The co-leader of Aberdeen City Council has said lockdown talks with the Scottish Government were “a struggle” – but they ended up with “the best option”.
The local lockdown, which was brought in on August 5, was partially lifted in the early hours of this morning, with city residents allowed to meet each other indoors and travel further than five miles away from home again from midnight.
Limitations on hospital and care home visits were also lifted and businesses such as bingo halls, amusement arcades, indoor bowling and funfairs can open again this week.
The remaining measures will be lifted on Wednesday, when all hospitality – cafes, restaurants and bars – will be allowed to reopen so long as environmental health checks have been completed.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon thanked the public for following lockdown rules to help reduce the rate of infection.
And she urged residents to carry on following government health guidance to avoid another outbreak.
We just need to make sure that when things do open again, people are responsible and people behave, and adhere to all the social distancing rules.”
Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden said discussions with the government this week centered on how businesses in the city would be affected by more time in lockdown.
He said: “We’ve been making a strong case that – especially when you look at infection figures elsewhere – it seems strange that our businesses are almost being penalised, and that’s risking jobs.
“We’ve seen [city centre nightclub] Nox close its doors, and there’s more coming, I believe.
“We made a strong case that Aberdeen shouldn’t be singled out for anything, especially when we’re down at about the average infection rate and it’s going down as well.”
He added: “It was a struggle, to be honest.
“We were going with the advice that was given to us by the local incident management team, the experts in the north-east who know exactly what’s happening, but some in the Scottish Government had a different opinion, that we should be taking things a lot slower.
“I think what we’ve got now is the best option we could have had, and we just need to make sure that when things do open again, people are responsible and people behave, and adhere to all the social distancing rules.”
To that end, he said the council would be changing the way it assesses premises to ensure they are adhering to coronavirus measures.
He said: “We’ve been working over the last week on a new assessment scheme for premises to go through, so we’ll still be doing that, and the Environmental Health team will have more powers than they did a few weeks back.
“Last week they got additional powers so they can close down premises if people are not achieving social distancing.”
The north-east has provisionally recorded five new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours.
The latest figures show a total of 427 cases have been identified in the Grampian Health Board area since 26 July.
Of these 259 are associated with the same cluster linked to Aberdeen pubs, and 1,258 contacts have now been identified from those.
Across Scotland there have been 83 new confirmed cases and no new Covid-19 related deaths registered in the last 24 hours.
Adrian Watson CEO of business body Aberdeen inspired said: “In a sense, the lifting of travel restrictions will allow the city to breathe again and show us to be open for business to our wider north-east market and beyond.
“The lifting of these restrictions cannot come soon enough for so many of our city centre businesses. It is not only our hospitality sector that has been affected, but with its temporary closure, we have seen a detrimental impact on footfall visiting our diverse range of retail. It reaffirms the need to have the full offering in place for the city centre to make real progress in its recovery.
“With businesses and public bodies working hard to keep safety at the heart of it all, we will welcome the public back into the city centre in ever-increasing numbers this week and trust they enjoy all that will be on offer in a safe and responsible manner.”
One restaurant owner talked of her relief over the announcement and said she planned to make the most of the last few days of the UK Government’s Eat out to Help Out scheme, which gives diners 50% off their meals until the end of August.
DaVinci Italian restaurant owner Elena Ionascu said: “We closed for takeaways so we were in a difficult situation financially and we didn’t know what to do.
“We are very pleased to hear that we will be allowed to reopen again from Wednesday and it’s a big relief. We’re hoping to get a lot of bookings.
“I’ve already done the environmental health checks so we are ready to go on the day.
“Luckily we will still be able to make use of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.”
The Liberal Democrats also welcomed the move.
Liberal Democrat Group Leader on Aberdeen City Council Ian Yuill said: “The decision by the Scottish Government to end Aberdeen’s local lockdown is welcome. Every day the lockdown continued – necessary though that was – damaged local businesses, jobs, and Aberdeen’s economy.
“The commitment of people in Aberdeen to sticking to the local lockdown rules and the hard work of NHS staff has driven down the coronavirus infection rate to a point where it is now possible to end the local lockdown.
“Every single person and business in Aberdeen must continue to stick to all the rules and guidelines to minimise the risk of a further coronavirus outbreak in Aberdeen. A further outbreak, with the attached risk of a further local lockdown, would be disastrous for our city and its economy.”
I am grateful to people in Aberdeen – the local authority and health board, local businesses, and everyone who lives there”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I am grateful to people in Aberdeen – the local authority and health board, local businesses, and everyone who lives there – for complying so well with the rules that were put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In particular I am grateful for the understanding of the businesses that were required to close in order to help beat the virus.
“It’s due to the commitment of people in the city, as well as world class contact tracing that means we are now able to lift some of these measures from Monday and then again from Wednesday, but it is vitally important that everyone follows the FACTS rules in order to prevent an outbreak of this scale occurring again. That way we can move forward and get our economy, our society and our lives generally back to as much normality as possible.”
Susan Webb, Director of Public Health for NHS Grampian said: “We must be cautious to ensure the progress we have made is maintained. Crucially, we must all be observing physical distancing from those not in our immediate household; whether at work, meeting socially, in a supermarket or out for exercise and recreation. It is also vitally important that anyone identified as a close contact of a detected case follows the guidance on isolating for 14 days.”
The Scottish Government has not ruled out extending restrictions if necessary to protect public health.