Hospitality chiefs hit out after one of her most trusted advisers signalled they would be first to be shut down if the country goes into “reverse gear”. National clinical director Jason Leitch said his advice would be to “stop transmission” by curbing “indoor, unventilated” places that attract crowds. It came amid growing fears that the First Minister could impose a snap lockdown before furlough ends in just four weeks’ time.
Ms Sturgeon last week warned she could rule out introducing new restrictions if required.
But she also said she was not currently considering a “circuit-breaker” lockdown to halt a rise in cases
Sources last night insisted there was no immediate plan for new curbs ahead of a Holyrood update on the pandemic from Ms Sturgeon on Wednesday.
Yesterday seven Covid deaths and 6,029 new cases were recorded in Scotland.
There were 585 patients in hospital, up by 34 in a day, with 54 patients in intensive care, up two.
This compares to pandemic peaks of 2,053 in hospitals and 221 in intensive care. Meanwhile, Scotland’s eight worst Covid regions were named among the 20 areas worst affected in Europe.
NHS Lanarkshire, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Dumfries and Galloway, Lothian, Dumfries and Galloway, Forth Valley, Ayrshire and Arran, Highland and Fife all rank high on the World Health Organisation’s European region table of Covid hotspots.
Professor Leitch told the BBC public health officials’ advice to ministers would be that “you have to stop transmission”.
He added: “Transmission happens indoors, unventilated, in crowds. So if you wanted to stop transmission, you need to think about areas that fit that criteria that you can just turn back a little bit.”
Asked if that meant nightclubs and pubs, he said that “might be where you start”, but he added ministers would also have to consider the economic implications.
Paul Togneri, of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said: “Any further restrictions placed on the hospitality industry would do severe and irreversible damage to an already fragile sector at the worst possible time.
“Professor Leitch is right to highlight the economic complexities that factor into the decision-making process.”
Scottish Licensed Trade Association managing director Colin Wilkinson said: “If pubs and clubs have to close again – in a so-called circuit-breaker – it will be absolutely devastating for our industry. We’ve talked about a perfect storm – another lockdown would be a tsunami from which many simply won’t recover.”
Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: “I think I’m getting a bit of déjà vu. When the pandemic started in March last year we were the first to close and then we were the last to open again.
“The uncertainty concerns me now even more than when we were closed. We’ve now got staff taken on since we were closed and if we are forced to go back to closure for a short sharp shock or circuit breaker there’s not much faith there.”
It is believed the end of the UK Government’s furlough scheme on September 30 is influencing SNP decision making on the issue.
Treasury figures show £14.5billion of UK Government funding has been handed to the Scottish Government since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Finance Secretary Kate Forbes – isolating due to a family member testing positive – yesterday told a Holyrood committee via video link that there was money available for business support or furlough if Scotland were to impose fresh restrictions.
She said: “I am not sitting on funds right now that I could deploy to support businesses.
“We would need additional help from the UK Government.”
Scottish Tory finance spokeswoman Liz Smith said SNP ministers “must be upfront” with firms about any reintroduction of “devastating” curbs.
She said: “Further damaging restrictions must be avoided at all costs.
“It is crucial SNP Ministers focus on ramping up the vaccine scheme among younger people and improving the Test and Protect system, rather than creating confusion and keeping business owners in the dark.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “No-one wants to see a return of formal restrictions, but we cannot rule anything out as cases continue to surge.”