Covid in Scotland: New alcohol rules ‘will cost thousands of jobs’

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The temporary closure of pubs and restaurants across the central belt of Scotland could cost thousands of jobs, industry leaders have warned.

Licensed premises in five health board areas will close from 18:00 on Friday until 25 October.

Elsewhere, they will have reduced opening hours and be barred from selling alcohol indoors.

The Scottish government has said the new rules are needed to bring the virus back under control.

It has argued that licensed premises are one of the key spreaders of Covid, and is making an additional £40m available for affected businesses.

Industry leaders have criticised a lack of information about how the funding will be allocated – with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying more detail will be provided on Friday.

Ms Sturgeon pointed to the country again having recorded more 1,000 new cases in a day as evidence that the “hard and painful” restrictions were needed to protect people’s health.

And she said the number of coronavirus patients in Scottish hospitals has doubled to 377 over the past week, with 31 being treated in intensive care.

A further five people have died after testing positive for the virus.

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Pubs in some areas will still be able to sell alcohol outside

Pubs and restaurants have questioned the scientific evidence behind the decision to shut down them down – and have claimed they were being unfairly singled out.

UK Hospitality’s executive director for Scotland, Willie Macleod, said many businesses would not survive the new measures – with a “horrific” impact on jobs.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Closing bars and restaurants is going to have a massive impact on businesses that are really just climbing back from a prolonged period of lockdown.

“They have reopened with reduced capacity to cope with social distancing, they were then hit by the 10pm curfew, and with reduced demand and reduced consumer confidence. Business resilience is as low as it can be.

“Many businesses won’t survive and I’m afraid we’re going to see tens of thousands of job losses by the time we do the final count on all of this.”

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Pubs across the central belt will have to close at 18:00 on Friday

Pubs and restaurants will be closed in five health board areas – Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley, Lothian and Ayrshire and Arran – where about 3.4 million people live.

Elsewhere in Scotland, hospitality venues can open inside from 06:00 until 18:00 to sell soft drinks and food, while alcohol can be served in outside areas until 22:00.

Some areas of England are expected have similar rules imposed over the coming days.

Stephen Leckie, who runs the Crieff Hydro hotel, said he had 50 cancellations from customers within an hour of the first minister’s announcement on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Leckie, who is also chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the new measures had caused widespread confusion for business owners and customers.

He said: “This industry is in tatters, it’s in trouble and now there’s turmoil. We have questions to ask, many customers are asking questions and are cancelling in their droves.”

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Michael McHugh said he is at the end of his tether

His views were echoed by Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, who said: “These measures will sound the death knell for businesses across the hospitality sector, especially pubs and bars.

“Restaurants and hotels, whilst remaining open, will also be constrained on what they can provide and this will place a large dent in their already reduced income.”

And pub owner Michael McHugh, who owns Alexander’s Bar in Clydebank, said he was “at the end of my tether” and finding it increasingly difficult to reassure his staff that their jobs were safe.

He added: “How can you run a business when every other week you’re getting shut down?”

Gretna hotelier Alasdair Houston said most of the industry, and its customers, had been behaving responsibly.

“Deal with the rule breakers; don’t punish the rule followers by adding yet more and killing the sector,” he said.

“The industry is being lumped together good with bad, and the primary problem is idiots breaking all the rules.”

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Crieff Hydro owner Stephen Leckie said there had been a raft of cancellations following the announcement

Shops across Scotland will also be asked to return to 2m physical distancing from this weekend, and to reintroduce measures such as one-way systems.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said many shops would be baffled at the request “in the absence of any evidence which shows shops are a source of infection”.

He added: “These additional restrictions may make it impractical for some to trade at all for this period, and the government must urgently provide details of the proposed support for these viable businesses.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the new restrictions were needed to prevent the virus spreading to levels similar to the peak of the pandemic by the end of the month.

She admitted that the restrictions would be hard on businesses, especially as employers’ contributions to the furlough scheme have increased.

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Shops have been told to reintroduce 2m distancing and one-way systems

Her deputy, John Swinney, told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that the Scottish government had had to find the extra £40 to support the sector.

He said: “It is not extra resources we have had from the UK government, we have had to dig deep into our own resources to find the money to support the hospitality sector through what I accept is going to be a difficult period for them.

“But we are doing that because we must take wider action to protect the public interests in these circumstances.”

He said the government has to “stop the opportunities for interaction where the virus can spread, that appears to be emerging from some aspects of the hospitality sector”.

Rules for the five health boards areas

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  • All licensed premises – with the exception of hotels for residents – will be required to close indoors and outdoors, although takeaways will be permitted
  • Cafes which do not have an alcohol licence will be able to stay open until 18:00
  • Snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls will also close in the five health board areas for two weeks from 10 October
  • Contact sports for people aged 18 and over will be suspended for the next two weeks – with an exception for professional sports
  • Indoor group exercise activities will not be allowed, although the current rules will remain in place for under 18s and gyms can remain open for individual exercise
  • Outdoor live events will not be permitted for the next fortnight.

There will be no travel ban in any of the areas, but people in the central belt have been urged to avoid public transport unless it is “absolutely necessary”.

And they have also been advised not to travel outside of the health board area they live in if they do not need to.

Rules for the rest of Scotland

  • Pubs, restaurants and cafes are being barred from selling alcohol indoors from 18:00 on Friday until 25 October
  • They can open inside from 06:00 until 18:00 to sell soft drinks and food
  • They will be able to sell alcohol for outside areas until 22:00

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