Hospitality call for clarity on easing lockdown

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Businesses have called for more clarity on the easing of Covid lockdown restrictions.

However, it will be mid-March before more details are spelled out.

The Scottish government said non-essential retail, hospitality and services such as gyms and hairdressers would not reopen before 26 April.

From then, Scotland will return to using a levels system of restrictions, where the level in each area is determined by prevalence of the virus.

All parts of the country currently in level four are expected to be able to move back to level three initially.

The government has warned there may be some changes to what is allowed in each level.

During Wednesday's coronavirus briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she "desperately wanted" to give a date for the overall end of lockdown, as the prime minister has done for 21 June, but said she did not want to give people "false clarity".

She said: "If I were to give you a fixed and hard and fast date right now, I would pretty much be making it up and I don't think that's the approach I should take.

"Our approach here is not an outlier and in terms of reopening the economy, we are roughly two weeks behind England."

Tanja Lister of the Kylesku Hotel in Sutherland told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that a return to the levels system would be devastating for business.

She said: "Effectively what we've been given is a route map to another lockdown, because let's be clear - level three for us, which is what's on for April, is actually what closed most hotels in the last part of 2020 so for our industry it's a potential disaster."

Ms Lister added: "If you were booking a holiday right now somewhere in the UK, you wouldn't book it in Scotland and that's the point.

"If you were looking for a job right now somewhere in the UK, you wouldn't look for it in Scotland.

"We will be left with very very serious problems in the summer is this doesn't change soon."

Ms Lister set up the hospitality and tourism action group, which is campaigning for a UK-wide full unlocking and reopening of the tourism and hospitality industry on 17 May - in line with the date set out for England on Monday.

In a statement, the group said the announcement on how the unlocking would take place in Scotland had been met with "utter dismay, confusion and anger".

It added that the industry in Scotland faced the green shoots of recovery for 2021 dying, adding: "Rather than cautious hope, the industry now faces widespread cancellations as people make plans to head elsewhere in the UK, recruitment becomes almost impossible."

'We need dates'

During her speech on Tuesday, the first minister stressed that Scotland's route out of lockdown was dependent on suppression of the virus.

Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that she was being "deliberately cautious", but said the pace of easing restrictions would be accelerated if the data supported it.

Under a four-step plan to ease lockdown south of the border, all legal limits on social contact could be lifted by 21 June if strict conditions are met.

Stephen Montgomery, of the Scottish Hospitality Group, said it was not viable for hospitality businesses to open under level three restrictions.

He added that it would be better if hospitality could be given definitive dates for reopening in the spring, like those given in England.

"We know on the 26 April that we're going to be open in some way - that's a date that we can look forward to, but we don't know whether it's going to be outside trading or inside trading, we don't know whether we're going to be serving food, no alcohol, nothing.

"We've got skilled staff to rehire, we have trading to do, we need some dates as indicative as they may be, but something to look forward to."

He also said the 18:00 curfew that was in place under the old system effectively meant stopping taking orders at 16:30, which prevented them effectively operating an evening service.

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Fiona Campbell, of the Association of Scotland's Self-Caterers, said the Scottish government had "failed completely" to set out what the changes would mean for hospitality and tourism businesses.

She added: "What makes this muddle even more disappointing to us, and to Scotland's tourism sector as a whole, is that it effectively means we are lagging behind our colleagues south of the border who already have an indicative date to reopen and as a result have already seen bookings come pouring in for late spring.

"We are now not only having to cancel and refund existing bookings, but we are also having to turn down bookings from south of the border."

She added that the self-catering sector had not yet had any help from sectoral support packages announced in December.

Nicola Sturgeon said she wanted to make sure that relaxing restrictions was "as safe and sustainable as possible", hence she wanted to be "cautious, careful and patient for the next period - while the vaccination programme progresses".

She added that she had tried to provide as much clarity as possible, while "avoiding giving false assurance or picking arbitrary dates that have no grounding at this stage in any objective assessment".

But Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said that the hospitality industry was "crying out for information".

Mr Ross added: "They tuned in yesterday to the first minister to hear how we will get out of this, how we can return business to normal, how I'll be able to go round to my parents and give them a hug again - that's what we wanted from the first minister yesterday and we got none of that.

"She let Scotland down yesterday with that route map."

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