The Bishop of Paisley has called for an easing of restrictions on Christmas Day amid warnings of a “digital Christmas”.
Earlier this week, national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said large family gatherings were unlikely to be held on the holiday due to the prevalence of coronavirus in Scotland.
John Keenan, who also serves as the vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said strict restrictions on Christmas gatherings run “the risk of destroying all hope”.
While he conceded that Prof Leitch was trying to manage expectations, Mr Keenan wrote in the Sunday Times: “No one wants a digital Christmas.
“Squashing false expectations is one thing, but no one wants to dampen people’s hopes.”
The bishop asked if there could be a 24-hour “circuit-breaker” put in place on December 25, comparing it with the ceasefire on the Western Front during the First World War.
He said: “Perhaps we should consider a Christmas ‘circuit-breaker’. A 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations, a break in the war on Covid, just like the pause in the First World War on the Western Front in 1914, when the British and German troops laid down their guns and met in no man’s land to celebrate Christmas.”
He added: “Couldn’t we allow for one day of normality in the midst of our relentless war against the virus?
“Think of the hope and happiness that would give. A moment of joy in the midst of so much despair.
The bishop also said that “great care” would have to be taken to protect the vulnerable and the elderly, but raised the risk of “emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness at what should be the happiest time of year”.
He continued: “The effects of a depressed and isolated Christmas could be devastating for many, leaving an emotional and social legacy that no vaccine could cure.
“Flattening the curve of infection rates has been a laudable goal of government policy this year. Rather than flatten the curve of hope, let’s lift our spirits with the prospect of a merry Christmas and happy new year.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Decisions on whether to introduce additional protective measures will continue to be guided by the latest available scientific and clinical evidence, and informed by a balanced ‘four harms’ assessment.
“We understand that people will naturally be anxious about whether they will be able to visit relatives over the festive period.
“The new levels approach we announced this week, if approved by the Scottish Parliament, will enable us to adapt our response to coronavirus more effectively.
“The more we do now to suppress transmission of the virus, the more likely we will have fewer restrictions in place at Christmas.
“However, given the rapidly-changing nature of the pandemic it is simply not possible to predict at this stage what restrictions may or may not be required over the Christmas and New Year holiday period.”
One more person has died in Scotland after being diagnosed with coronavirus, the Scottish Government has confirmed.
Total confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 56,752 – a jump of 1303 in the past 24 hours
The official death toll in Scotland now stands at 2700, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is more than 4300.
Of the new cases reported on Sunday, 437 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 341 are in Lanarkshire, 155 are in Lothian, and 132 are in Ayrshire and Arran.
The remaining cases are spread across seven other health board areas.
According to management information reported by NHS boards across Scotland, 1016 people are in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 – an increase of 31 overnight. Out of those, 86 patients are in intensive care.
The figures come as a senior figure in the Catholic Church has called for a 24-hour “circuit-break” on Christmas Day, which would see restrictions lifted and people able to visit family.
John Keenan, the Bishop of Paisley and vice-president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said strict restrictions on December 25 run “the risk of destroying all hope”.
The Scottish Government has said it is not possible to predict what level the virus will be at by Christmas, adding the more compliance there is with the guidance now, the more likely the prevalence will reduce and restrictions will be lifted.
Children dressing up as spooky characters and going to door-to-door looking for treats has been an annual tradition for generations.
However, the deputy first minister says the move is necessary to ensure current restrictions on gatherings are adhered to.
John Swinney said: “I know guising is a big part of Halloween and children will be sad to miss out, but as door-to-door guising brings an additional and avoidable risk of spreading the virus, our clear advice for families is to avoid it.”
In light of the current situation, STV News looks at alternative ways families can have spooky fun while avoiding the scare of spreading the virus.
Visit a patch to pick a pumpkin
If you take the FM’s advice and avoid guising altogether, there are plenty of other ways to mark Halloween without the family being stuck indoors.
Pumpkin picking is the latest autumn trend in Scotland as younger generations continue to adopt American traditions.
The days of carving lanterns from tumshies could now be a thing of the past as pumpkins become more and more popular.
There are now patches popping up across Scotland as the trend becomes the norm.
Here is a list of patches open to the public this year:
Udny Pumpkins, Ellon
South Ardbennie, Perthshire
Cairnie Farm, Cupar
Craigies Farm, South Queensferry
Balgone Estate, East Lothian
Kilduff farm, East Lothian
MND’s Theme Park Outdoor Pumpkin Festival, Bellshill
Valley View At Gouldings, Carluke
Get competitive in a carving contest
Once you’ve picked your perfect pumpkin, why not challenge the family to a carving competition?
Get artistic with stencils or bravely go freehand to create the most impressive spooky designs to rival your relatives.
Make things more interesting by taking the contest online and challenge your wider family on Zoom.
Show off your work with a pumpkin trail
What better way to show off your hard work than with a neighbourhood pumpkin trail?
Families can place a pumpkin somewhere on or around their homes so children can wander through the street and count as many as possible.
The idea has become increasingly popular this year as parents are keen to make sure Halloween happens for their children.
Every pumpkin found, children can be given a sweet treat to add to their bag.
Just look at it as a 2020 spin on guising!
Give your face mask a Halloween twist
Young ones can give the term Halloween mask a whole new meaning by giving their face coverings a spooky makeover.
Using stickers, felt or even a parent’s sewing skills, they can create a terrifying design ready to scare the public on their next trip outdoors.
Show off your costume from your doorstep
At the height of lockdown, Scotland saw communities come together from the safety of their gardens and doorsteps.
Whether that was for the weekly Clap for Carers event or performing a dance from their front gate.
Why can’t the same be done for Halloween? Children can show off their costume from the safety of their front garden or street for passers-by and neighbours to enjoy.
Host a virtual Halloween quiz
The idea of Zoom might give people the chills these days but why not get the whole family involved in a Halloween quiz?
Brush up on horror movie trivia and hellish history before going head-to-head to see who is the spook-tacular winner.
Put those lockdown baking skills to the test
Time in lockdown taught people a lot of skills, the most common one was learning how to bake.
So, how about putting those talents to the test by baking some spooky sweet treats?
From creepy cookies to pumpkin pancakes there’s an endless list of recipes online to try out.
Discover the light with a trip to GlasGLOW
If staying in isn’t people’s style then a trip to see GlasGLOW’s Halloween light show might be the perfect choice.
The popular event is set to return to Glasgow for a third year for the Halloween season.
It is held at the Botanic Gardens and will run from the October 29 – November 15.
Visitors have been told to expect an “immersive journey transporting them to other worlds where ancient powers have been unleashed”.
Return of students after Christmas ‘could be staggered’
John Swinney said that the Scottish Government is 'learning lessons' from the return of students.
The return of students to university after spending Christmas at home could be staggered, according to the Education Secretary.
The beginning of the academic year saw thousands of students enter halls of residence before hundreds of them were forced to isolate due to a spike in Covid-19 cases.
John Swinney said that the Scottish Government is “learning lessons” from the return of students which will impact measures in place after the Christmas break.
The Education Secretary also said it was a “priority” that students are able to go home for Christmas and he was working with other UK nations to ensure that does not result in a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Addressing the return of students, he told the BBC’s Politics Scotland programme: “Some of the points that we’re looking at are around staggered returns of students so that they don’t all come back in one go, that we look at arrangements for how testing can be part of the architecture of how we handle that return.
“What we expect of students when they are returning home and when they’re coming back into universities and how they will spend their time, how their learning will be undertaken – these are all issues that are being explored.”
Swinney went on to say that a system of mass testing, bolstered by a staggered return of students ensuring the system does not become overwhelmed, was being discussed as an option.
He said: “These are some of the options that are being looked at and obviously… the practicalities of that are changed and eased if the return of students is staggered over a longer period.”
Swinney added: “We’re working with institutions because they have to be partners with us in how the learning is undertaken over that period to make sure that we avoid any situation where there is too much strain either on the testing system or there is too much strain on the possibility of the circulation of the virus when students return or, for that matter, when they return to their homes in the first place.”
A new five-tiered system of restrictions was unveiled by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Friday, which would see a shifting package of measures put on different local authority areas depending on the prevalence of the virus.
However, schools are to remain open under the new framework, which will be debated by MSPs this week.
Swinney said the decision could be made to close a singular school for public health reasons, but that there were “many steps” which could be taken before schools will be shuttered as they were in March.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak urged to keep duty free shopping
Finance secretary Kate Forbes and economy secretary Fiona Hyslop have written to the Treasury.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been urged not to scrap duty free shopping in a letter from the heads of Scotland’s finances.
In an announcement made in September, the UK Government confirmed that VAT refunds on goods bought by non-EU citizens, along with tax-free airside purchases, would be scrapped after the end of the Brexit transition period.
Finance secretary Kate Forbes and economy secretary Fiona Hyslop have told the Treasury that retail businesses already suffering as a result of the pandemic would suffer if the rules were changed.
The letter, published on Sunday, adds to the gulf between the Treasury and the Scottish Government on finance policy.
Earlier this week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described new Covid-19 measures as “unacceptable”, after she claimed that no extra funding would be made available to Scottish ministers as a result of support extended to local authorities in England.
The letter said: “We urge you to reconsider this decision in light of the significant economic challenges that businesses affected by these changes are already experiencing due to Covid-19 measures.
“Since your minister’s announcement in September, we have received representations from many stakeholders across Scotland, each of whom has expressed surprise at the lack of engagement from the UK Government, and shared extensive concerns regarding the detrimental consequences for the sectors they represent.
“Hundreds of millions of pounds in sales could be lost in Scotland and thousands of jobs are at risk as a result of these changes, including jobs in rural areas.”
The end of tax-free sales will only count for people travelling outside the EU – those travelling to the 27 European nations will be able to buy duty free goods in British ports.
The ministers went on to express “concern” that World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would be in effect from January 1, after the UK exit from the EU.
The letter added: “The Scottish Government has not received any indication to this effect and, clearly, the potential implications of this are far-reaching.
“We do not believe that this is the best route for Scotland, nor indeed the UK.”
The trading landscape for businesses in Scotland will be made harder after Brexit, the letter said, when WTO tariffs are put in place on non-EU exports and imports.
A spokesman for the Treasury said: “Supporting jobs is our number one goal – that’s why we’re investing billions to support business across the country through our Plan for Jobs.
“We’re also providing a significant boost to airports with our extension of duty free sales to passengers travelling to the EU for the first time in over 20 years.
“Less than 10% of non-EU visitors to the UK use the VAT refund shopping scheme and extending this to EU visitors could cost up to £1.4bn a year.
“During the consultation concerns were also raised that the benefits of tax-free shopping in airports aren’t consistently passed on to consumers.
“Overseas visitors can still buy items VAT free in store and have them sent directly to their overseas addresses.”