Pubs, restaurants and hotels will be able to operate reduced distancing as part of phase three of the easing of coronavirus restrictions after the first minister announced exemptions for key sectors.
It was the news the hospitality industry had been anxiously awaiting.
For many, the reduction of the two-metre distancing rule to one metre announced for key sectors by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today will be a game changer, turning non-viable conditions for reopening into viable.
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said, that while the general advice and regulations around two-metre distancing would remain unchanged, exemptions would be made for some sectors, including hospitality.
She said: “We do recognise there are different harms here that we must try to balance. While sticking to two metres has clear benefits it also has serious economic implications and an adverse economic impact we know can in turn have an effect on people’s health and wellbeing.
“For those reasons when we enter phase three of the routemap, which I hope will be the end of next week, we will allow exemptions for specific sectors where agreed mitigations must be put in place.
“The exemptions will allow businesses in relevant sectors, if they so choose, to operate within a one-metre distance on the condition that agreed mitigations are implemented. To be clear these will be exceptions. The general rule in law will continue to be that businesses and services must take all reasonable measures to ensure that two metres distancing is maintained.”
The first minister added: “Ahead of phase three we will work with key sectors. Initially that will be hospitality, retail and public transport to agree the mitigations that will be required and to finalise detailed guidance.
“Clearly the mitigations for a restaurant or a bar will be different to those of a hairdresser. For illustrative purposes and to allow businesses to start to plan we’re publishing today the kind of mitigations that might be required in each sector. These might include improved ventilation, perspex screens, regulation of customer flow and seating plans that reduce transmission risk.
“For hospitality and possibly other sectors, mitigation will also include the collection of names and addresses of customers to help with contact tracing when that is necessary.”
The hospitality sector has been hit hard due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the impact of the nationwide lockdown.
Having been forced to close their doors on March 20, many businesses haven’t operated since and have had to furlough almost all staff. Others have managed to pull back some business by offering food delivery and click and collect services, though they have been operating on reduced staffing.
In Scotland, bars and restaurants can begin serving customers in outside areas again from Monday (July 6), with indoor service resuming on July 15 provided the infection rate remains under control.
The Scottish Government had faced mounting pressure to rethink the two-metre physical distancing rule after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on June 23, that pubs, restaurants and hotels could reopen fully in England from July 4 with “one-metre plus” distancing.
A survey by the Scottish Tourism Alliance found 87% of restaurateurs said they would lose more than 50% of turnover, with 23% saying that they could not afford to continue if physical distancing restrictions were not reduced to one-metre.
The survey of 394 businesses, also found 85% of restaurants said it would be financially unsustainable if they were required to trade at two-metres distancing without additional support beyond the next two months which could result in there being up to an estimated 8,900 job losses.
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, welcomed today’s announcement of a reduction in distancing for hospitality businesses.
He said: “The first minister’s announcement of the relaxation of the two metre physical distancing rule to one metre for certain sectors with mitigations is the news that the industry has been eagerly anticipating.
“The recent research that the STA undertook revealed that the majority of businesses in the tourism sector would be economically unsustainable if the 2 metre physical distancing rule remained; today’s news will mean that many hundreds of businesses that had not planned to reopen may now reconsider and plan to do so.
“While this decision will be welcomed by many operators in Scotland’s tourism industry, all those who I have personally spoken with remain very mindful of the absolute need to provide reassurance to their staff, customers and importantly those in the communities where their business is based. They are all committed to adopting at very least the recommended government and public health sector guidance, and in turn carry out COVID-19 risk assessments to check they have all the required processes and protocols in place.
“We are in contact with numerous businesses across all sectors every day and I have been impressed with the commitment, initiative and determination of these businesses in going above and beyond what is required to provide their staff and customers, both the environment and experience that they will feel confident in and can enjoy and importantly, reassurance to those in their communities that safety is a priority.”
He added: “It is immensely reassuring that more than 2,000 tourism businesses have already gone through the recommended UK-wide Covid-19 ‘Good to Go’ accreditation and many more doing the same before reopening from the 15th July.
“We know that many people in our communities feel under threat and worried and it is incumbent on not only every tourism business, but every customer and visitor to retain that commitment to moving around and interacting safely to suppress the virus.
“It should never be an ‘us and them’ situation in any regard; we really are all in this together and it is up to every one of us – businesses, customers, communities to act responsibly, safely and with consideration to those around us as the tourism industry starts to reopen.”
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association also welcomed the announcement on relaxing social distancing in hospitality settings.
Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director, said: “While we acknowledge that outdoor areas will need to maintain two-metre social distancing for the present, this news will further help the rebuilding of the industry and gives Scotland’s pubs and bars the lifeline they need for their survival.
“Without this reduction it is estimated that two-thirds of our pubs and bars would not have been able to open and operate viably, leading to a large number of business closures and mass job losses.
“This announcement, however, does not help an estimated one-third of premises which will still be wondering when they can reopen.”
Mr Wilkinson repeated the SLTA’s call that the UK and Scottish Governments must look at an extended detailed package of support for those businesses which are unable to reopen at this time.
He added: “Of course, the devil will be in the detail as to what extra procedures and practices will need to be adopted and the sector eagerly awaits government guidance on this.
“The first minister confirmed today that businesses in the hospitality sector will be required to take the contact details of customers to help with Scotland’s Test and Protect programme and we accept that this is both responsible and necessary under the circumstances.
“The licensed trade is used to working in a heavily regulated industry and we are confident that the sector will rise to the challenges ahead.”