows that around three weeks after the opening of hospitality, R rose to 1 and above.

"While this cannot be entirely attributed to hospitality, it is likely to have played a significant role.”

A paper on transmission routes covering a wide range of venues, including churches, gyms, cinemas and transport, was also mentioned.

Neither provided any specific evidence, just “very broad and vague assumption”, said Mr Montgomery.

He said: “We completely understand that lockdown measures were necessary and remain so. But there’s always been the chance to work a lot smarter by partnering with the industry to have systems in place that protect both public health and people’s jobs. We have repeatedly offered the government different solutions at their request and pro-actively ourselves.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that £3bn had been provided to support businesses affected by restrictions as well as an extension of non-domestic rates relief for this year, and added: “We fully understand the challenges facing the hospitality sector during the coronavirus pandemic, and no-one wants the restrictions in place a moment longer than necessary.

“There is extensive evidence which proves that the virus is transmitted particularly readily in environments with close contact at less than two metres, and where ventilation may be poorer.

"This is even more the case since the emergence of new and more transmittable variants. It is therefore essential at present to reduce the amount of time people spend in these non-essential settings, and this does unfortunately include hospitality.”

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