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Lochaber and Skye constituency MSP Kate Forbes has welcomed today’s (Wednesday) confirmation from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that hospitality businesses in the Highlands can continue to operate to an extent over the school October holidays, but appealed to Highland residents to comply fully with the new coronavirus restrictions.
Ms Sturgeon announced that the new measures will take place nationwide – with the exception of the five health board areas of Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire & Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley – and will see pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes able to operate indoors on the following very restricted basis only:
During the day, from 6am to 6pm, for the service of food and non-alcoholic drinks only.
Hotel restaurants will be able to operate beyond 6pm, but only for residents and without alcohol.
And all the current regulations and the limits on meeting a maximum of six people from two households in indoor public places will still apply.
Bars, pubs, restaurants and cafes can continue to serve alcohol outdoors up to the existing curfew time of 10pm, and subject to the six people from two groups rule on group size.
Exempt to these rules – in all parts of Scotland – will be weddings that are already booked and funerals. The current rules for those will continue to apply.
From this weekend and across Scotland, shops are also being asked to return to two-metre physical distancing and to reintroduce the mitigations they put in place earlier in the pandemic – for example, one-way systems in supermarkets.
There will also be regulation for mandatory face coverings in indoor communal and social settings, such as corridors and canteens.
According to the latest available information from Public Health Scotland, the Highland region has had 55 cases over the past week (September 29 to October 5) and a seven-day positive rate per 100,000 of population of 23.3.
There are additional restrictions for the Central Belt, which accounts for roughly 75 per cent of Scotland’s positive tests.
Ms Sturgeon told parliament today that actions are needed now to prevent a return to the peak level of infections experienced in spring by the end of this month.
She said: ‘While there are significant restrictions still in place – and they are hard and painful – we are living much more freely now than in the spring and early summer.
‘We are determined – if at all possible – that this will continue to be the case. We are not going back into lockdown today. We are not closing schools. We are not halting the remobilisation of the NHS for non-Covid care. And we are not asking people to stay at home.
‘The need for action is highlighted by today’s figures and, more fundamentally, in the evidence paper published today. To try to interrupt this trajectory, we must act now. While the measures will feel like a backward step, they are in the interests of protecting our progress overall.
‘It is by taking the tough but necessary action now that we hope to avoid even tougher action in future.’
The new restrictions, backed by a new £40 million support fund for business and the existing UK Job Retention Scheme, will be in place nationwide for 16 days, with tighter restrictions across central belt areas where the infection rate is highest.
Ms Forbes told the Lochaber Times: ‘I support the fact that these measures recognise the particular challenges in the central belt and don’t impose all of the same restrictions on a national basis.
‘I welcome the more differentiated, targeted approach to restrictions, particularly when the figures are lower in the Highlands.
‘As it is the October holidays, and tourism accommodation businesses in the Highlands are reliant on trade, this also allows for hospitality businesses to continue to operate to an extent and for accommodation like self-catering to welcome guests.
‘This is a difficult time – of that, there is no question. It is vitally important that we all comply with the restrictions so that these new measures have the required impact and we can return to some semblance of normality as quickly possible.’
The Leader and Depute Leader of The Highland Council have also welcomed the targeted approach being taken by the Scottish Government.
Highland Council Leader, Councillor Margaret Davidson said: ‘We share the concerns of the rising number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country and although they are fewer in The Highland Council area we are not complacent as they are increasing in most Health Board Areas including NHS Highland.
‘We welcome that the Scottish Government has not introduced blanket measures across the country and that the hospitality sector – which is a major employer in Highland – will have the opportunity to continue to function – albeit in reduced measures.
‘This will, however, be difficult for the hospitality industry and we have yet to see the detail of support to be provided to businesses in the Highlands.’
However, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said jobs and businesses need to be protected and the Scottish Government needs to make sure that businesses on the edge are not forced over that edge.
She commented: ‘This is timed to coincide with the school holidays, yet the Government has not supplied the number of Covid cases associated with schools.
‘It seems incredibly unfair that hospitality businesses have invested in making changes to their establishments to fulfil the guidelines which are now rendered useless by these new regulations.
‘It is also strange that Orkney and Shetland, where there are no new cases, are being treated the same as places where there are substantial increases.
‘The Scottish Government now needs to publish the science so that people can understand the thinking behind these new restrictions in order to ensure compliance.’