Aberdeen chiefs have warned a national lockdown would spell disaster for Aberdeen – with one claiming it would prove the “kiss of death” for businesses in the city.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has now warned “hard but necessary” decisions would have to be made in the coming days following a rise in the number of cases of Covid-19 in some parts of the country.
She said cases were rising “quite rapidly”, with latest figures showing 203 people tested positive for the disease on Friday.
But local leaders in the Granite City – which was subject to a three-week local lockdown after a cluster of cases last month – urged ministers not to lock down the whole country amid fears of the impact on the local economy.
Aberdeen City Council co-leaders Douglas Lumsden and Jenny Laing said they would prefer to see a targeted approach focusing on areas with high levels of infection, claiming thousands of jobs are at risk.
Mr Lumsden – who previously questioned the Scottish Government’s decision not to impose local lockdowns on other parts of the country despite soaring infection rates – said “draconian” measures would spell the end of the road for many city businesses.
He said: “Any new national lockdown would be a kiss of death to local businesses. We have seen businesses closing down and another lockdown would see many more go under.
“It would cause serious long-term damage to the local economy of Aberdeen and we don’t want that to happen.
“The strategy seemed to have changed to be focused on local lockdowns where there are outbreaks, and I would be extremely worried if that had changed.
“When there were cases in Aberdeen there was no national lockdown and it shouldn’t be any different now.”
Fellow co-leader Ms Laing suggested keeping businesses open, where people could meet in a controlled, restricted environment, would be safer than meetings taking place in houses.
And she claimed Aberdeen was one of the safest places in the country following the local lockdown, with many businesses introducing their own safety measures on top of those required to open.
She said: “The impact of the local lockdown has been severe and significant, and loading another national lockdown on top of that would see vast numbers of businesses going to the wall.
“With the restrictions that are in place at the moment, businesses are telling us there is no atmosphere so people are voting with their feet and are meeting in each other’s homes.
“If they’re going into businesses they are adhering to social distancing and wearing face coverings, but they’re not doing it in the same way when they’re in their homes.
“People are being pushed into gathering in places which are not nearly as safe as if they were in a controlled environment in a restaurant or pub.”
She added: “Because of what we went through with the local lockdown, Aberdeen is one of the safest places if not the safest place in Scotland because of the measures in place. Businesses have stepped up and brought in their own additional restrictions.
“We are already looking at a large number of redundancies in the city. The hospitality sector employs around 14,000 people and the impact of further, more stringent measures is going to mean large numbers of people out of work.
“Our economy was detrimentally impacted because we were unable to take advantage of national schemes to support businesses. It’s quite clear there is a danger of the virus spreading when people gather.
“We would like to see local measures focused on areas which don’t detrimentally affect places where infection rates are low.
“Locking the whole country down again is not sustainable, and people are getting to a point where they don’t want to follow the rules any more. I think we are seeing that by the way people are gathering in their own homes in large numbers.”
The co-leaders’ call to ministers has been backed by city business leaders, including Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Russell Borthwick.
He said: “The recent local Aberdeen experienced drew into sharp focus the very damaging effect increased restrictions can have on our businesses and our economy. Many north-east companies face an uncertain future and while public health is crucial, it must be carefully balanced against the cost to jobs and people’s livelihoods.
“A return to a full national lockdown, especially in areas which are not experiencing the same rise in cases as are being seen elsewhere, will needlessly push more businesses over the edge and significant job losses will follow.”
Adrian Watson, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said the business body respected that public health was of paramount importance but highlighted that the pandemic had “accelerated” the very real challenge to the city centre.
He said: “We have seen inevitable closures, with sadly more in the offing and what is often forgotten is that this comes at significant human cost, through loss of jobs, ultimately impacting on many more people and storing up wide ranging legacy issues.
“Our city centre businesses have created a very safe trading environment and never has there been a time that they have needed the public’s support and confidence than now.
“It is incumbent upon us all to understand the importance that Aberdeen has to the region and nation and we caution against a blanket approach.
“Where it possibly can, the case has to be made to consider regional variations, as has been done to date with evidence-based decisions.”
And Aberdeenshire Council leader Jim Gifford said: “As a council, we are ready to cope with whatever new restrictions are put in place and will work to deliver our council services within whatever new guidelines are produced.
“We would hope that everything possible is done to ensure that our schools can remain open having gone through the enormous amount of work that was required to get them re-opened only a few weeks ago.
“I would also hope that everything possible is done to protect our businesses across the region as many are still struggling to get back up and running after the first full lockdown – any additional restrictions could be devastating for them, our high streets and the economy of the north-east.
“If any new restrictions are enforced, the Government must put in place some additional support funding for businesses or some of them will just not survive.”
Latest data shows Aberdeen City has one of the lowest infection rates in Scotland, with 18.9 cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks.
However, Ms Sturgeon said the number of cases recorded across the country is rising “exponentially” and said the public should expect tough decisions to be made in the coming days.
She said: “If we want to avoid another full-scale lockdown – which all of us do – doing nothing almost certainly isn’t an option.
“We have to consider now whether some national restrictions – we have national restrictions in place already, the six-two rule [six people from two households meeting] is a national restriction – do we need to have more national restriction?
“We need to act to interrupt that exponential growth.
“No-one wants to see another full-scale lockdown. And above all we want to keep schools and childcare open because we know how important that is to the education and to the broader wellbeing of children and young people.
“We are seeing increasing numbers of places both here in Scotland and across the rest of the UK that are under local and regional restrictions.
“The bottom line here is that this virus is on the rise again. Our case numbers are not yet rising as fast as they were back in March but they are rising again and they are rising quite rapidly.”