Covid in Scotland: Tourism and hospitality in 'circuit breaker' fears

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Some tourism and hospitality businesses may never recover from the effects of more coronavirus restrictions, industry leaders have warned.

The first minister will announce any further Covid curbs in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.

Some government advisers have backed the idea of a "circuit breaker" lockdown as a "short, sharp shock".

At her daily briefing Nicola Sturgeon said no final decisions had been taken but there would no return to lockdown.

She said schools would remain open, the remobilisation of the NHS would not be halted and there would be no nationwide restriction on travel.

But she did not rule out local travel limits or further controls on people meeting in bars or restaurants.

Stephen Leckie, the owner of the Crieff Hydro Hotel in Perthshire, said the developments made "extremely harrowing reading" for people working in hotels, restaurants, self-catering businesses or visitor attractions.

He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that the next three weeks - covering many schools' October break - was the last chance for these businesses to make money before the end of the year.

"Any form of travel restriction would in effect be a lockdown those in this industry," he said.

"If we had to close for the remainder of this month for example, we'd walk from the frying pan straight into the fire.

"From November for the next five months, this industry, these people, our businesses, would simply lose money and many just wouldn't reopen next year."

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image captionStephen Leckie owns Crieff Hydro in Perthshire

Mr Leckie, who also chairs the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said consumer confidence had been knocked and people were cancelling bookings every time there are reports of possible further Covid restrictions.

He added: "If we were to lockdown this Friday, we have our rotas seven days in advance.

"We cannot simply say to our people - and there will be 700 people working this weekend across our company - we cannot simply say to them, 'Look we're locking down, we're not going to pay you, we don't need you to come to work'."

Businesses also face a "mammoth amount of work" in paying back deposits to people if all the bookings are cancelled, he said.

"Surely there must be other levers that we can pull in order to restrict the spread of this virus," he said.

"Surely the blanket travel restriction, or circuit breaker or lockdown, as we're understanding it, surely that's not the answer. There must be other levers they can pull in order to halt this virus."

'A step too far'

Carina Contini, a restaurateur in Edinburgh, questioned whether the closure of hospitality was a "fait accompli". "Is this absolutely the alternative?" she asked.

A further lockdown - however short - would have "devastating consequences for many, many businesses", she added.

The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG), which represents nine of the country's largest independent hospitality operators, warned a two-week lockdown would cost its members £10m and harm their 6,000-strong workforce, including 1,500 under-25s.

Nic Wood, who runs the Signature Pubs chain and is a member of SHG, said: "Not only does a bar or restaurant job provide much-needed money for young Scots, it gives them the people skills and experience that are vital in building their careers.

"It will be heartbreaking if we are forced to make redundancies because the government has shut us down again.

"Young people in Scotland will once again bear a disproportionate amount of the burden and coming on top of all the issues that students and young people are facing already, this will be a step too far."

'Utterly heartbreaking'

During her daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon said she hoped that her statement outlining what would not happen during a "circuit-breaker" would reassure the hospitality industry.

She added: "Hopefully the fact that we are carefully weighing all of these factors and thinking about economic impact and how we mitigate that will also give a degree of reassurance.

"I understand how horrendously difficult this is for people like Stephen Leckie who has watched a business that has been built up with a lot of blood, sweat and tears over the years struggle in the way so many businesses have.

"I, like everyone does, find that heartbreaking, I find so many aspects of dealing with this pandemic utterly heartbreaking. I can't magic the virus away - I wish I could."

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