A north-east business leader has called on the Scottish Government not to penalise the region for high Covid case numbers elsewhere when lockdown eases.
Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Russell Borthwick appeared on Good Morning Scotland today where he urged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to give more “clarity” to the business community.
It came after Ms Sturgeon caused some confusion yesterday by suggesting that Scotland would come out of lockdown “initially” as “one country.”
However, national clinical director Jason Leitch had just hours earlier suggested how regions could move out of lockdown at different levels, depending on the prevalence of the virus and Covid case numbers.
That approach would mean Orkney, Shetland, and the north-east could face lesser restrictions than the central belt and allow more businesses to open up.
Mr Borthwick said: “What we have heard so far is utter confusion, we have the first minister saying together, we have the clinical director talking about regions.
“One of the things businesses need is certainty and clarity and those pieces don’t give us that in any way shape or form.
“What we need to hear from the government next week is clear messaging that provides confidence and gives people the ability to forward-plan because we are already seeing Scotland falling behind other parts of the UK for staycations.
“What we would argue is regions that had outbreaks previously were penalised for the numbers so why should we be expecting to come out together on April 26 if that’s not appropriate?
“There are places like the Western Isles, the northern isles, the north-east, where we have 22 cases out of 100,000 in Aberdeenshire and just about 30 out of 100,000 in Aberdeen, that’s 0.03% of the population.
“So what we are saying is that we need clarity from the government about what their approach is going to be and if there are big regional variations, why are places with low case numbers being penalised like how it has been suggested?”
‘Come out as one country’
Ms Sturgeon suggested yesterday at the Holyrood Covid committee that the whole of Scotland would move out of lockdown together.
The government had previously announced that the country would be moving back into the levels system at the end of April.
She said: “I hope as we come out of lockdown measures, initially we can come out as one country – and then, in future, if we have outbreaks or flare-ups we can use the levels system to deal with that.
“But I hope at least some of and some substantial parts of the easing of lockdown can apply all across the country.”
However, she added: “It may very quickly be possible for some parts to go faster – and I’m talking of island and rural communities perhaps in particular.”
Virus prevalence across Scotland
Across Scotland, the prevalence of the virus varies massively, especially when it comes to the island communities that have very low Covid case numbers.
Orkney is currently sitting at zero cases per 100,000, while Shetland is at 4.4.
Meanwhile, Clackmannanshire is the worst-hit region, with 145.5 cases per 100,000, while Falkirk is second with 125.6.
Orkney businessman Stephen Kemp also described how “frustrating” it is for islanders to be subject to strict restrictions, despite such a low prevalence of the virus.
He said: “It’s really frustrating when you’re in a community that’s got little or no Covid circulating, that’s dealt very professionally with all the small outbreaks we’ve had, yet we are still suffering and still in the same tier as central areas which do have a high prevalence.
“It’s really sad, there’s an opinion locally that we could have had all our children back to school, could be going about our business normally, normal lives could have been led for months now.
“I think coming from the tier we were in right up to Christmas Eve, being essentially locked down again, it made no sense for us because we did manage fine, it was frustrating seeing us go up a tier in a one size fits all approach.”