Businesses across the north-east have cautiously welcomed the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions – though some remain sceptical over proposed mitigation measures.
At a press conference yesterday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced significant changes to the Scottish Government’s coronavirus guidelines as the country gradually enters phase three of its ‘route map’ out of lockdown.
From a week today, face coverings will be compulsory in all shops, while pubs, restaurants, stores and public transport will be able to adopt a social distancing rule of one metre rather than two – as long as mitigation measures are put in place.
Examples of those measures include compulsory face coverings for staff, the use of screens between seating areas and reduced noise measures to discourage shouting.
Physical distancing rules are also being dropped from Friday for children who are 11 and under while they are outside.
The First Minister also loosened the current five-mile limit on travel for leisure purposes but urged people to “behave responsibly”.
The reduction of social distancing rules has been welcomed by north-east business, including Jillian Millar of the McGinty’s Group, which runs venues including The Stag, No. 10 and The Grill.
She said: “Going down to one metre will obviously be beneficial, because we can get more tables in.
“We’re planning across the venues with two metres in mind, but it’ll be hugely beneficial if we can go down to one metre – especially in the pub side of things, which are smaller.”
Paul Clarkson, operations director of PB Devco, which runs venues such as Soul, College and the Queen Vic in Rosemount, also welcomed the relaxation.
He said: “It’s very good news, it means we can up the capacities within the venues.
“They’re still going to be reduced from what they’ll normally be, because everyone will need to be seated, but it is good news in the respect that we’re going to be allowed to put in measures that will allow us to bring extra people in.”
However, he was also concerned several of the mitigation measures suggested by the government could put pressure on the business.
He said: “This screens between tables thing is a cost I really don’t want to have to incur.
“How long does that have to be there for? Is it just going to be a two or three week period, and then it’s going to change again?
“Businesses have been closed for so long, and yet we’re expected to incur all these costs.”
He added: “The other one that’s a bit troubling is this background music. They’ve said they don’t want to have any increased noise, and the example they give is simply saying no background music.
“What kind of atmosphere does that lend to?
“I understand they’re saying if you increase the volume people will have to speak louder, but surely they could allow background music without having it blaring so people have to shout to each other.”
David Hayfield, owner of the Seafield Arms in Whitehills, was similarly concerned about the cost to businesses.
He said: “We have spent quite a lot of money up to now getting things in place, like sanitiser and extra tables, and I’m loath if I’m going to spend a few more thousand pounds for something that might only stay in place for a few weeks.”
Adrian Watson, CEO of business group Aberdeen Inspired, said: “Overall, I’m pleased to see further easing of the lockdown which will be well received by many of our businesses.
“No one doubts that public safety is paramount, but we all understand the need to get traction on the economy and people back to work.
“In terms of social distancing, it is welcomed that where there is mitigation we can move to one meter as many businesses, in hospitality for instance, have consistently said that this leverage is required to make opening viable.
“In terms of enforcing the wearing of masks and social distancing, we continue to agree with the view that the overwhelming majority will abide by the rules and see the long term benefits for all.
It’s reassuring that it shouldn’t default to the already hard-pressed shop staff, but ultimately sits with the authorities.
“However, I think we also agree they have enough ado and we need to stress again the need for individual responsibility.”