Nicola Sturgeon imposes tough travel limits on more than half Scotland's council areas

Simon Johnson
·5-min read
Nicola Sturgeon wearing a face mask arrives for the First Minister's Questions session at the Scottish Parliament - PA
Nicola Sturgeon wearing a face mask arrives for the First Minister's Questions session at the Scottish Parliament - PA

Nicola Sturgeon has imposed tough new travel restrictions on residents in most of Scotland's council areas despite some having much lower coronavirus rates.

The First Minister announced that 19 of Scotland's 32 local authorities would be placed in level 3 of her new five-tier system when it is launched at 6am on Monday. 

They included councils across the Central Belt such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, along with Dundee, Stirling and Ayrshire. No areas were put in the lowest level zero or highest level 4, which is equivalent to almost a full lockdown.

As disclosed by the Telegraph, she said level 3 residents should not "travel outside the council area you live in - unless you require to do so for essential reasons."

Although 3.4 million people in the Central Belt have been ordered to stay within their health board areas for the past few weeks, council areas are far smaller and the new travel restrictions encompass more of the country.

But Ms Sturgeon faced a backlash after huge disparities emerged between the coronavirus rates of local authorities placed together in the tier.

Inverclyde recorded only 68 cases per 100,000 people and East Lothian 82 cases, but she put them in level 3 along with South Lanarkshire, which recorded 393 cases per 100,000.

Both Inverclyde and East Lothian also recorded a lower Covid-19 rate than Fife (84), which Ms Sturgeon placed in level 2 with much less stringent restrictions.

Residents in level 2 councils are permitted to travel to level 1 or 2 areas across the country. Pubs and restaurants are barred from serving alcohol in level 3 areas but are permitted to do so with meals in level 2 councils.

Iain Gray, the Labour MSP for East Lothian, said: "Frankly, I am not going to be able to explain this to my constituents."

Business leaders urged Ms Sturgeon to explore "alternative policies" to the level 3 travel ban, warning that many rural companies are "dependent on visitors from the city."

But the First Minister said the restrictions on residents leaving their council area were an "absolutely essential part of any regional approach to tackle Covid."

She told the Scottish Parliament that without them "the virus will spread from high to lower prevalence areas" and "we would have to return to national restrictions."

Although there are limited exemptions for essential work, education, shopping or caring responsibilities, these do not cover non-essential visits to family or friends in other council areas.

Ms Sturgeon said the Covid-19 rate over the most recent week was only one of five key factors used to determine in which level of restrictions each council was placed.

Each council's level is to be reviewed weekly. The next update will take place on Nov 10 with any changes due to take effect three days later.

Nicola Sturgeon has announced the level of restrictions for each of Scotland's 32 council areas - PA
Nicola Sturgeon has announced the level of restrictions for each of Scotland's 32 council areas - PA

Addressing Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said she had taken a "deliberately cautious approach" at the launch of the new system and it was not currently "prudent or safe" to place any councils in level zero with minimal restrictions.

But she said she hoped that would change in the weeks ahead and Highland, Moray, the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland council areas would start in level 1. Pubs there will be allowed to stay open until 10.30pm and serve drinks without meals.

Ms Sturgeon said a nationwide ban on indoor visits to other homes would remain in place for the time being, but she hoped this would be lifted shortly in level 1 areas to allow up to six people from two households to meet.

The First Minister said she placed the Borders and Argyll and Bute in level 2 and Invercylde in level 3 because of their close connections with other parts of the country with higher rates.

Listing the other councils in level 3, Ms Sturgeon said: "We would hope that at a very early review point, we will be able to consider moving some areas, I think East Lothian in particular and possibly Edinburgh, from level 3 to level 2, reasonably soon."

She put Dundee in level 3 following a surge in cases but spared Perth and Kinross and Angus from being placed in the same tier despite their "travel patterns and interdependencies" with the city.

Ms Sturgeon said she had made a "borderline" decision to put North and South Lanarkshire in tier 3 rather than 4 despite as their high case, test positivity and hospital patient numbers were "stabilising".

Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: "Whilst the First Minister did not announce a full national lockdown, the majority of Scotland has been designated within Level 3. This will have an immediate impact on businesses confidence and survival.

“In addition, the consequences of imposing additional travel restrictions between areas and levels will result in decreased tourism, also impacting on retailing and hospitality. The effects of this in town centres and for out-of-town retail centres in the key pre-Christmas period must not be underestimated."

Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses' Scotland policy chair, said: "The travel ban outlined by the First Minister has significant implications for many businesses, like rural firms dependent on visitors from the city. At the earliest possible opportunity, ministers must explore alternative policies on this front." 

Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: "The Scottish Government’s tiered COVID-19 alert system will only lead to chaos and failure. This approach is neither ‘proportionate’ or ‘sustainable’."