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North-east breathes sigh of relief as Sturgeon confirms no change in status

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced changes to Covid-19 restrictions.

There will be no changes to coronavirus tiers in the north and north-east of Scotland this week, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The first minister allayed fears that restrictions would be stepped up after a recent rise in cases in Aberdeenshire.

However, 11 local authorities in the west of Scotland and the central belt will enter into level four restrictions from Friday – essentially a full lockdown.

Limitations on socialising will be imposed with visits to other people’s houses prohibited, and pubs, restaurants and cafes will close to all customers.

Only essential retail will be permitted to operate. There would also be a ban on close contact facilities such as hairdressers and massage therapies.

Areas within this tier include Glasgow City, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.

They will be under the new restrictions for three weeks, the first minister said, with these lifted on December 11.

Travelling to a level four or level three area is not advised.

The first minister told MSPs: “I know people are frustrated that other restrictions have remained in place longer than planned.

“But level four is intended to be short and sharp. And in this situation, it is specifically intended to have an impact in advance of Christmas and the most challenging winter period.”

East Lothian and Midlothian are set to move down a level on Tuesday, from tier three to tier two, allowing people in other parts of the country to visit.

‘Everyone will be very relieved’

Concerns that the north-east would be placed in tier three were raised within the hospitality sector following a recent spike in coronavirus cases in the region.

Such restrictions would mean bars, restaurants and cafes would be forced to close at 6pm, and no alcohol sales permitted.

Under the current tier two guidelines, hospitality premises can stay open until 8pm indoors and 10.30pm outdoors, and alcohol can be served with meals inside.

The decision not to change the region’s level has been met with relief from local politicians.

Aberdeenshire Council leader Jim Gifford said: “It is great news that we are staying in level 2 given that every indication that we had, as late as yesterday evening, was that we were likely to be moving into 3.

“Everyone in Aberdeenshire will be very relieved not to have additional restrictions placed on them.

Aberdeenshire Council leader Jim Gifford

“We have clearly had a bit of flexibility applied to the stark health advice which is very welcome but must serve as a wake-up call that if we don’t see our infection numbers improving then all we have had is a stay of execution on a move to level 3.

“Our message continues to be the same as for the last many, many months – stay safe. Use masks, wash your hands and observe social distance.

“If we all continue to follow the basic rules then we will hopefully avoid these difficult decision days again.”

Douglas Lumsden, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, said: “My immediate reaction is one of relief. There had been rumours that the government was considering tier 3 for some parts of the region.

“That would have been a huge blow to hospitality and retail in the city centre.”

Scottish Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West Alexander Burnett said: “Barely a day goes by without the news that more people are being made redundant, as businesses struggle to operate under the current restrictions.

“It’s vital people across the north-east continue their good work so the region can move nearer to tier one – something we all want to happen.

“We are continuing to call for a business advisory council to give businesses in the region a seat at the table that they have been asking for since this pandemic began.”

No changes for north

There were no changes announced for Moray, the Highlands and the isles, who all remain in level one restrictions.

The disparity in household gathering rules between the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland and the other tier one areas will remain, though there was some good news for people in Moray and the Highlands.

From tomorrow, they will be able to meet up to eight people from three different households outdoors.

Ahead of the announcement, the first minister revealed Scotland has recorded 37 deaths from coronavirus and 1,248 new positive cases in the past 24 hours.