Nicola Sturgeon is rocked by coronavirus lockdown backlash

Nicola Sturgeon faces backlash over plan for ‘indefinite’ five-tier system of restrictions that would plunge most of Scotland into almost full lockdown… far WORSE than measures in England

  • Nicola Sturgeon faces backlash over her plans for five-tier system of restrictions 
  • First Minister to take harsher approach than Boris Johnson in regional lockdowns
  • Move could put large areas under restrictions similar to full lockdown in March
  • Pubs, restaurants and retailers in Scotland say they face a catastrophic winter 
  • It comes amid dire predictions that two-thirds of hospitality firms could close

Nicola Sturgeon is facing a backlash over her plans for a five-tier system of restrictions which could put millions in almost full lockdown.

The First Minister is to take a harsher approach than Boris Johnson in imposing regional lockdowns to battle Covid-19.

Tomorrow she is expected to set out her five-tier strategy, with the highest level potentially placing large areas under restrictions similar to the full lockdown in March.

Pubs, restaurants and retailers say they face a catastrophic winter amid dire predictions that two-thirds of hospitality firms could close.

The licensed trade said businesses had been kept ‘completely in the dark’ about the fresh wave of regulations, and warned the sector was ‘staring into the abyss’, with thousands of jobs at risk.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks at a press conference in Edinburgh yesterday

Shoppers walk yesterday along Princes Street, which is the main shopping area in Edinburgh

The First Minister also refused to rule out school closures in badly affected areas, saying ‘blended learning’ could be reintroduced under extreme circumstances.

It came as Scotland recorded its deadliest day since May, with 28 deaths linked to Covid-19 registered in 24 hours. 

Q&A on Scotland’s coronavirus lockdown

I live in the Central Belt, which is under the strongest restrictions in Scotland at present. Will we be placed into the highest tier when the new system comes in?

It is expected that no areas will initially be placed into the top, fifth tier under current proposals. Instead, areas under the toughest restrictions at present will likely be placed in the fourth tier when the system comes into force on November 2. This could involve a continuation of current restrictions, such as the closure of licensed premises.

Our children missed a lot of school towards the end of the last academic year because of the Covid-19 lockdown. Could schools close again?

Nicola Sturgeon has said her ‘default’ position is to keep schools open through any future lockdown and has highlighted other countries which kept the education system going, even during full lockdown. Under the new tier system, schools should not automatically close, even if the local area enters the top alert level. It’s thought a ‘judgment’ will be made on a case-by-case basis over whether pupils would be sent home.

Are there any tiers that would see life go back to normal?

Yes, under tier zero, it is expected that life would resemble pre-pandemic normality.

Will the tiers be implemented at health board or local authority level?

It is thought restrictions will be set by council area, rather than health board, as is the case with current restrictions.

What will be the rules for areas in the highest tier?

Those living in an area placed under top tier restrictions would experience limitations almost as severe as the full lockdown imposed across the UK in March, when people were told to ‘stay at home’ and there were strict limits on travel.

What will the three middle tiers involve?

These are said to ‘broadly mirror’ the English system. The ‘rule of six’ is expected to apply in the second tier, meaning people can only socialise indoors or outdoors in groups of six adults from a maximum of two households. The rule will apply to pubs and restaurants, where customers will also be required to wear face coverings indoors when they are not eating and drinking. The next tier will reportedly see Scots prohibited from socialising in any indoor setting with people from outside their household or extended household. The rule of six continues to apply for socialising outdoors.

In the fourth tier, it is expected that people will be prohibited from socialising indoors or outdoors with anybody they do not live with, or with whom they have not formed an extended household.

A further 1,739 people tested positive, with 49 patients admitted to hospital. There are now 73 people in intensive care units across the country.

The new five-tier system is due to be rolled out on November 2.

Miss Sturgeon said current restrictions on pubs and restaurants would remain in place until then.

According to business bosses, they had been assured that the First Minister would remain ‘as closely aligned with the rest of the UK as possible’.

But her comments yesterday revealed she is willing to impose far harsher restrictions than those in England.

Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, warned: ‘Hundreds of businesses are facing permanent closure and with that thousands of jobs will be lost – the damage could be irreparable.

‘We estimate that two-thirds of hospitality businesses could be mothballed or go under in the coming months. Over 50 per cent of jobs in the pub and bar sector could also be lost.’

During her Covid briefing yesterday, Miss Sturgeon said: ‘Let me explain the logic for the five tiers, which I think is very strong. 

‘The middle three tiers will be broadly equivalent to the three tiers in England which they describe as medium, high and very high.

‘We think we need one at the bottom, which is the level we would be aspiring to this side of getting a vaccine, which is closest to normality we could reasonably expect. 

‘We think it’s important to have that until we all know what we’re working towards. We also think we need another one [tier] at the top.’

Miss Sturgeon said that when Mr Johnson published his tier system, his Chief Medical Officer thought the top level was ‘not enough to necessarily, in all circumstances, get the virus down’.

She said Scotland’s top level would be closer to the ‘full lockdown’ imposed across the country in March, but at a local level. 

Miss Sturgeon signalled that schools would remain open in the top tier but depending on circumstances ‘a move to blended learning in some council areas could be required’.

The highest tier in England includes a ban on socialising with other households both indoors and outdoors. 

Pubs and bars are closed unless they operate as restaurants, with alcohol only served alongside a substantial meal.

Last night, the Scottish Beer and Pub Association hit out at Miss Sturgeon’s plans. 

A spokesman said: ‘There’s huge concern from businesses who are now completely in the dark about when they might be able to reopen again.

‘We don’t know how many tiers there will be, what the restrictions will be in each, or which areas are going to be in which tiers. 

‘The closure was meant to be temporary, but the announcement today and potential for further restrictions has left the trade staring into the abyss.’

A recent study revealed nearly 40 per cent of hospitality firms are considering closure. 

Meanwhile, retailers demanded ‘clarity’ about the five-tier system as the Christmas period approaches.

Two young men sit on a park bench in Edinburgh yesterday as the pandemic continues

A little girl runs past a sign outside a premises on Cockburn Street in Edinburgh yesterday

Scottish Retail Consortium director David Lonsdale said: ‘We have consistently called for greater visibility and clarity over potential next steps when it comes to future Covid restrictions, particularly in the run-up to the critical Christmas trading period.’

Scottish Tory health spokesman Brian Whittle said: ‘Businesses can’t go through another confusing SNP debacle like the one they’re still facing over what’s a café and what’s a restaurant.

‘Any confusion would only make it more difficult for people and businesses to do their bit to suppress the virus.’

Miss Sturgeon will tomorrow reveal details of financial support for the businesses affected in coming months.

She said this would be ‘broadly similar’ to that offered south of the Border by the UK Government. 

Miss Sturgeon added that she was urgently seeking to speak to the UK Treasury to enhance the spending packages.

Pubs face last orders: Business owners ‘feel betrayed over devastating week extension’

Pubs, bars and restaurants have warned they face ‘devastating’ consequences after Scotland’s two-week circuit breaker was extended by Nicola Sturgeon.

The hospitality sector yesterday claimed it had been ‘betrayed’ by the First Minister after she had ‘gone back’ on her word over the restrictions.

The current measures were meant to end on Monday, but Miss Sturgeon said she had made the ‘harsh’ decision to extend them until November 2.

‘We’ve done everything they asked… and we still have to close’ 

James Gulter, 40, and his wife Ioana, 34, run The Hermitage in Edinburgh’s Morningside area and the Spylaw bar in Colinton.

They have been forced to cut six jobs from their 28-strong workforce as a result of the pandemic lockdown measures.

Mr Gulter said he feels the hospitality sector has been unfairly targeted by the Scottish Government measures, which still allow hairdressers, shops and unlicensed cafes to trade.

James Gulter, 40, and his wife Ioana, 34, run The Hermitage in Edinburgh’s Morningside area and the Spylaw bar in Colinton

He said: ‘It’s really frustrating and annoying. The hospitality sector has been handled really poorly throughout the pandemic.

‘Another week isn’t going to put the nail in the coffin for us because we have savings but we haven’t been told what will happen the week after next, so we can’t plan.

‘December is our biggest month so we need to know what is coming. We are already probably going to lose office parties and big bookings before Christmas, so we are hoping to offer smaller groups a more premium service.

‘But who knows because every announcement has come with zero warning. It means we have had a lot of unnecessary waste with food and beer stocks.’

The couple took over the Hermitage in 2014 and then its larger sister pub the Spylaw in January 2019. Once the UK Government’s furlough scheme ends, the couple face paying a higher percentage of their staff’s wages.

The couple took over The Hermitage in Edinburgh’s Morningside area in 2014

Mr Gulter said both pubs have introduced every social distancing and track and trace measure required.

He said: ‘The customer feedback has been that they feel safe. We have done everything we have been asked to do and still told to close. If the Scottish Government knows something we don’t, then they need to tell us.’

This will see all licensed premises except cafes in the Central Belt forced to remain closed for an additional week.

Other restrictions such as a ban on indoor gym classes and contact sports for adults will also remain in place across the five health board areas – including Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and Lothian.

In other parts of Scotland, restaurants and pubs can stay open between 6am and 6pm – but alcohol is only allowed to be served until 10pm outside.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said: ‘This news is absolutely devastating for the sector.

‘We were told that these measures were to be ‘short’ and ‘sharp’ but now the Scottish Government have gone back on that, leaving operators feeling betrayed.

‘The extension of the economic support is welcome, but still in no way makes up for the lost income of another week fully closed. The trade now feels even more let down by the Government and unfairly targeted by the measures which are costing jobs and livelihoods.

‘Scotland’s pubs and bars have repeatedly been subject to some of the most penalising restrictions in the world, but without the evidence to back it up. The situation cannot continue.’

Speaking at her briefing yesterday, Miss Sturgeon said she had agreed, with her Cabinet, to extend the short-term restrictions to ensure a ‘smooth transition’ to the new five-tier system which will come into force on November 2.

Announcing the extension, she said: ‘I know all of this is really unwelcome and I know that these restrictions are harsh.

‘They are harsh financially for many individuals and businesses, and they are harsh emotionally for all of us.

‘I want to stress again none of these decisions are being taken lightly – this is about trying to minimise the health damage we know this virus is capable of doing.’

But business bosses hit out at the move, with Liz Cameron of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce saying that the hospitality sector would be ‘absolutely devastated that restrictions now look to be in place indefinitely’.

She said: ‘We were advised that temporary restrictions would help to reduce the spread of the virus. But now the temporary restrictions have been extended, which make it impossible for businesses to rebuild and protect jobs.

‘This short-term reactive approach is no longer enough. Where is the plan that we can all get alongside to help the Scottish Government to both manage the virus and ensure the economy can also return to health?’

Campaign for Real Ale spokesman Joe Crawford said that the announcement was a ‘hammer blow’ to pubs and breweries ‘who feel like they’re being offered up as a sacrificial lamb without sufficient evidence’.

Last night, hospitality bosses launched a Save Our Jobs campaign following Miss Sturgeon’s announcement.

It demands support from the Scottish and UK Governments to ensure up to 100,000 jobs are not lost in bars and restaurants across the country when the furlough scheme ends on October 31.

Michelin-star chef Tom Kitchin, Signature Group boss Nic Wood –the head of one of Scotland’s biggest pub groups – and other hospitality sector bosses and staff have joined the campaign.

Mr Kitchin said: ‘Our industry is in real need of help, especially having only just partly recovered from the first lockdown.

‘Eliminating the risks of the virus is our greatest concern, but there needs to be a balance for the hospitality future of Scotland.’

Mr Wood said that he hopes the campaign will highlight the plight of the young hospitality workforce, with 50 per cent of all staff aged between 16 and 24.

The Scottish Government has provided £40million to affected businesses over the original 16-day closure period, and Miss Sturgeon said this would be extended on a ‘proportionate’ basis.

Research shows that the industry spent around £15million on training and implementing social-distancing measures across the entire sector to reopen businesses and rebuild consumer confidence.

However, a large number of licensed premises have not reopened at all since March as they would not be viable as a result of a decrease in their capacity in order to adhere to social distancing regulations. 

Things, chums, aren’t going to get any easier: EUAN McCOLM watches Nicola Sturgeon deliver her update 

I’m not complaining,’ said Nicola Sturgeon, although it sounded very much like she was. During yesterday’s update on the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic, the First Minister explained she would announce details of a five-tier lockdown plan tomorrow.

Should MSPs support this proposal, it would come into effect on November 2.

Under questioning from journalists, Sturgeon sounded, well, rather touchy. She was going to take a flier, here, she said, and bet that if she had gone for a four-tier system, someone would have asked whether it was too complicated. If she had, on the other hand, gone for a three-tier system, someone would have asked whether that was too few.

It was at this point that the First Minister insisted she was not complaining. Anyone listening would have been forgiven for thinking that not only was she complaining but she was complaining about things that had not happened.

But, then, in Sturgeon-speak the simple denial of evidence is enough for the First Minister to believe it simply doesn’t exist. Yesterday, it was denying that she was complaining while she was in the process of complaining.

A few days ago, it was insisting that she had put independence campaigning on hold while dealing with Covid-19, despite the fact that barely a minute of any day passes without the SNP press office or one of Sturgeon’s furiously excitable colleagues demanding that a second independence referendum is given the green light.

The big news from yesterday’s First Ministerial briefing was that the two weeks of restrictions under which we are currently living is to become three weeks of restrictions.

Before you get your hopes up and imagine that, once that extra week is over, we may return to the sanctuary of the pub, I should warn you that this extra week has been put in place in order to allow the First Minister to seek the agreement of MSPs for a new raft of restrictions.

It seems, I’m afraid, that the restrictions are being temporarily extended in order that they can be extended for an even longer period.

The First Minister didn’t say this, explicitly. What she said was that it was important to be clear at this stage that her Government could not rule out the further extension of existing restrictions or the imposition of tougher restrictions for all or part of the country.

One need not be a crack code-breaker to decipher that message. Things, chums, are not going to get any easier any time soon.

Sturgeon rarely has a good word to say about members of political parties other than the SNP (with the exception of her pet budgies in the Scottish Greens, of course) but she was supportive of Labour’s Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, who is currently at war with the UK Government over financial support for his region.

As the saying goes, ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, and Burnham falls cleanly into that category (remember, Labour politicians are only red Tories if they have the audacity to seek election in Scotland).

Previously, Sturgeon has been keen to differentiate the reaction to coronavirus in Scotland from the reaction across England. But now she sees allies where previously stood foes.

I’m going to take a flier here and say if Manchester’s mayor had been a member of the Conservative Party, Sturgeon would have found a way of attacking his current position. Before anyone takes offence at this suggestion, let me make it perfectly clear: I’m not complaining.

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