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New Scots virus restrictions to come into force

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Pubs and restaurants in the central belt will have to close for two weeks

New restrictions aimed at halting the rise in Covid infections are to come into force in Scotland.

Pubs and restaurants in the central belt are to close at 18:00 BST and will not reopen until at least 25 October.

Tighter restrictions will also come into force across the rest of the country, with no alcohol to be served indoors and bar opening hours limited.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the moves were “essential” to get the spread of the virus back under control.

However, some in the hospitality industry have said it could have a “massive impact” on businesses and cost thousands of jobs.

Further measures will come into force from midnight to bring back the 2m (6ft 6in) physical distancing rule in shops and tighten the rules around the wearing of face coverings.

Outdoor live events, adult contact sports, group exercise classes, snooker and pool halls, casinos and bingo halls will also have to close in the health board areas covering Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lothian, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley and Ayrshire and Arran.

Around 3.4 million people in these five health boards are to be subject to the harshest restrictions.

In these areas across the central belt, licensed premises will have to close until 25 October, although they can still serve takeaways.

Cafes with a licence will not have to close, as long as they do not serve alcohol, although there is confusion over what constitutes a cafe and whether these rules could apply to some restaurants.

Hospitality venues in the rest of Scotland will be allowed to open, but will only be allowed to serve non-alcoholic drinks and food indoors between 06:00 and 18:00.

Licensed premises in these areas will still be able to serve alcohol in outdoor areas, such as beer gardens, up to the 22:00 curfew introduced in September.

Regulations to enforce the moves are expected to be published on Friday.

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Nicola Sturgeon said the government was seeking to strike a “difficult balance”

People are also being asked to avoid public transport where possible and not to share a vehicle with another household.

The new restrictions are an attempt to arrest a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, with a further 1,027 positive tests recorded on Thursday.

The number of people in hospital being treated for the virus has more than doubled in a week to 377, with 31 in intensive care.

A paper published by the government on Wednesday claimed that the rate of infections could hit a peak similar to that experienced in March before the end of October.

‘Reverse gear’

Scotland’s national clinical director has insisted the new restrictions are not meant as a “punishment” from the Scottish government for people not complying with the regulations.

Prof Jason Leitch told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Friday: “It is not punishment. The virus is punishment.

“The enemy here is not the clinical advice. The enemy here is a deadly virus that has killed a million people.”

Prof Leitch also told the programme he was “very hopeful” that the combination of the recent limitations on household mixing and the new measures will enable progression to the “next version of what the restrictions might look like”.

But, highlighting the spiralling number of cases across Europe, he warned: “There has to be a reverse gear.”

On Thursday, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that “I do not get up in the morning and decide to close pubs for some sort of policy reason – we are in a global pandemic in which we are trying to save lives”.

She said the government needed to strike a “difficult balance” between public health and “the interests of the economy”.

‘Life-jobs balance’

Details of a £40m package of support for hospitality businesses is still to be set out, with Ms Sturgeon saying the government would consult with industry leaders before acting.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said the move would “sound the death knell for businesses across the hospitality sector, especially pubs and bars”.

And UK Hospitality’s executive director for Scotland, Willie Macleod, said he was afraid “we’re going to see tens of thousands of job losses by the time we do the final count on all of this”.

Ms Sturgeon said she was “acutely aware – literally every waking moment right now – of the impact of decisions that I take, and of the potential impact of decisions that I do not make”.

She added: “It is literally about striking a life-jobs balance, all the time. I would not wish having to make the decisions on anyone.”

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