Watch: More coronavirus restrictions are 'possible' in Scotland
A “circuit breaker” shutdown of parts of the Scottish economy is to be announced as early as Tuesday, after Nicola Sturgeon warned that a failure to adopt tough new measures to counter a surge in Covid-19 cases would cost lives.
The First Minister was on Monday night preparing to announce a series of new curbs which is likely to include new restrictions on the already struggling hospitality industry, which could include a temporary shutdown of pubs and restaurants.
The reintroduction of limits on leisure travel was also under consideration. The new rules are set to be imposed nationwide within the coming days, and remain in place on a temporary basis, potentially for a fortnight, to coincide with the October school holidays.
Speaking at her daily press conference on Monday, Ms Sturgeon told Scots that while she was reluctant to bring in new restrictions, there was an urgent need to bring the virus back under control following a rapid rise in its spread.
NS: "If we decide that extra restrictions are necessary, it will be because we deem it necessary and vital to get the virus back under control and avoid unnecessary loss of life."
— The SNP (@theSNP) October 5, 2020
However, the prospect of a further lockdown was branded “unacceptable” by business leaders, who warned that it would take the economy “back to square one”.
A move to “keep switching the lights of the economy on and off” would risk not just jobs but the wellbeing of entire communities, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce warned.
On Monday, a further 697 people were reported as having tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland over the previous 24 hours, with cases also on the rise among the highly vulnerable elderly population. Among the 75-84 age group, the number of positive cases rose to the highest levels since the middle of May. There has been a sharp rise in the number of people in hospital with the virus over recent days.
Ms Sturgeon was due to agree a “package” of new restrictions with her scientific advisers on Monday afternoon before presenting them to her cabinet on Tuesday morning. They could be announced at Holyrood as soon as Tuesday afternoon.
Over recent days, ministers and Scottish Government advisers have repeatedly talked up the prospect of a “short, sharp shock” to the spread of the virus, in the form of temporary restrictions, that could “buy time” ahead of winter.
Documents leaked a fortnight ago ago show that among the other measures under consideration for a two-week lockdown were the reintroduction of the stay at home message, the closure of entertainment venues such as cinemas and shutting hairdressers.
The First Minister said that no final decision had been taken. She said the term circuit breaker could mean "a number of things" and that it "could well be" that any new measures would not be as severe as the full lockdown the UK went into in March.
However, it would leave the Scottish public facing significantly tighter restrictions on their lives than those in other parts of the UK.
A blanket ban on going to other people’s homes is already in force north of the border, a measure that has only been adopted on a localised basis in England.
Warning that new measures may be needed in the “near future”, Ms Sturgeon said: “It is vital we do everything we can to get the situation under control, of course in a proportional way.
“I know nobody wants to be contemplating these restrictions right now, I don’t want to be contemplating these restrictions. But we know from experience that getting this virus under control as quickly as possible helps to save lives. Counter to that is not acting to get it under control costs lives that would otherwise be saved, so this really matters.
"If we decide extra restrictions are necessary, it is because we deem it vital to get the virus under control and avoid unnecessary loss of life."
While Ms Sturgeon said economic considerations would be taken into account, the prospect of further nationwide measures have horrified businesses.
She singled out the hospitality sector - pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes - as an area in which “we may have to go further for a period”. She has previously hinted strongly that she would have closed pubs again by now, had she had more economic powers to support the businesses.
Gregor Smith, the Chief Medical Officer, said that shopping, social spaces in workplaces as well as hospitality venues had been linked to the recent surge in cases, alongside meeting indoors.
Tim Allan, President of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, described the prospect of a “further blanket lockdown” as “unacceptable to Scottish businesses.”
Responding to Ms Sturgeon’s comments, he said the move would “damage consumer and business confidence which have already taken an unprecedented economic hit throughout this crisis". He instead backed targeted local measures in “problem areas”.
He added: “Returning to national lockdown measures will take our economy back to square one - we simply cannot continue to keep switching the lights of the economy on and off. It risks not just jobs but the wellbeing of entire communities.
“In the vast majority of cases, the recent growth and spread of the virus is not coming from business-managed environments. Companies across Scotland have invested heavily to protect its customers and employees - we are playing an outsized role in the fight against the spread of the virus.
“We know the virus will be with us for a long time. We must learn to manage it so we can carry on with our lives and protect livelihoods while keeping the risk of transmission as low as possible."