Home News Nicola Sturgeon humiliated: Scotland to lift Omicron restrictions after business fury

Nicola Sturgeon humiliated: Scotland to lift Omicron restrictions after business fury


The news comes as mounting pressure on the First Minister by Scottish businesses, combined with improving numbers of COVID cases has left Ms Sturgeon red-faced. Much of the pressure came from the hospitality sector in Scotland that has seen finances plummet following the introduction of restrictions before Christmas.

The Scottish government’s “ridiculous” bans on alcohol sales by bars and hotels have shown they “just have no understanding of the way hospitality works”, claimed hotel owner Stephen Montgomery, whose hotel in southwest Scotland has been badly hit by the pandemic.

He added: “They have listened to us, but they haven’t implemented anything we say.”

Such frustration, widely shared among businesses in Scotland’s travel, hospitality and retail sectors, stems in large part from the more cautious approach Ms Sturgeon has taken to easing lockdown over the past year compared with that of the UK government for England.

The changes will take effect from Monday 24 January after a “significant fall” in new case numbers.

Rival political parties also put pressure on the First Minister.

The Scottish Conservatives have demanded a quicker exit from lockdown and accused the SNP of keeping Scotland “stuck in the slow lane”.

However, Scots are still being asked to work from home and to take lateral flow tests before meeting others.

The First Minister told MSPs that Scotland had “turned the corner on the Omicron wave”.

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Guidance advising adults against meeting up with more than three households at a time will also be scrapped, along with curbs on indoor contact sports.

And ministers have decided against extending the vaccine passport scheme to more hospitality settings “at this stage”.

Ms Sturgeon said that while Omicron is still infecting “large numbers of people”, there had been a significant fall in the number of new infections over the past two weeks.

A total of 20,268 positive cases have been reported over the past three days, compared to 36,526 over the same three days last week.

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The percentage of tests coming back positive has dropped from almost 30 percent in early January to under 20 percent now.

It is now thought that the Omicron wave peaked in the first week of January, and the number of people being admitted to hospital with the virus is also falling.

From next Monday, the limits on attendance at indoor public events, the requirement for 1m physical distancing and table service in hospitality venues, and the requirement for nightclubs to close will also be removed.

However longer-running measures such as the use of face coverings on public transport and indoor public places will continue, while Ms Sturgeon said people were advised to continue to keep gatherings “small” to reduce the risk of infection.

People should also continue to work from home wherever possible for now, but Ms Sturgeon said talks would be held with businesses about “a return to a more hybrid approach from the start of February”.

The first minister said that Scotland was “once again entering a calmer phase of the pandemic”, but warned there was still “significant pressure” on health services.

She said: “Although we can be increasingly optimistic at this stage, we must all still play our part in helping further slow the spread of the virus.”

The changes were broadly welcomed by business groups, with CBI Scotland saying the easing of rules for hospitality was “a huge relief to firms desperate to start trading their way to recovery after a difficult festive period”.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce echoed this, and welcomed the decision not to extend vaccine passports to more venues – while calling on ministers to “remove the shackles from offices as urgently as possible”.

And the Federation of Small Businesses said withdrawing restrictions “doesn’t mean that local economies will necessarily bounce back”, calling for the government to “work hard to build business and consumer confidence”.

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