Pubs across the north-east have announced they will be temporarily closing, as the region recorded its highest number of new Covid-19 cases since May.
The rising number of people diagnosed in the north-east has now prompted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to consider whether a local lockdown will need to be enforced in the city.
A total of 15 of the 23 cases recorded across Scotland yesterday were in Grampian, with the First Minister stating it was “not yet clear” how many of the new cases were connected to the ongoing outbreak at the Hawthorn Bar.
The total of 15 in one day follows an increase of 11 on Monday and 13 on Sunday – bringing the total of new confirmed cases across the region to 39 in just three days.
Many bars owners have now said they will be shutting their doors until they feel safe to reopen again.
One owner said action was taken shortly after it emerged that someone later diagnosed with the virus had visited Soul Bar on Union Street.
In a statement, owner and director of PB Devco Stuart Clarkson said: “As soon as we heard someone who had tested positive had visited Soul, we immediately sought advice and followed the guidance of the government, NHS and Track and Trace.
“However, we feel we now need to take the situation into our own hands to help limit the spread of the virus, as these are unprecedented times and things are escalating quickly.”
He added that all the company’s venues, which also include Vovem, The College Bar and The Queen Vic, would remain closed “until we feel safe to reopen”.
Siberia on Belmont Street has also closed for 14 days, with a statement on social media saying “staff do not feel safe in their workplace” after hearing anecdotally that a member of the public who has tested positive for Covid-19 visited on Saturday.
Notably, however, some venues have taken precautions despite having no link to any positive cases – anecdotal or otherwise.
Drummonds announced it would close with immediate effect, saying, “It seems that this is the sensible course of action to help stop the spread of the virus in the city and surrounding area” but adding that they hope to make the closure “as short as possible”.
And after announcing that the pub would be closing for 14 days, bosses at the Hawthorn Bar said: “We provided all information immediately but have since had several approaches from customers asking why they have not been contacted – this is something we cannot answer on behalf of NHS Grampian.
“This virus was brought into our venue and there is zero evidence that we were the first or only venue entered by the positive member/s of the public.
“We find solace in knowing our actions have helped prevent further spread of the virus.”
Meanwhile, other venues have conducted deep cleans as a precautionary measure to try and combat the spread of the virus.
He said: “I know there are some pictures of Prohibition going about from Saturday, but we’re being proactive in that we have no cases, no staff problems, and no-one having visited the premises.
“Albeit that with the number of people who have tested positive, there’s every chance there’s someone who has had the virus who’s been in here – just as there has in anywhere else.
“But we’re taking proactive steps rather than reactive steps. At this juncture, we have no plans to close, but clearly we’ll do so if we’re told to do so.”
In Aberdeenshire, The Cock & Bull in Balmedie and the Deeside Golf Club have both undertaken a deep clean after being visited by people who tested positive for Covid-19.
The appearance of positive cases in pubs and restaurants has raised questions about what should be done in response, with Aberdeen City Council saying the licences of pubs deemed to have contravened the regulations could be reviewed.
A council spokesman said: “Where an alleged breach is reported at an entertainment venue such a pub or restaurant, council officers will visit the premises in the first instance to discuss what steps can be taken to mitigate risks.
“We would consider formal enforcement action in relation to both the Covid-19 Regulations and Health & Safety legislation if necessary and we may also look for a Public Health review of their licence.
“We would add, however, that no enforcement action has been required at this stage in relation to any reported breaches within the city centre.”
Aberdeen City Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden said the aftermath of the Hawthorn Bar outbreak has revealed some flaws in the Test and Protect case tracing scheme.
He has now written to the Scottish Government seeking answers of the procedures carried out since the first person was diagnosed in the city after being at the Hawthorn Bar, and the length of time it had taken to contact others who were in the pub.
He said: “I’ve seen on Soul’s Facebook page that they’ve been contacted by someone who had been at the Hawthorn Bar, who I think was then positive, but no-one from track and trace had been in touch with Soul Bar to say what they should be doing.
“It seems to be track and trace by DIY, where people are contacting each other over social media.
“We were meant to have a track and trace system that was the envy of the world.”
In response, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Contact tracing is a well-established public health intervention led by the NHS, and our health protection teams have experience and expertise in delivering contact tracing.
“Where contract tracers and local public health officials have concerns about a venue or business premise, advice is provided by both public health teams and local environmental health teams.
“Environmental health teams will also visit premises where there is a need to assess the safety measures in place and the prospects of virus transmission taking place.
“This includes advice on whether premises can continue to open. However, there will be circumstances where, if staff need to self-isolate, premises may close for staffing reasons.
“Workforce education for contact tracers is developed and delivered by Public Health Scotland, NHS National Services Scotland and NHS Education for Scotland, and we are confident that they have the right skills and tools for the job.”
Ms Sturgeon said the discussions were continuing on how to tackle the situation.
When asked if a local lockdown could be imposed in the city, Ms Sturgeon said this remains “under review in an ongoing basis”, adding she would be taking part in discussions throughout yesterday and today on the evidence emerging.
She added: “All of these things have to be under review in an ongoing basis because we’re dealing with an infectious virus and therefore it’s a tactical battle we’re fighting with this virus.
“We’ll be looking at this and making judgements on whether we need to step in and do anything further.”
Chief medical officer Gregor Smith told the briefing yesterday the number of cases in Aberdeen linked to the Hawthorn bar is “of concern” but the Test and Protect system has “done its job” by identifying the chains of transmission.
“What would make me increasingly uneasy is if, with new cases being identified, we were unable to identify those chains of transmission, how those people were contracting Covid-19,” he added.
“At the moment there is no evidence that is the case at all but we continue to keep a very close eye on exactly the mechanisms by which people have tested positive and how they’ve come about it.”
We’ll be looking at this and making judgements on whether we need to step in and do anything further.”
When asked about potential other venues affected by the outbreak, the First Minister said the incident management team, which is leading the investigation, would provide public notification of “other locations” affected, if required.
There would “almost certainly be more information to come” out of the Aberdeen outbreak, she added.
Ms Sturgeon described the outbreak as proof the virus is “extremely infectious and extremely dangerous”.
She said self-isolation is “non-negotiable” if someone is found to be a close contact to a positive case, adding that even if a test comes back negative the person will still need to self-isolate for two weeks.
Employers were warned that testing staff was not an alternative to self-isolating, adding there were “no shortcuts” for trying to contain the virus.
The First Minister also stressed the Scottish Government could consider placing a legal obligation on hospitality venues to gather contact information from customers.