Nicola Sturgeon cancels lockdown easing in Glasgow amid Indian variant fears

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Nicola Sturgeon has said Glasgow will not move to Level 2 on Monday - PA
Nicola Sturgeon has said Glasgow will not move to Level 2 on Monday - PA

Nicola Sturgeon has cancelled the easing of lockdown in Glasgow on Monday following evidence the more transmissible Indian Covid variant is "driving" the surge of cases in the city.

The First Minister said an outbreak in the south side of Scotland's largest city meant it would join Moray by staying in Level 3 of her lockdown restrictions, while the rest of the mainland moves to Level 2.

People are advised not to travel in or out of the two council areas and their 730,000 residents will not be allowed to meet up in one another's homes or hug loved ones, as is planned in the rest of the country.

The decision also means that bars and restaurants will continue to be banned from serving alcohol indoors, delivering a devastating blow to licensed premises in the city which had spent thousands of pounds preparing to reopen for the first time since last October.

Mario Gizzi, owner of the DRG group of restaurants, said: "It’s an absolute disgrace. Not only have our plans been thrown up in the air but it’s been done last thing on a Friday night."

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Ms Sturgeon said she had taken the "difficult decision" after official figures showed Glasgow, with 80.4 cases per 100,000 people, had overtaken Moray (69) as having the country's highest Covid rate.

She confirmed Glasgow and Moray would remain in Level 3 in response to an urgent question at Holyrood from Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, and disclosed the situation in the city was causing her the greater concern.

The Glasgow cases are concentrated mainly in the south of the city, with one district, Pollokshields West, having a local case rate of 1,008 per 100,000 population. The benchmark for a move to Level 2 is 50 cases.

“An additional and very significant factor in Glasgow is evidence suggesting the outbreak, which is heavily centered at the moment in the south side of the city, is being driven by the so-called Indian variant," she said.

“We do not yet have a full understanding of the impact of this variant including on the protection afforded by the vaccines.

“However, it is thought that this variant could be significantly more transmissible than even the Kent variant that was identified before Christmas and that alone calls for an appropriate degree of caution.”

She said that public health teams were "optimistic that enhanced testing and vaccination will be capable of getting this situation under control" and hospitality and leisure firms in the city would be eligible for up to £750 per week of support.

Ms Sturgeon argued that "caution will be in the greater and better interests of businesses than allowing things to go ahead and perhaps this time next week looking at going into reverse or having to impose even more heavy restrictions."

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader and Moray MP - PA
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader and Moray MP - PA

Despite the Covid rate in Moray still being more than double the Scottish average of 30 cases per 100,000 people, she said there was "grounds for cautious optimism that the situation is improving" there.

She said it was "prudent" to keep the area in level three for another week "so we can be more confident that the situation is firmly under control".

The Scottish Government will review the situation in both areas at the end of next week and work with the local councils and health boards on measures including enhanced testing and vaccination.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it would "strongly encourage" the public to take a Covid test and was "actively pursuing ways to ensure vaccination uptake is as high as possible", particularly in the most affected areas of the city.

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But Mr Gizzi said his firm had spent more than £6,000 getting staff ready for Monday's cancelled reopening at just one of its bars in Glasgow, with around the same again on fresh produce.

He said: "It’s outrageous to have these hugely damaging decisions taken by people who have no idea of how the hospitality industry runs. When you look at the figures the offer of £750 in grant compensation really is a joke.”

Stephen Montgomery, of the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: "I asked the Scottish Government on Wednesday for a heads-up about any changes and we didn’t get anything back.

"Here we are a full year on and it seems decision-makers have learned nothing and it’s shameful to be treating people this way."

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Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses' Scotland policy chair, said local firms and customers in Glasgow and Moray would be "crushed".

"The damage of this change, especially in Glasgow, is exacerbated by the lateness of this announcement. It means wasted stock, disappointed customers and increased debt," he said.

"While the action proposed may or may not be necessary, pushing it out the door at close of play on a Friday will further undermine independent businesses.”

Councillor Susan Aitken, the SNP leader of Glasgow City Council, said the decision was "desperately disappointing" but added: " The safety of our communities; the most vulnerable people within them, and the long-term health of the city must come first."

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