Nicola Sturgeon has blamed young adults for putting Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19 at risk, as she warned that she is prepared to shut down pubs and restaurants again if Covid-19 cases continue to rise.
The First Minister said she had seen pictures of “largely younger people” not following distancing rules over the weekend that “made me want to cry” and suggested the hospitality sector could be sacrificed if it meant allowing schools to fully reopen safely.
While Ms Sturgeon said introducing new curbs on pubs and restaurants was “the last thing I want to do" she said she was willing to introduce new restrictions, “upto and including” another shutdown of the businesses.
The warning came after several Covid-19 cases were linked to a city centre pub in Aberdeen at the weekend, and the number of new infections confirmed on Sunday hit a two-month high.
A further 11 of 18 new cases confirmed yesterday were in the Grampian area, with the local health board confirming on Monday that the number of cases linked to The Hawthorn bar cluster had risen to 27.
Ms Sturgeon admitted the cluster had been “exactly what we feared when we reopened hospitality” and said she was worried that if there were more similar outbreaks, the track and trace system could become overwhelmed. On her Twitter account, Ms Sturgeon drew attention to images of crowds of young people in Aberdeen queuing to get into bars with no evidence of social distancing.
Spot on from @StephenFlynnSNP - COVID remains a real and present threat to our health and wellbeing. Scenes like these are dangerous, and could easily result in pubs being closed again - which no one wants. We all have a responsibility here. Please, please everybody #keeptheheid https://t.co/vuDqN9ZJmo— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 3, 2020
Representatives of the Scottish hospitality sector expressed concern in response to Ms Sturgeon’s comments, warning that a second lockdown on the businesses would prove devastating.
Stephen Montgomery, a landlord in Lockerbie and spokesman for the Scottish Leased and Tenanted Pubs and Hotels group, said that the vast majority of businesses were following the rules but urged customers to behave more responsibly.
“It’s worrying,” he said. “Health comes before profit, however, if it [a second closure] happens, that will be the end of hospitality in Scotland for many, many people. We couldn’t afford to come back from a second lockdown, it would be horrendous.”
He said that “99 per cent” of landlords were following new rules, such as following one-metre distancing and collecting customer contact details, but urged young people in particular to follow guidelines for the benefit of the businesses.
“A lot of the onus has got to go on the customer as well,” he said. “We fought to get [social distancing] down to one metre, now some people want no metres.
“Younger people are more blase, they would rather be in crowded places with friends of the same age group. People are mixing in houses, having house parties, we know it’s happening. Then they’re coming to the pub maybe a week or 10 days later and passing it on.”
Pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen outdoor areas from July 6, and indoor areas from July 15. The indoor reopening, along with easing of restrictions on other major sectors such as retail and tourism, coincided with a rise in coronavirus cases.
//THREAD We can confirm the number of cases detected in the Aberdeen COVID-19 cluster associated with The Hawthorn Bar now stands at 27.— NHS Grampian (@NHSGrampian) August 3, 2020
In the first half of July, 122 people tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland, compared to 254 in the second half. During the first weekend in July, 20 people tested positive, compared to 49 on Saturday and Sunday.
Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said she was seeking “urgent clarity” from the Scottish Government on whether ministers were “seriously considering” shutting pubs.
She added: “Closing pubs in Scotland just as they have reopened would be devastating for our sector, the economy and jobs. It’s important to remember our pubs have reopened following thorough risk assessments and detailed mitigation measures to ensure they are safe.”
Speaking at her daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that she would consider imposing tougher rules on pubs, short of closing them. This could potentially include reexamining allowing the sector to follow one metre distancing, rather than two. She reiterated her call on the public to consider limiting visits to the venues on the same day that the UK Government’s ‘eat out to help out’ discount scheme, which is explicitly designed to drive more customers to restaurants and pubs, was launched with at least 3,766 venues in Scotland participating.
“This particular cluster in Aberdeen is, if I’m honest, exactly what we feared when we reopened hospitality,” she said. “It’s what I was talking about last week when I urged people to think carefully about just how often you need to go to a pub or a restaurant right now, and also about the care you should be taking while you are there.
“Across the country we’re seeing evidence of people, and it is largely younger people, gathering together with little or no physical distancing in place. I’ve seen pictures on social media over this weekend that, not to put too fine a point on it, made me want to cry looking at them.
“Every time one person throws caution to the wind and flouts the rules, the reality is they place all of us at risk and make the job of all of us working to control the virus that much harder.”
Ms Sturgeon said reopening schools was her “priority”, days after Prof Graham Medley, a scientific adviser to the UK Government, suggested pubs in England might have to close to allow for the safe reopening of schools. In Scotland, schools are set to reopen on August 11.
Ms Sturgeon added: “I’ve made no bones about the fact that the return of schools is the priority of the government. We will not allow that to be compromised if taking action elsewhere can protect that objective.”