Nicola Sturgeon has announced a nationwide ban on drinking indoors in pubs, bars and restaurants across Scotland for more than two weeks, and a full shutdown of all licensed premises across the central belt where infection rates are accelerating most rapidly.
The first minister told the Scottish parliament on Wednesday that the targeted measures were intended to be a “short, sharp action to arrest a worrying increase in infection”. She said a further 1,054 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 24 hours.
For 16 days from Friday at 6pm, all pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes must operate on a daytime-only basis, from 6am to 6pm, and for the service of food and non-alcoholic drinks only. They can continue to serve alcohol outdoors up to the current curfew of 10pm.
In five health board areas that are causing greatest concern – Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, the Lothians, Ayrshire and Arran, and Forth Valley – all licensed premises must close indoors and outdoors, although takeaways will be permitted. Hotels can serve evening meals to residents but not alcohol. Cafes that do not have an alcohol licence will be able to stay open until 6pm.
People living in those five areas are being asked to avoid public transport and not to travel outside the area they live in unless they have to, although Sturgeon said she was not asking people to cancel half-term holidays they had already booked.
Sturgeon said the Scottish government would be making available an additional £40m to support businesses that would be affected by the measures over the next two weeks.
Insisting that the temporary shutdown of licensed premises was “essential” in removing one of the key opportunities the virus has to jump from household to household, Sturgeon told MSPs: “That risk can be increased in some hospitality premises if good ventilation is difficult, and if it is hard to control the movement of people. And the presence of alcohol can of course affect people’s willingness to physically distance.”
Sturgeon said that without these temporary measures, there was a risk that the virus would run out of control by the end of the month, and she hoped this immediate intervention would help to keep schools and businesses open over the winter.
The hospitality industry reacted with anger and despair at the news, attacking the Scottish government for failing to consult on the measures before the announcement in Holyrood.
Describing the measures as “a hammer blow to Scotland’s hospitality sector and the businesses that rely on it”, James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said: “This may seem a short-term, two-week hit but it is targeted at businesses that are barely clinging on to survival.”
Liz Cameron, the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, condemned the “complete and utter lack of consultation with business”, which she said “only serves to compound the blows of these restrictions”. She added: “These measures will sound the death knell for businesses across the hospitality sector, especially pubs and bars.”
The Scottish Beer & Pub Association said the £40m offered by Sturgeon was unlikely to save many businesses. “The available funds will not even come close to covering the required furlough contributions for the period, never mind ongoing fixed costs and stock,” said its chief executive, Emma McClarkin.
The Scottish Conservatives’ Holyrood leader, Ruth Davidson, said Sturgeon had failed to provide businesses with the answers they needed. “A discussion about how to compensate businesses that might be affected by any new measures should have taken place weeks ago. A one-day consultation after today’s announcement – and just hours before businesses are forced to close their doors – is just not good enough.”
Sturgeon said her government would introduce regulations to extend the mandatory use of face coverings in indoor communal settings, for example in staff canteens and corridors in workplaces, and that from this weekend and across Scotland shops would be asked to return to 2-metre physical distancing and to reintroduce one-way systems where possible.
National restrictions in Scotland were already more stringent than elsewhere in the UK. Last month Scots were banned from visiting other homes, with strict limits of six people from two households also in force for outdoor meetings and a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants.
There had been intense speculation before Sturgeon’s statement about the nature of the “circuit-breaker” restrictions, which ministers and public health officials have been floating for more than a week.
On Tuesday Sturgeon moved to reassure the public that additional restrictions would not amount to a full lockdown, following growing parental and business anxiety about the possibility of school or hospitality closures.
Less than an hour before Sturgeon’s announcement, Holyrood’s presiding officer, Ken Macintosh, called for a meeting of all parties to discuss “developing parliament’s scrutiny role in respect of Covid-related decisions”, stating: “It is time for the parliament to reassert its role in holding the government to account.”