The Scottish Government has announced new measures to tackle coronavirus transmission in Scotland that will come into force on Friday.
More than 1000 new cases were recorded in the country on Wednesday – the most on record – with deaths and hospital admissions due to the virus also on the rise.
Nicola Sturgeon revealed to MSPs strict new temporary restrictions targeted at the hospitality sector.
Her scientific advisers believe interactions in pub and restaurants to be among the chief remaining drivers of Covid-19 transmission – after private indoor gatherings between households were curbed in September.
The First Minister also confirmed even harsher local measures in key hotspots.
What is changing for Scotland?
Scotland-wide, pubs, restaurants and cafes must close their indoor premises from 6pm this coming Friday.
They also cannot sell alcohol indoors to customers at all – only food and non-alcoholic drinks can be served, from 6am to 6pm.
Hotel restaurants will be able to continue serving residents past 6pm, but without alcohol.
However, the previously-announced 10pm curfew still applies to outdoor restaurants and beer gardens, and you can still purchase alcohol at outdoor hospitality venues until last orders.
What is happening in hotspot areas?
The virus is spreading quickest in the central belt, the government says.
Sturgeon defined that today as five health board areas: Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lothian, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley and Ayrshire and Arran.
These hotspots comprise the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling along with a swathe of other council areas.
In these places, all licensed premises will be shut altogether, in harsh local measures affecting more than three million people – although takeaway service will still be allowed.
Cafes in these five areas which do not have an alcohol licence will be permitted to stay open until 6pm as per the national rules.
There will be an exemption to both the new local and national rules for weddings that have already been booked and funerals, which can continue to follow the previous guidance.
Snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls will also have to close in these areas from October 10.
For how long?
The hospitality restrictions are planned to last for 16 days – from October 9 to October 25.
They will effectively cover the next three weekends and the next two weeks.
“They are intended to be short, sharp action to arrest a worrying increase in infection,” Nicola Sturgeon said.
The local snooker hall, bowling alley, casino and bingo hall measures come into effect a day later (Saturday) and will last a fortnight.
All these measures will be kept “under review” by officials, leaving open the option they could be eased during the 16-day period, but also the possibility they could be made even tougher.
Nicola Sturgeon warned MSPs that, according to the government’s modelling, Scotland could hit levels of Covid-19 similar to the first peak in the Spring by the end of this month without further action.
More than a fifth of those contacted by Test and Protect due to testing positive for the virus or being a close contact of a positive case report having visited a hospitality venue.
The R number – the number of people a Covid-infected person infects – started rising three weeks after pubs and restaurants fully reopened in July, the First Minister said.
“Significantly restricting licensed premises for 16 days temporarily removes one of the key opportunities the virus has to jump from household to household,” she explained.
The government believes people can become less willing to follow social distancing advice when alcohol is involved.
Some venues can also struggle to maintain “good ventilation”, Sturgeon told MSPs, and it can be “hard to control the movement of people”.
There is deemed to be a much lower risk of coronavirus transmission in outdoor settings.
What is the industry saying?
Hospitality leaders have called the new restrictions a “death sentence” and a “hammer blow” to a sector that has already been battered by the pandemic.
“This may seem a short term, two-week hit, but it is targeted at businesses that are barely clinging on to survival,” James Withers said, the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink.
That’s despite the First Minister’s announcement of £40m in additional funding to support businesses hit with the new restrictions, which she said will be targeted at those most in need.
Outdoor contact sports for those aged 18 and over will be suspended for two weeks from Saturday in the five central belt health board areas, similar to the local measures for snooker, indoor bowling and bingo halls.
Fitness glasses and other indoor group exercise activities will be put on hold but gyms will remain open for individual exercise.
Outdoor live events planned in the five areas will also be cancelled over the period.
In addition, people living in the hotspot areas are recommended not to travel outside of their health board area, although no formal travel restrictions are in place.
They should try to avoid public transport unless it’s for work, school or other unavoidable reasons.
Scotland-wide, in the coming weeks rules on mask-wearing will be toughened up even further.
Face coverings will be made mandatory in indoor communal areas such as workplace canteens and corridors.
And shops will have to return to two-metre social distancing, having previously been allowed to reduce the distance to one metre to allow for more customers.