Scotland’s toughest coronavirus restrictions are to be imposed on 11 council areas, with Nicola Sturgeon saying their move to Level 4 will help protect the NHS and could give people the chance of some respite at Christmas.
The First Minister described the step as “unpalatable but necessary” as she promised £60 million of support funding, including help for affected businesses.
Retailers branded the move, which will close all non-essential stores in the 11 affected local authority areas, as a “hammer blow” to the hard-pressed sector.
The First Minister has announced Level 4 restrictions will be imposed in Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.
The measures, which come into force from 6pm on Friday, will run until December 11.
They will take effect at the same time as a ban on people in Level 3 and Level 4 areas travelling outside of their council boundaries for non-essential purpose comes into law.
Ms Sturgeon said the move to Level 4 is “necessary to ensure that the NHS can cope with the range of pressures it will face over the winter”.
She told Holyrood on Tuesday: “We must ensure that hospital and ICU services are there, not just for those with Covid but for everyone who needs them.
“That means we must get case numbers down from current levels before going into a period when winter pressures will increase.”
She added: “These decisions will give us the best possible chance – albeit in a limited and careful way – of being able to ease restrictions in all parts of Scotland for Christmas.”
It comes as Scotland recorded 37 deaths from coronavirus and 1,248 positive cases in the past 24 hours.
In the seven days up to Friday November 13, cases across Scotland were recorded at the rate of 140 new infections per 100,000 people.
Ms Sturgeon said the 11 areas moving to Level 4 all had a higher rate than that, ranging from West Lothian at 158 cases per 100,000 to Glasgow at 277.
Infection levels in these areas remain “stubbornly and worryingly high”, she said.
The First Minister added: “At these levels, we simply do not have the assurance we need that hospital and ICU services will be able to cope as we go deeper into winter.”
The Scottish Conservatives’ Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson raised concerns NHS Lanarkshire, Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Ayrshire and Arran “could run out of Covid hospital beds in the next few weeks and ICU capacity in those areas, along with Fife and Forth Valley, will also soon be reached”.
1,098,234 people in Scotland have been tested for #coronavirus
The total confirmed as positive has risen by 1,248 to 83,259
Sadly 37 more patients who tested positive have died (3,323 in total)
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) November 17, 2020
The move to Level 4 means as well as non-essential shops, bars and restaurants will have to close – though takeaways will be permitted – along with visitor attractions, hairdressers and gyms.
Ms Sturgeon acknowledged there will be an impact on business but said: “The difference between Level 3 and Level 4 for Lanarkshire, for Glasgow, for these other areas, may be also fewer people dying over the next period and it may be the difference between our NHS being able to cope and not cope.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde chief executive Jane Grant said: “We understand that for many the increased Covid restrictions that have been announced today will be disappointing.
“However, given the increased pressures on our essential services and the rising number of people in our hospitals with Covid, we are hopeful that these restrictions will help to drive the number of cases in our area down and help to protect our local communities.
“We currently have more than 700 people in our hospitals with Covid, this number has been increasing steadily for a number of weeks.
“Our staff and services are under the same levels of pressure as they were at the peak of the first Covid wave so we hope these new restrictions will help us to continue to provide vital services and support to our staff, patients and their loved ones.”
Companies that have to shut will be eligible for grants, with Ms Sturgeon announcing the Scottish Government will establish a £30 million discretionary fund so councils can “provide additional support for businesses where they consider that necessary or justified”.
A further £15 million go to helping newly self-employed people, with the same amount again going to local authorities to help with the “community and social impact of a move to Level 4”, the First Minister added.
While many businesses will have to close, she restated that keeping schools open in Level 4 areas remains a “priority”.
While 11 council areas will move into Level 4, Ms Sturgeon announced two – Midlothian and East Lothian – will have restrictions eased as they move from Level 3 to Level 2.
The remaining 19 council areas will not change level.