Nicola Sturgeon has said there will be no return to normality when hospitality restrictions are due to be eased this month, warning that household gatherings will remain banned.
The first minister said temporary restrictions in place until October 25 would be replaced by a strategic “tiered” approach to managing the coronavirus pandemic.
In a virtual statement to Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon announced that wearing of face coverings was about to become mandatory in staff canteens and communal work areas like corridors.
Ms Sturgeon also said she was looking at legal underpinning to potential restrictions to travel across the Anglo/Scottish border as 13 deaths and 1,351 positive cases were recorded in the last 24 hours.
I think there is an argument, and we have to keep it under consideration both within Scotland and in terms of travel to and from Scotland from other parts of the UK, about making it more regulated and having a legal underpinning and that’s what we are considering at the moment.”
In a statement that offered little hope of easing of measures in the near future, Ms Sturgeon said “love, kindness and solidarity” were more important than ever as the country was in a “precarious” position.
She also said business could apply from Tuesday to a £20 million grant fund administered by councils, which is part of the £40m support the Scottish Government has made available.
Local authority websites would be updated next week to allow applications and the process would be open for a fortnight.
At the moment pubs and restaurants outside the central belt are subject to a 6pm indoor curfew and can only provide food and soft drinks inside. Alcoholic drinks can be sold outside until 10pm.
In five health board areas of central Scotland pubs and restaurants are closed, except for takeaways, under restrictions which are due to expire on October 26.
No return to normal
But Ms Sturgeon said it was “important to stress” that given the “ongoing challenge” of Covid the date would “not herald a return to normality”.
“The restrictions on household gatherings, for example, will remain in place until it is considered safe to ease them,” the first minister said.
Ms Sturgeon went on say the temporary restrictions would be replaced with her “new strategic approach” to managing the pandemic.
She admitted the restrictions were “tough” but was unable to rule out having to tighten them in the future.
A new tiered approach
The new strategic approach will set out different tiers or levels of restrictions that can be applied nationwide or locally.
Ms Sturgeon said the new approach would be debated at Holyrood and would include measures to increase compliance with self-isolation as well as future projections of daily testing capacity. The framework is expected to include measures such as routine testing for those caring for people based at home.
From this Friday staff canteens will come into line with pubs and restaurants in terms of face coverings, with masks to be worn when not seated at a table; for example, when queuing or going to the loo.
From Monday face coverings will also have to be worn in communal areas at work like corridors. Couples taking part in weddings or civil partnerships, however, would be exempt from face coverings.
Cross-border travel restrictions
Ms Sturgeon confirmed her government was “looking carefully” at Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford’s ban on people travelling to Wales from Covid hotspots elsewhere in the UK.
“I think there is an argument, and we have to keep it under consideration both within Scotland and in terms of travel to and from Scotland from other parts of the UK, about making it more regulated and having a legal underpinning and that’s what we are considering at the moment,” Ms Sturgeon said.
The first minister admitted that such an approach would result in “practical challenges around enforcement”.
She said: “The police cannot stop everybody coming into or leaving Scotland. Some people would have legitimate reasons to be travelling so we have to think through those practical considerations.
“But at a time when we are all trying to suppress the virus and a time when we know importation of the virus from outside the UK and from one part of the UK to another is a risk it would be remiss of us not to be looking seriously at how we strengthen our ability to restrict travel from high to low-prevalence areas. That is very much something that is under active consideration.”
Earlier, Tory Dumfriesshire MP Oliver Mundell asked Ms Sturgeon to guarantee that his constituents who needed to go to England to work would be allowed to do so, warning that: “Attempting to close internal borders within the United Kingdom causes significant concern and anxiety for many.”
Strangely snippy and poltical answer from Nicola Sturgeon to a straightforward question that matters to those living in our border region. I don’t remember asking about the constitution… I was asking about the day-to-day pattern of my constituents lives. 🤔#FMQs
— Oliver Mundell MSP (@olivermundell) October 15, 2020
Ms Sturgeon said any decision taken would not be for “constitutional” reasons but would be made to control the disease.
She added that although people were being told to work from home where possible, those who had to travel for that purpose would be exempt – including on cross-border commutes.