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Nicola Sturgeon sought out tougher coronavirus restrictions in Scotland last week in a bid to slow the spread of the disease. The SNP First Minister ordered all pubs and restaurants to close on the central belt last Friday while other premises are not allowed to serve alcohol. Former Scottish Secretary Lord Michael Forsyth has criticised the measures and said it would devastate local businesses in the country.
Speaking to ITV’s Representing Border, Lord Michael Forsyth said: “I think the action which has been taken is completely out of proportion and devastating for the businesses concerned.
“The legislation under the public health act was intended to deal with people who are infected or premises which are contaminated.
“What is happening here is businesses are being closed who have spent a lot of money and made great efforts to make their businesses safe and in line with the government’s evidence.
“The only way to test that is in the courts and given the devastating impact which it will have on small businesses, pubs and restaurants and hotels; I think the trade association should test it in the courts.”
Ms Sturgeon has since revealed that cafes can be exempt from the central belt shutdown during the day if they do not sell alcohol, triggering confusion about how a cafe is defined.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Friday, she acknowledged frustration on that point but said the new measures attempt to strike a balance between saving lives and protecting the economy.
She also announced six further coronavirus deaths had been registered in the past 24 hours in Scotland among people who first tested positive in the previous 28 days, taking this total to 2,544.
There were 1,246 new coronavirus cases recorded in the same period – a record high.
This represents 16.2 percent of newly-tested individuals, up from 13.5 percent on Thursday.
The First Minister said the cafe exemption aims to address a “potential anomaly” where outlets which have an alcohol licence but where selling drink is “very, very incidental to their business” would have been forced to close.
She said it is important cafes can stay open to counter the isolation felt by people who cannot currently meet others in their homes.
She added that if restaurants were able to stop selling alcohol and redefine themselves as cafes to remain open, this would “undermine” the aims of the new restrictions.
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Addressing the change, she said: “I readily accept that that has resulted in a lack of clarity. Sometimes that’s the price we have to pay right now for trying to be as flexible as possible.
“It would have been much easier and would have given much greater clarity just to stick to the position that cafes with a licence had to close, but we decided to try to strike a different balance.”
A definition of what constitutes a cafe has been published in the Scottish Government regulations, she added.
Ahead of the briefing, Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme the measures do not create a “neat division”, but said he expects hospitality venues to “know which they are”.
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