Scots face wide-ranging travel bans while shops, hairdressers and gyms in virus-hit areas would be shut down again under “complicated” new lockdown rules unveiled by Nicola Sturgeon.
The First Minister on Friday published proposals for her five-tier system for imposing local restrictions, which will come into force on November 2, and will be used to set rules for each of Scotland’s 32 council areas.
Under the highest level, to be imposed on areas where virus levels are “very high or rapidly increasing”, close to a full lockdown would be brought in, with non-essential shops shut and the possible reimposition of the “stay at home” order.
Even Scots in areas not suffering from high infections face significant curbs on their liberty, with non-essential travel to be banned to areas in the second highest or highest tier. Those in hard-hit areas would be banned from leaving their council borders, with only limited exceptions, such as to go to work or for education.
Severe limits on gatherings between households will also remain in force, even in areas with low cases, meaning the chances of traditional family Christmases going ahead are in major doubt.
In a further blow for Scotland’s hospitality industry, pubs and restaurants are set to face significant further restrictions under the plan. They would be shut completely in the top level areas, banned from selling any alcohol in the second highest, and could serve alcoholic drinks indoors only with a main meal, or outdoors without a main meal, in middle-tier areas.
Ms Sturgeon and her advisers may allow hospitality venues in the second top-tier to remain open if they serve food only, although for many pubs, staying open in those circumstances would not make financial sense.
Setting out her plan, which is being consulted upon over the weekend ahead of a Holyrood vote on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon said she did not want to take a “one size fits all approach if that is not warranted”, with restrictions to be tailored to each area’s level of infection.
However, there were immediate concerns that imposing 32 different levels across Scotland could lead to widespread confusion. A new study carried out by academics at University College London found that just 18 per cent of people in Scotland felt they were fully aware of the simpler rules currently in place, ahead of the far more complex system coming into force from November 2.
“As this new tiered system comes into force, decisions need to be communicated without confusion and there needs to be a change of approach from the SNP if we’re going to protect Scottish jobs,” Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said.
He also accused Ms Sturgeon of “cheating” Scottish businesses out of up to £2,000, as while the same level of support will be available, he said claims will not be backdated as is the case in England.
Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, said: “With the potential for different areas of the country to be under different regulations, there exists a real danger of confusion among the public, putting health at risk.
“We support measures taken to control the spread of the virus, but it is vital that there is clarity over what restrictions people are living under and for how long they can expect to be under these restrictions.”
While Ms Sturgeon is likely to win approval for the plan at Holyrood, as she needs the support of just one other party, she will face demands to set out a more transparent formula to show when an area will move up or down a tier.
She said a “basket of measures” would be used by her and her advisers in deciding which area is to be placed into what tier, with the initial results to be announced next week.
Ms Sturgeon said she could not rule out that a council area would go straight into the top tier, with North and South Lanarkshire currently experiencing the highest per capita virus cases in the country. However, she said based on the latest figures, the Central Belt areas would generally be in the second-highest of the five levels, with the rest of the country in the middle tier, had the system been in force today.
According to a report on testing published yesterday, between 8,400 and 18,000 people are becoming infected with coronavirus each day in Scotland, with official figures only reflecting a small minority of cases.
Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest the virus is spreading across the UK, with 1 in every 180 people in Scotland thought to have been infected in the two weeks to 16 October.
Ms Sturgeon claimed her framework "sensibly adds" to the three-tier set-up in place in England. As well as an upper, more severe level than south of the border, a lower tier zero will reflect the "closest to normality we think we can safely get to" without a vaccine for coronavirus or more effective treatments, the First Minister said.
She added: "It's possible the whole country at some point could be placed in the same level. But it means we don't have to take a one size fits all approach if that's not warranted.
"A part of the country with low rates of infection won't have to live with the same levels of restrictions as a part of the country with high rates."