Call for one-metre distancing or ‘many pubs and restaurants’ will close

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Scotland’s tourism bosses have called on the Scottish Government to agree a one-metre social distancing rule or face a string of pub and restaurant closures.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) said the World Health Organisation considered one metre a safe distance and that it had been implemented in Spain, Italy, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway.

But if Scotland insists on maintaining a two-metre rule, it would be ‘unviable’ for many businesses, including those licensed to sell drinks, according to the STA.

Marc Crothall, chief executive, said all business operators recognised that ‘the focus must be on staff and customer safety and not putting profit before safety’.

The industry’s concerns were outlined in a letter to Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing.

The letter was signed, among others, by the Argyll and the Isles Tourism Co-Operative, the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers and the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions.

Mr Crothall said ‘the majority’ of businesses believed that a two-metre rule  would require them to remain shut until such time as there was a change in distancing measures.

‘Many may not be able to hold out until then and the difference could mean many tens of thousands of jobs being saved or lost,’ wrote Mr Crothall.

He echoed calls that the Scottish tourism industry needs a ‘clearer timescale’ to reopening or the public would book elsewhere.

The STA has said tourism must be up and running again ‘within a month’ in some form – such as self-catering, caravan and camping parks.

Having defined dates would allow businesses to plan, accept bookings, arrange for the return of staff from furlough, carry out training, prepare premises, make orders and manage finances, said Mr Crothall.

‘Most businesses need at least three weeks’ notice to be ready to open. It would also avoid the potential risk of businesses having no other option than to consider redundancies,’ he wrote.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently addressed the calls for a one-metre rule. She said: ‘Some voices are saying one-metre is sufficient so I want to take the opportunity to stress that the clear and the strong advice from the Scottish Government is to stay two metres apart from those in other households.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson said it did not ‘underestimate’ the impact of the pandemic on tourism.

But it said it was ‘essential’ that reopening of the sector was on ‘phased and gradual’ to protect public health.

‘As we slowly and cautiously ease lockdown measures, we have been clear we simply don’t want, in this phase, to see large numbers of people at tourist hot spots or local beauty spots,’ said the spokesperson.

‘Crowds of people – even if they’re trying to physically distance – bring more risk than we judge is acceptable and safe at this point.

‘No one wants this to go on any longer than is needed to protect people from the spread of the virus, and the timeline for further changes to restrictions will be based on the best scientific evidence available.

‘The plan developed by the Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group (STERG) on how to respond to the impact of the virus will help inform how we move forward as we slowly and carefully emerge from this crisis.’