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Business leaders in the Highlands welcome move to level zero coronavirus restrictions

By Ian Duncan

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Inverness city centre will move to level zero coronavirus restrictions along with the rest of Scotland.
Inverness city centre will move to level zero coronavirus restrictions along with the rest of Scotland.

Business leaders welcomed the announcement that the whole of Scotland will move to level zero coronavirus restrictions from Monday.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the move on Tuesday, though also laid out a number of modifications to restrictions in light of a recent rise in Delta variant Covid-19 cases.

Changes to level zero restrictions include a need for the continued wearing of face coverings;a requirement for all hospitality venues to close at midnight rather than follow local licensing regulations; physical distancing in indoor and outdoor public places to be limited to one metre.

A gradual return to offices has also been postponed until the move beyond level zero, which would currently come on August 9 at the earliest.

Inverness-based economist Tony Mackay said the First Minister’s more cautious approach was better than that taken by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He said: "Local businesses obviously want to return to normality as soon as possible, but the frequent changes and differences in UK and Scottish government policies have caused many problems, particularly in the tourism and hospitality industries.

"Most current visitors to the Highlands are from the rest of the UK and the differences between English and Scottish policies on face coverings and other restrictions are not helpful.

"Local examples of the problems are the recent closures of the Glenmoriston Hotel and the Café 1 restaurant in Inverness because of Covid infections.

"There are positive signs of a slow recovery in the local economy, such as the increase in retail spending, and I believe that cautious policies to continue that are better than more headline-grabbing ones."

A spokesman for Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Highlands and Islands said: "The First Minister’s announcement provides some clarity about the conditions in which businesses will be trading for the coming weeks – a move that has largely gone down well in the small business community.

"It is progress that indoor physical distancing has been reduced to one metre, but less good news that it’s not been removed altogether for outside settings.

"As important as this announcement was, however, the date that really matters is August 9 – and business owners in the Highlands will be looking to government to confirm the removal of all physical distancing regulations and to clearly articulate the position on face coverings and any remaining rules."

When Ms Sturgeon made her statement she told people that, in her view, it was a time for "continued caution" in light of the recent rises in Covid-19 case numbers.

"That means while Scotland will move to level zero from next Monday we will do so with certain modifications to our original indicative plans," she said.

She added certain mitigations, including the wearing of face coverings, would likely remain in place for some time to come.

Related story: Scotland to move to level zero

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