First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announces plans to extend Covid-19 circuit-break restrictions on hospitality by another seven days
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COVID restrictions on pubs and restaurants in the Highlands are to be extended by at least another week, the First Minister has confirmed.
Nicola Sturgeon used Wednesday's daily update to reveal plans to introduce a new tiered restriction system in Scotland from November 2.
But, with current circuit-break restrictions on the hospitality trade due to end on October 26, the First Minister announced that these will now be extended by seven days in a bid to ensure a smoother transition into the new system.
The First Minister said that financial support packages offered to businesses during the circuit break – including grants and furlough cash – will be extended by the same seven-day window in a bid to minimise the economic impact.
The existing restrictions on hospitality include a prohibition on serving alcohol indoors and a need to stop serving food and other drinks inside by 6pm, although outdoor alcohol and food sales may continue until 10pm.
Details of the new tiered system which takes effect on November 2 are not yet known, but are expected to be published on Friday as part of a "national strategic framework" which the First Minister said will be aimed at helping the country to "live with the virus through the winter".
In making her announcement, Ms Sturgeon said: "I know all of this is really unwelcome, and that this is harsh on businesses and harsh on all of us."
She added that "none of these decisions are being taken lightly" but that they were "all about saving lives and minimising the health damage of the virus".
"We do believe these restrictions will make a difference and that, indeed, they are making a difference."
Today's daily update revealed that Scotland has now had more than 50,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
A further 1739 positive tests were recorded in the past day, taking the cumulative number to 50,903.
Hospital admissions continued their recent rises, with some 873 people now being hospitalised with the virus – up 49 from yesterday.
Of those, 73 were in intensive care; an increase of three in the past 24 hours.
And there were 28 further deaths among people who had tested positive for the virus – the single largest daily death total in Scotland since May 21.
The First Minister said this was "obviously very concerning" but that the figures "should not be taken as an indication that restrictions are not working".
She added that the continuing rises in hospital admissions and deaths were related to people who first contracted the virus two to three weeks ago, and that this time lag meant the 16-day circuit break had yet to be seen in official figures.
But she added that "even allowing for today's figures we think we may be seeing [improvements]" in the rate of infection and the spread of the virus.
Scotland's National Clinical Director, Professor Jason Leitch, added that the rising figures were a "stark reminder" of the dangers posed by Covid-19 but that the number of daily cases was rising more slowly than projected earlier in the month, giving him grounds for "cautious optimism".
He said that earlier in the month there was evidence of infections doubling in just nine days, but that this would have resulted in 2500 daily cases by last Friday if it had continued at that rate.