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‘This will push people over the edge’: Leading hospitality figures react to prospect of ‘circuit breaker’ measures

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Hotel, bar and restaurant owners have been voicing their concern over reports that Scotland could be about to face even tougher restrictions in an effort to control the surge in coronavirus cases.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hinted strongly during yesterday’s coronavirus briefing that stricter measures could be on the way amid “a rising tide of infection across the country”.

She is expected to announce shortly whether a so-called “circuit-breaker” could be introduced this month. Interventions could include tighter controls on or even the closure of pubs and restaurants.

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Stephen Leckie who is chair of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and owner of the Crieff Hydro Hotel, said reports of a circuit breaker shutdown made for “extremely harrowing reading for anyone involved in this industry”.

Stephen Leckie of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and owner of Crieff Hydro.

He added: “The next three weeks is our only chance to make any sort of money before the year end so any form of travel restriction would in effect be a lockdown for those in this industry. If we had to close from this week to the end of this month, for example, we’d walk from the frying pan straight into the fire starting from November and for the following five months our businesses would lose money and many just wouldn’t reopen next week. This is extremely harrowing reading for anyone involved in this industry.

“Whenever there is an announcement on television there are cancellations. There’s a consumer confidence issue, people are nervous, they’re concerned, and some do cancel across the board.

“If we were to lockdown this Friday, we have our rotas seven days in advance, we cannot simply say to our people – and there will be 700 people working this weekend across our country – we can’t say, ‘We’re locking down, we can’t pay you, we don’t need you to come into work’.

“The second side of it is, to pay 1000/2000 customers back the deposits they’d placed with us in trust costs money, administration clerks on the phone, trying to figure out GDPR and going through the credit card bookings and so on. It’s a mammoth amount of work to pay money back.

“Surely there must be other levers we can pull in order to restrict the spread of this virus.”

Stuart McPhee, who runs Aberdeen’s Siberia Bar & Hotel and is a spokesperson for the Aberdeen Hospitality Together group, which formed in the wake of the local lockdown imposed on the city in August, also fears further action could be the final straw for some businesses.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said hospitality businesses are struggling to plan ahead for the next two weeks and are facing “huge uncertainty.”

Nicholas Russell, managing director of Balbirnie House hotel in Fife, tweeted he believed a two-week lockdown “will surely be catastrophic” without financial support measures.

Last week, celebrity chef Nick Nairn added his voice to those in the hospitality industry criticising tougher restrictions, questioning whether there was data to demonstrate bars and restaurants were a significant factor in the surge of cases.

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