Pubs, bars and restaurants across Scotland will remain closed until at least July, after Nicola Sturgeon revealed emerging evidence suggests they could become “super-spreading” sites for Covid-19.
The reopening of outdoor hospitality spaces was expected to be a central pillar of phase two of the country’s “route map” out of lockdown, although guidance has always suggested measures could be relaxed at different times.
The first minister confirmed on Thursday Scotland will move towards the second stage of lifting restrictions, with street-access shops and outdoor markets able to reopen, but a decision on areas such as beer gardens will not be taken until July.
The announcement came as a bitter blow for the hospitality industry, with many businesses investing in new outdoor furniture, marquees and food – and some reporting they had already sold out capacity for this weekend.
Ms Sturgeon said her government may be able to set a later date within phase two for reopening outdoor hospitality and she has commissioned further advice from her scientific advisory group on the issue.
“There is emerging evidence that places like pubs, restaurants and gyms can be hotspots for transmission,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“So it’s really important that we really understand this evidence and what further mitigation might be necessary to protect people in such spaces before we permit them to reopen.”
The first minister said she expects to have further scientific advice in two weeks and will set out “on or around” July 2 whether venues can reopen during phase two, or if “further mitigations” are required ahead of phase three.
She has also commissioned further advice from the advisory group on physical distancing requirements to see if restrictions could be lowered from two metres.
But Ms Sturgeon was accused by Aberdeen City Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden of allowing businesses to get ready for an outdoor reopening this weekend “only to have the rug pulled from under them”.
He said landlords have been “led up the garden path” and “deserve better” after trying to find innovative ways to keep their businesses afloat.
Two local businesses that have been getting ready for this weekend only to have rug pulled from under them. Businesses are trying to be innovative to survive, they deserve better. pic.twitter.com/2vPE2XOXR2
— Douglas Lumsden (@dlumsden) June 18, 2020
Meanwhile, the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA) – which this week warned two-metre social distancing rules could put 23,600 hospitality jobs at risk in Scotland – said the opportunity to reopen “cannot come soon enough”.
Chief executive Emma McClarkin said pubs and bars across Scotland will be disappointed by Ms Sturgeon’s announcement, with many expecting a definitive date for reopening their outdoor spaces.
She said the SPBA will “enthusiastically engage” following the first minister’s pledge to work with the industry.
Ms Sturgeon said it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to reopen without understanding the potential risks.
She said she understood Thursday’s announcement would be “hard” for the industry but local authorities will be encouraged to facilitate the use of open outdoor areas for additional space for pubs and restaurants.
“I understand the desire of all businesses to reopen quickly,” the SNP leader said. “However, it is vital that when services and venues do reopen they do so safely and in a way that is consistent with continued suppression of the virus.
“That is how we best avoid a resurgence of it that could lead to businesses having to close down all over again.”
Asked by MSP Graham Simpson why outdoor markets were safe to open but beer gardens are not, Ms Sturgeon said there was “a lot of emerging evidence” that particular locations may hold a higher risk of transmission.
She added: “Gyms, places where that is congregational or communal singing fall into the same category and, in short – and I’m not expressing this in the way an expert would do – it’s where your pattern of breathing might change.
“So if you’re shouting to be heard over music, or if you are singing, then you’re more likely to inhale and have the virus transmitted.”