The first stage of Scotland’s High Street recovery launches today, with retailers opening their doors to customers for the first time in 14 weeks.
Non-essential shops which were forced to close in March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have been preparing for customers following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement last week of a relaxation of lockdown restrictions.
People are being reminded stores and units will have a “new look” to them, as social distancing measures are put in place.
The Scottish Tories have called on the Scottish Government to review its two metre policy, which differs from the rest of the UK, where people only have to distance by “one metre plus”.
Face coverings, although not mandatory in shops, are being encouraged to be worn to help stem the spread of infection.
Shops which can be accessed from the street will only be open, with retail units inside shopping centres having to wait until phase three before being allowed.
Should Covid-19 remain under control, the Scottish Government plans for shopping centres to be able to open from July 13.
Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, warned if infection incidences increased because of a relaxing of guidelines, a return to school “as normal” for children in August could be impacted.
She added there could be an increase in the number of coronavirus infections in late July as a result of lockdown restrictions being eased.
No new deaths
Figures released on Sunday showed no new deaths within the previous 24 hours, the third consecutive day of such.
The total number of people who have died under the Scottish Government measurement remains at 2,482.
Eight more people tested positive for the virus and 452 people are in Scottish hospitals with confirmed or suspected cases.
There were five people in intensive care with confirmed cases of Covid-19 and eight with suspected cases.
It follows news on Saturday Ninewells hospital’s intensive care unit released what is hoped is its last coronavirus patient.
Face coverings “key” in reducing virus spread
Speaking on Politics Scotland, Prof Sridhar said: “England’s strategy is to re-open as soon as possible to get the economy open.
“But the problem is you still have a substantial number of cases — the latest estimates of between 3-4,000 — and the behaviour since then it is probably even higher, somewhere like 6,000 daily cases.
“It seems like in England they will continue opening up until they feel the NHS capacity might be breached, then they will look at local lockdown or measures such as that.”
She added there was a risk of infection of coronavirus increasing because of the “open border” between Scotland and England, adding: “If Scotland was an island like New Zealand, and we could just lock ourselves away and have checks on the border and on arrivals, it would make it very straight forward.
“Looking at our figures…we are in quite a good situation going into the summer, but obviously (Scotland being an island) is not the case so we need to look at the next best solution, which is controlling the infection… it is the best way of getting back to normal and getting children back into school.
“If we see numbers jump up in July because of easing of restrictions, it presents a very difficult situation for August. Everyone wants children back in school, but it has to be done in a way which is measured and cautious, so we don’t have to open schools and then immediately close them.
“July is the really crucial month for people, as things open up, to follow the rules and guidance and be sensible.
“The virus is still around and it can still increase quite fast.
“If we can eliminate the virus, like New Zealand, then we can have rugby matches with thousands of spectators and nightclubs and bars come back.
“The problem is when you have the virus circulating at a low level then these things become risky.
“A good rule of thumb is outdoors versus indoors.
“As long as we have people being sensible in shops, using face masks which are a great tool, you can block transmission in a way that is quite simple.
“We have to keep monitoring each week how the testing and the data looks.
“We will see bumps in cases as people start to interact more…it is why we should use test and trace well.”
A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “All governments must continue to work together across the four nations to ensure that our collective progress against Covid-19 is sustained, while also agreeing how we tackle the inevitable future localised outbreaks that we expect to occur around the U.K.
“This should not be about pitching one part of the U.K. against another or finding new ways to divide our efforts with half-baked ideas.
“Such a move could have major consequences for Scottish tourism just as the industry is showing optimism.”
Retailers have shown “great resilience”
Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The progress made in tackling Covid-19 because of compliance of the public with lockdown rules means we are now in a position to ease some restrictions.
“Shops with street access in high streets across the country will be re-opening from today in a significant step towards the recovery of our economy, which has been very severely hit by coronavirus.
“High street retailers have shown huge resilience since the start of lockdown and the work they have done to safely prepare for re-opening, with close engagement between industry and trade unions, has been very welcome.
“As the high street re-opens we are making it clear shoppers are welcome back to their local high street as long as they shop safely and observe key safety messages such as the wearing of face coverings.”
Shop owners’ “immense effort”
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “The last 14 weeks have been very challenging for retailers. Lockdown has forced them to rely on their limited reserves of cash and short term financial support, including the Scottish Government’s grants and rates relief, to survive.
“Being able to reopen today is a chance for those businesses to recover, and hopefully thrive.
“In preparation shop owners have put in an immense effort to take every step possible to be ready to safely open and our hope is customers will come out and support their local town centre and high street.”
Tories want end of two-metre distancing
Jackson Carlaw, Scottish Conservative leader said “international evidence” already exists which would allow for the Scottish Government to relax its two metre social distance rule, aligning with the rest of the UK.
He added: “The reopening of the High Streets is a really positive step for all of us – another big step towards normal life.
“As we move from the public health emergency of Covid, Scotland is undoubtedly facing a significant economic challenge.
“The Scottish Conservatives will continue to stand up for jobs and livelihoods to ensure our economy suffers as little as possible over the course of this crisis.
“Our message is that the Scottish Government must start to revitalise our economy, but so can we – we can get out there and spend money.
“Scottish Conservatives will be out there today, publicly highlighting the great shops we have, and the great people who work in them.”