Crunch talks on Edinburgh Hogmanay to be held as organisers press ahead with plans despite new Covid surge

Crunch talks over the fate of Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations are due to be held within days as organisers insisted they were still due to go ahead - despite public health advice to put off Christmas parties.

Up to 30,000 revellers are expected to flock to Princes Street for Edinburgh's Hogmanay street party.

Underbelly, who produce the money-spinning festivities on behalf of the city council, said they were working daily with the Scottish Government and the city council to deliver a "safe and a great Hogmanay."

However council chiefs said they were closely monitoring government announcemens and the “developing situation” over the Omiron variant, amid warnings that it could become dominant in Scotland within days.

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The Scottish Government is one of the main funders of the Hogmanay festival, along with the city council, with both parties signing off a scaled-back programme with strict Covid protocols in place.

Fireworks light up the sky over Edinburgh during the city's Hogmanay celebrations in 2019. Picture: Roberto Ricciuti

Shutting down the Hogmanay festival would have a huge impact on the city’s tourism businesses as the event’s value to the economy has been estimated at nearly £40 million in recent years. The city’s Christmas festival, which is due to run until early next year and is attracting thousands of visitors to Princes Street Gardens and George Street, is said to be worth nearly £120 million.

Crowds of up to 30,000 are expected on Princes Street on Hogmanay for the main street party event, with a further 3500 expected at a sold-out Basement Jaxx concert in the gardens.

Up to 15,000 revellers are expected to join a torchlight parade through the Old Town, while several thousand participants are expected to take part in the Loony Dook at South Queensferry.

Nicola Sturgeon last week said Christmas parties or "events with lots of people" were becoming “super-spreaders” of the new Omicron variant.

The First Minister urged people to think carefully about "unnecessary contacts, especially in crowded places just now," as she warned that the country may be facing “a potential tsunami of infections.”

However her deputy, John Swinney, said it was “impossible” to justify shutting down Scotland’s hospitality sector based on the latest data, despite businesses suffering a wave of cancellations in the wake of the festive party pleas.

National clinical director Jason Leitch had earlier said that the Premiere Sports Cup Final between Hibs and Celtic at Hampden next weekend was due to go ahead as planned.

Edinburgh's Hogmanay street party, torchlight parade and Loony Dook event are currently all still due to go ahead, with tickets on sale on the official website.

Underbelly cited the need to provide proof of vaccination or a lateral flow test, the reduced capacity for the main street party and the torchlight parade and the fact most events are staged outdoors.

In an official statement, the company said: "We’re excited to welcome audiences to Princes Street and to place Scotland at the forefront of the world’s new year events."

A spokesman for Underbelly said: “Edinburgh's Hogmanay continues to work daily with the Scottish Government and the council to deliver a safe and a great Hogmanay.

“Almost all Edinburgh’s Hogmanay events are outdoors and we have significantly increased the circulation space for visitors in an expansive outdoor environment.

"There are a number of other additional safety measures in place, all of which adhere to Scottish Government guidelines and are designed to keep our audiences, artists and employees safe.

“We are requiring all ticketholders to be fully vaccinated (or otherwise exempt), or to show they have tested negative within 48 hours of the event using a lateral flow test.

"The test must be registered through the test and protect app, and proof of ID will be required when attending the event.

“Tickets remain on sale. We’ll continue to work with Scottish Government and will comply with all relevant guidelines.

"We’re excited to welcome audiences to Princes Street and to place Scotland at the forefront of the world’s new year events.”

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “We continue to monitor announcements from the Scottish Government, Health Protection Scotland and other partners to ensure we manage this developing situation as effectively as possible.

"Further discussions on plans for Hogmanay will be held this week.”

Speaking in the wake of a plea from Public Heath Scotland to postpone Christmas parties, Ms Sturgeon said: “We know that any additional protective measures will cause social and economic harms – especially after almost two years of this pandemic.

“But we also know – from past experience - that early action is often needed when dealing with this virus. In fact acting early, is often the best way of acting proportionately. So we can’t rule out further measures.”

Council leader Adam McVey said: “The latest news about the increasingly rapid spread of the new Omicron variant of Covid is of course worrying and, as the First Minister confirmed in her update, it’s more important than ever that we step up our efforts to limit its impact.

"We must take action now to protect ourselves and those around us and reduce the risk of further restrictions being imposed over Christmas.

“If we continue to follow the guidance – wearing face coverings indoors, practicing good hand and surface hygiene, testing regularly and, vitally, getting both jags and, if eligible, the booster – we can hopefully return to some sense of normality over the festive season while protecting one another from infection.

“We’ve come so far over the last year and a half, there’s no reason to stop now, so let’s pull together to slow the virus’s spread.”

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