Demands have been made for Aberdeen to be given the same freedoms as those in the north, who could be among the first in Scotland allowed back into each other’s homes.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday confirmed the Highlands, Islands and Moray council areas will be classed in tier one of the new Covid-19 restrictions system, while Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire face continued higher regulations.
But she ruled north residents would not immediately enjoy the benefit of home gatherings of six people from two households.
Last night Highland Council leadership launched a bid to have that entitlement brought forward, while Aberdeen council co-leaders Jenny Laing and Douglas Lumsden, along with business bosses, have written to Ms Sturgeon demanding the city be placed in tier one too.
Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber Of Commerce, Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen Hospitality Together, the Federation Of Small Businesses and Aberdeen City and Shire Hotels Association co-signed the letter, calling for lesser restrictions to “mitigate economic harm”.
But the first minister was quick to respond on social media, tweeting: “The desire for speedier progress is understandable but these decisions have been taken carefully.
“We are at a crucial moment and it will take work in the coming weeks to maintain progress and not have to return to the stricter restrictions many other countries are facing.
“Compliance is vital.”
Last night council co-leader Mr Lumsden said he was left “defeated, angry and disappointed” at the north-east’s tier two classification.
The city and Aberdeenshire council areas have had fewer the 75 cases per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate under 3% over the last week – meaning the criteria was met for tier one.
This made increased restrictions “galling”, Mr Lumsden said, as north-east soft play centres, music venues, theatres and bingo halls must all stay closed – while crowds continue to be turned away from football grounds.
Mr Lumsden said: “It does not make sense to me; our indicators for infections and test positivity meet the criteria so it’s confusing.
“I’m looking at this now and asking how on earth we would ever get to tier one – what else does the city need to do as the government has not given us any indication of our escape route.
“Personally I would be surprised if we were out of tier two by Christmas.
“I’m annoyed and angry for all the people whose jobs and livelihoods are at risk and who might now lose it.”
Government documents show officials did consider placing the whole north-east at tier one but blamed a recent rise in Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen’s precarious 0.06% scrape under the 3% positive test limit for maintaining restrictions.
Aberdeenshire Council leader Jim Gifford said it was “disappointing”, adding: “What we all have to do now is follow the guidelines and work to reduce those numbers and work with all of our partners, businesses and residents to get us down into tier one and then to the almost normality of tier 0 as quickly as possible.
“In many ways, tier two is the worst of both worlds where businesses are open but very restricted in their operations and in people’s ability to use those businesses.”
Highland councillors also launched a bid for greater freedom – voting to ask the Scottish Government to permit indoor visiting in the region on the grounds that outdoor socialising is difficult in winter, and residents’ mental health is already impacted by isolation and loneliness. It was rejected.
Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “We are happy with tier one, except for the home visiting restrictions.
“We’re very disappointed at that, many people in Highland are becoming dispirited as they wish to see additional family members and friends and many are becoming increasingly lonely.
“Also travel restrictions between different levels will be very hard on tourism and hospitality.”
Neighbouring Moray has recorded the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases on the UK mainland during the entire pandemic – behind only Shetland and the Western Isles.
Council leader Graham Leadbitter is hopeful the trend will mean the region will become one of the first to allow home visits again within weeks.
He said: “We have been very fortunate in Moray, which is the result of the hard work of everyone following the restrictions and keeping it at bay.
“It is vital that we continue to stick with it to ensure we stay at that low level and with a fair wind we could be among the first regions in Scotland to get home visiting restrictions lifted as well in the coming weeks.
“The tiers are going to be reviewed weekly and with continued progress we should be able to have a greater level of interaction with our families and friends very soon.”