Events and venues get green light to continue in Scotland despite Omicron threat

The Scottish Government has given the green light to events and venues to keep operating despite the impact of the new Omicron variant.

Edinburgh's Hogmanay torchlight procession.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the government did not want to stop people going to pantomimes, concerts and the cinema over the festive season – but stressed the importance of being vaccinated and taking a lateral flow test.

He suggested that new measures being introduced this week to reduce overcrowding and bottlenecks in key sectors would stop short of physical distancing rules which would close venues and events down, including over Hogmanay.

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The government has said that legal regulations will be put in place to ensure operators “take measures which are reasonably practicable to minimise the risk of transmission.”

Fireworks light up the sky over Edinburgh during the city's Hogmanay celebrations on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. Picture: Ian Georgeson

On Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted she was not asking anyone to “cancel Christmas” – but urged people to reduce interactions with other people and limit socialising in “indoor public places” to three households per group.

Speaking on Radio Scotland, Mr Swinney said: “The primary purpose of the guidance we set out was to encourage people to reduce their social interaction on either side of the formal Christmas period so that we can all enjoy that period with those that we love.

"There are other events which will be going on, whether that is the panto, visits to the cinema or large sporting events. We’re trying to strike a balance between household interaction and some of the wider events that people would have an expectation to be part of in the period that lies ahead.

“People should make sure they are vaccinated to the highest level they possibly can be and do a lateral flow test before they out to a particular event.

“We’re trying to strike balance. There’s no perfect black and white situation. We’re trying to provide people with guidance that will help with a communal effort to suppress the spread of a really contagious virus that is spreading at a very alarming rate.

"People are not going to the panto every night. They will be going once over the Christmas period. People will be looking forward to that. I know what the panto means to families and the joy of experiencing that together.

“We’re trying to say: ‘Go ahead with that safely, but try to then temper the amount of social interaction you have with multiple households on other occasions.”

Ms Sturgeon said the government would be “reinforcing” messaging on the importance of wearing face coverings - a legal requirement for venues, indoor events and nightclubs unless people are eating, drinking or dancing.

New guidance will be issued to urge people to wear masks in crowded outdoor areas such as Christmas markets and other festive celebrations.

There had been speculation that the reach of Scotland’s vaccine passports scheme, which currently affects all events with a capacity of more than 10,000, indoor events with a standing audience of more than 500 and late-night venues with music, alcohol and dancing, would be extended.However the move has been resisted by industry leaders because of the extra financial burden it would put on many venues and operators.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We want to keep businesses open but to help achieve this we are asking them to step up the protections in place in their premises.

“We intend to amend regulations to put a legal requirement on those running businesses or providing services to take measures which are reasonably practicable to minimise the risk of transmission.”

A spokeswoman for the government said: “The First Minister has announced the government’s intention to amend regulations to put a legal requirement on those running business or providing services, including theatres and concert halls, to take measures which are reasonably practicable to minimise the risk of transmission.”We will issue guidance this week to make clear what that means for different sectors.”

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations are expected to attract up to 15,000 participants for a torchlight parade through the Old Town, while 30,000 tickets are on sale for the main party on Princes Street.

Edinburgh city council leader Adam McVey said: “Over the coming days we’ll be carefully reviewing the public health guidance shared by the Scottish Government to assess what measures we need to take, both in our own buildings, schools and events being held in the city.”

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