The Scottish government has been accused of leaving hospitality "in limbo" after delaying the decision whether to ease Covid restrictions on the sector until next week.
Tougher measures were brought in after Christmas including the reintroduction of social distancing rules, limiting outdoor events to a capacity of 500 people, reintroducing one-metre social distancing in indoor hospitality and requiring venues selling alcohol to return to table service. The measures were due to last at least three weeks.
Following a review yesterday (11 January), first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that outdoor event capacity restrictions will be eased from Monday (17 January), however the decision of whether to ease further measures was pushed until next week and will therefore not be removed until 24 January at the earliest.
Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), said: "That the licensed hospitality sector has to wait until next week to find out if existing restrictions will be lifted from 24 January is unacceptable as it leaves business in limbo. Of course, we appreciated that the Scottish government has to consider the health of the nation as well as the economy but more clarity is required.
"Last week, the first minister alluded to the Scottish government's new strategic framework on dealing with Covid which will be published in the coming weeks – she said exactly the same today so our question is: when will this be published because we need answers now."
UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson said: "The first minister talked about a gradual easing of restrictions, but our sector has been closed or restricted for almost two years now. Any positivity that could be taken from possible changes on the near horizon was scuppered with further talk of vaccine passports and possible wider application. The phrase ‘living with Covid' sounds more and more like ‘living with significant ongoing restrictions'."
He added that there was "no justification" for the restrictions with "no evidence" that limiting hospitality venues was reducing rates of Covid infection.
From Monday 17 January, the attendance limit of 500 on live outdoor events will be lifted, meaning spectators will once more be allowed at sporting events, including football fixtures and the upcoming Six Nations rugby tournament.
Covid certification to attend events will remain in place, but organisers of events of 1,000 or more attendees will be required to check the certification of at least 50% of attendees, rather than 20%, or at least 1,000 people, whichever figure is highest.
And from Monday, full Covid certification will include having a booster vaccination if more than four months since a person's second dose, although a recent negative lateral flow test will also be accepted.
Sturgeon said that the data will be reviewed on 18 January with a view to lifting further measures from 24 January, such as limits on indoor live events, the requirement for table service in hospitality venues that serve alcohol, and social distancing in indoor public places.
She added: "As we do lift these other protective measures it will be necessary to consider again if extending the scope of Covid certification to other venues might be a necessary protection. We have not taken decisions on this and it will require careful judgment."
Government guidance for people to work from home where possible will remain in place for now.
Wilkinson expressed concerns over the possible extension of the vaccine passport scheme, which he said would have a "major negative impact" on businesses.
Concerns remain over the cost to Welsh hospitality business should Wales retain its restrictions, meaning no spectators will be allowed at Six Nations games and could see the fixtures relocated to England.
Photo: Flickr / Scottish Government