Nicola Sturgeon has warned that a temporary Christmas easing of coronavirus restrictions will not be extended to cover Hogmanay and New Year holiday celebrations, meaning traditional parties and family gatherings will be illegal.
While the First Minister confirmed that a four-nations plan to allow families to meet up over Christmas is close to being sealed, the exemptions are to expire by the end of December and there are no plans for a similar Scotland-only amnesty for the turn of the year.
She acknowledged that Hogmanay and New Year holiday traditions were seen as more important in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK. However, she argued “we can’t do everything”, claiming striking the correct balance between allowing families to meet at Christmas without causing an explosion in virus cases was a “hard enough” challenge.
Meanwhile, she provoked further anger from the country’s hospitality sector by suggesting the easing of curbs over Christmas, expected to be over five days between Christmas Eve and December 28, would apply only in homes rather than pubs or restaurants.
Addressing Hogmanay and the New Year holiday, Ms Sturgeon said: “Hogmanay, and I think the tradition of New Year's Day dinner, is a bit more established in Scotland than it might be in some other parts of the UK.
"So we have to consider that but I do not expect that we will be announcing any particular relaxations over the New Year period.
"And why not? Because we can't do everything. The Christmas thing is hard enough.”
While for some Scots, Hogmanay and the two-day bank holiday on January 1 and 2 is as important as Christmas, Ms Sturgeon said she had focussed on Christmas in part because it is a more important day for children.
She also ruled out allowing Scots to “pick and mix” which holiday they would be able to enjoy more relaxed rules for, saying there was a need for strict “limits” to prevent further spread of the virus.
The exact details of the Christmas exemptions are set to be announced this week, although it is likely that a maximum of three households will be able to meet up indoors over the period.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said there are no plans to relax Covid restrictions for Hogmanay and New Year's Day, with talks continuing for a slight easing of the rules for Christmas.
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The First Minister said that any easing of rules would be “slight and careful”, and urged those who believed they could “get through” Christmas without seeing loved ones from another household not to take advantage of the relaxation.
She said that delaying visits until Spring, by which time it is hoped the most vulnerable groups will have been vaccinated against the virus, “might be a better option”.
Ms Sturgeon admitted she had not yet decided whether to see her own parents at Christmas, who live in Ayrshire, and revealed that the last time she met them in person was on her 50th birthday in July.
She added: “There is an obvious desire to see loved ones at Christmas, I think we all feel that very strongly.
"There's also a lot of anxiety about the potential risks associated with that, particularly at a time when we're starting to see, perhaps, the end of this pandemic loom on the horizon.
"So we're trying as hard as we can to reach a sensible balance, although it is possible - likely, in fact - that some households may be able to form slightly larger bubbles with each other for a short period over Christmas.”
Discussions on easing of restrictions have so far focussed on gatherings at home, rather than in settings such as pubs or restaurants. Even in areas in level one of the zero to four levels system, a maximum of six people from just two households are allowed to meet indoors in hospitality venues.
Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: “Allowing uncontrolled, free-for-all socialising at home over the festive period seems to completely contradict the government’s stance on public safety so far.
“We’re left wondering if allowing people to socialise at home over Christmas is a purely populist move that will see hospitality again bearing the brunt of increased Covid-19 cases in January.”
Earlier in the pandemic, Ms Sturgeon banned household meetings indoors but still allowed them in hospitality venues, but is set to take the opposite approach at Christmas.
Willie Macleod, director of UK Hospitality Scotland, said the industry depended on a “buoyant festive period”.
He added: “It would be unfair and ridiculous to exclude hospitality from the Christmas period [of easing restrictions], but it would also be very difficult if there was some flexibility over Christmas to be allowed for that to then be disallowed over the New Year.
“And there’s a further issue that the current restrictions [in tier four areas in which venues are forced to close] are due to expire on December 11, which is less than two weeks before the Christmas break and leaves very little time for businesses unless they have quite a bit of advance notice.
“We have been very critical of the Government for giving very short notice, and it’s been very unfair on businesses.”