The north-east has been given only “a stay of execution” as medical experts continue to consider if tougher coronavirus restrictions should be imposed, an Aberdeen pub boss has claimed.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday announced there will be no immediate changes to the tiers across Scotland this week – but warned the government would “continue to look very carefully” at the city and Aberdeenshire.
The two councils were widely expected to be moving up a level into level 3 after a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases.
Cases have risen by 68% in Aberdeen and by 42% in Aberdeenshire.
Ms Sturgeon said: “In both these areas cases have increased quite sharply.
“The number of cases is below the national average, but it is higher than some level 3 areas, such as Angus.
“However, there is a need to understand more deeply the extent these cases are being driven by specific outbreaks that are being actively managed – for instance, within food processing plants and care settings versus a wider and more general increase in community transmission.
“Given the degree of uncertainty in the information we have so far, and obviously in recognition of the economic and social impact, we have decided to await this further analysis before reaching a firm conclusion.
“If this information does justify a move to level 3 for one or both, we will set this out either at next week’s review, or if the situation merited it, earlier than that.”
The Highlands, Moray, Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles will all remain in tier one, with no changes to their restrictions.
The announcement had many north-east businesses breathing a sigh of relief, but the situation could change in a matter of days as health officials continue to assess the situation.
Aberdeen Hospitality Together spokesman Stuart McPhee said the first minister’s words were “intended to sound ominous”.
“I feel positive, although this also feels like a stay of execution,” he said.
“We have been not moved at this stage but are maybe being primed for a move – it didn’t sound like it was intended to be good news.
“It’s welcome we remain in level 2 in the short time but the anxiety remains about lack of planning for the weeks ahead – can I take bookings or plan for my staff?
“The state of things feels fragile.
“Before the other lockdowns there was always an atmosphere, a denting of customer confidence, not as many people out, the public had already decided it, but we are not seeing that this time, so that overall apprehension isn’t there this time.
“Level 2 feels just.”
The north-east will be considered “in greater depth” over the next few days by Scotland’s chief medical officer Gregor Smith, the national incident management team, NHS Grampian and the councils.
The third tier is more similar to lockdowns imposed earlier in the year, with a ban on travel outside of the council area, except for essential reasons like work and school.
Bars and restaurants would have to close by 6pm and would not be allowed to serve alcoholic drinks and adults could no longer participate in outdoor contact sport.
On Monday, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire council bosses met with Deputy First Minister John Swinney to make a case to remain in level 2.
Last night city co-leader Douglas Lumsden said: “We are relieved.
“Further restrictions would have been a tragedy for many businesses and jobs in the city.
“I’m just glad we had the opportunity to put our case forward to John Swinney and he’s taken on board the harms we mentioned and that these are outbreaks the NHS has total control of.
“This was a close call, but to be fair to the deputy first minister, he said no final decision had been taken and he was looking to hear our views, so I am genuinely grateful he has listened to what we put forward and we haven’t been fudged into tier 3.”
What would moving from tier two to tier three entail?
If the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire council areas do move from level two to level three restrictions, residents in the regions – and in areas bordering them – would face a number of changes.
One of the clearest impacts will be on the hospitality sector.
In level two regions, restaurants, cafes and bars can open indoors until 8pm, serving alcohol inside if it is alongside a substantial main meal.
They can also serve both food and alcohol outside until 10.30pm.
Alcohol-only venues that cannot sell substantial meals are not permitted to open under level two Scottish Government restrictions, though Aberdeen City Council has taken the view that they can be.
But if the regions go up a restriction tier to three, no alcohol can be served on-site at hospitality venues whatsoever and they must shut completely at 6pm.
No travel is permitted into or out of any council area that is in level three restrictions, even between areas of the same level – this means that if both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are in level three, it would not be permitted to travel between the two areas, for example between Portlethen and Cove, or Westhill and Kingswells.
Those living in a level three Aberdeenshire would also not be allowed to go into the Moray or Angus council areas, regardless of what level they are currently at.
Essential travel, for reasons such as for work or education, would be permitted.
No in-home socialising is allowed in either levels two and three, but six people from two households can meet up outdoors and in public places under both.