North-east businesses have welcomed news that coronavirus restrictions are easing further as Scotland moves into phase three of its route-map out of lockdown.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it is “undoubtedly a time for cautious hope and optimism”, as she announced bars, restaurants and hairdressers can reopen as well as the lifting of restrictions on other activities and services.
It is the most significant stride so far that the country has taken towards a return to normality since Covid-19 restrictions were first put in place.
Rules on people meeting indoors have now been relaxed. From today people will be allowed to meet up in extended groups outdoors, and with two other households indoors.
Businesses such as bars, restaurants and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen for the first time in almost four months.
However, Ms Sturgeon urged the public to continue following rules on physical distancing, hand-washing and face coverings.
Wearing masks while in shops will become mandatory from today.
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Major retailers, including Debenhams and John Lewis, have now announced they will reopen their Aberdeen stores next week.
Susan Reid, retail director of Debenhams, said: “We are delighted to welcome back our Scottish customers as we reopen the final group of stores in Scotland next week.
“We are able in our stores to accommodate two-metre social distancing comfortably, and we have equipped our colleagues with visors as well as screening off our tills.
“This underscores our commitment to the safety and well being of our customers and colleagues whilst ensuring their comfort and convenience is maintained.”
And the city’s three shopping centres – Union Square, the Trinity Centre and Bon Accord – are also set to welcome customers, with additional hygiene measures in place.
Craig Stephenson, manager of the Bon Accord Centre, said: “Bon Accord is very much looking forward to welcoming back visitors from 13 July.
“The stores and centre team have been working hard to make sure the centre is as safe as possible. Although it will feel a little different, it is an important step in helping get Aberdeen back to normal.”
Union Square general manager Ryan Manson said: “We’re really looking forward to welcoming customers back to Union Square on Monday.
“We’ve been working hard behind the scenes for the past few months to get everything ready, and we’ve introduced a range of measures to keep everyone safe.
“We know that this new way of shopping is going to take some getting used to, so we’d just ask our customers to be patient and aware of others when they visit.”
And Trinity Centre manager Linda Stewart added: “We are delighted to be opening the centre on Monday, looking forward to welcoming customers old and new.
“The centre will have sanitising stations at each doorway, floor decals to guide our customers around the centre while adhering to social distancing.
“There will also be informational posters, barriers, and security and cleaning patrols, all these elements are in place to ensure that staff, tenants and our customers can shop in a clean and secure environment.”
Recent estimates indicate around 1,000 people in Scotland are infectious, and there were no new deaths from the disease in the 24 hours before Ms Sturgeon made her announcement.
The changes mean that people in one household can meet up with up to eight people in total indoors, and overnight stays are allowed.
Children aged 11 and under will no longer have to socially distance from other youngsters or adults indoors or out – but older children and adults must continue to keep apart.
From Monday, children will be able to play contact sports and shopping centres can reopen.
On Wednesday July 15, hairdressers, indoor pubs and restaurants can open their doors – and museums and art galleries will be able to welcome back visitors.
Places of worship will also be able to hold congregational services, although there will be restrictions on numbers, as well as no singing or chanting.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We should all savour our first indoor meetings and meals with friends, our first pint in a pub or catch up over coffee. Many of us are looking forward to our first non-amateur haircut in months.
“And there will be other milestones and reunions that we will enjoy over the next few weeks. They have been hard earned by each and every one of us.”
But she added: “I have a duty to be crystal clear with the country that this is also a time of real danger.
“Next week represents the most substantial easing of lockdown so far.
“We know that meeting people indoors poses far greater risks than going to a park or to someone’s garden.”