Announcement that Omicron restrictions will be lifted offers only limited comfort for hard pressed businesses

11th January

The First Minister has confirmed that the additional restrictions imposed to stop the spread of Omicron will start to be withdrawn from 17th January, when the current 500 spectator capacity for outdoor events will be scrapped. The First Minister said that she hopes to be able to announce the withdrawal of the remaining Omicron restrictions from 24th January, when she delivers her update next week.

The First Minister also said that the removal of spectator limits at outdoor events on Monday would be accompanied by a stricter regime for checking vaccine certificates, with more attendees having to be checked for compliance. She added that the removal of event capacity limits more generally would require the Government to look at the extension of Vaccine Certificates to more settings, events and venues. This measure was considered previously but ultimately rejected because its benefits did not justify the additional burden on business.

Another critical statement that the First Minister made that has profound effect on business was her confirmation that she was still advising the public to limit their social interactions, both in terms of the number of households they mix with and the number of times they mix with other households.

The other important thing to emerge from the statement was a complete absence of any mention of additional financial support for businesses who will have to endure restrictions at least until the 24th of January.

Commenting on the First Minister’s statement, Alan Mitchell, Chief Executive of Fife Chamber of Commerce, said:

“The First Minister’s statement was familiar, depressingly so for many, in its tone and content. It is good that outdoor events can resume at full capacity from the 17th. It is good that the First Minister is cautiously optimistic that she can remove the remaining Omicron restrictions a week later, although that doesn’t provide businesses with the certainty they need to plan.

“Beyond that, however, there doesn’t appear to be much comfort for companies across Fife closed or restricted by Omicron measures. Where is the extra financial support to cover theatres and other indoor venues operating with reduced capacity longer than they expected?

“Hospitality and leisure will be appalled at the prospect of the extension of Covid vaccine Certificates, a measure that doesn’t appear to have had a meaningful impact on transmission in any country where it is being used extensively.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge will be the Government’s commitment to continuing to advise people to limit their social interactions. This is a particularly invidious policy. It undoubtably changes consumer behaviour and allows the Government to achieve the outcome it wants, what it could otherwise only do with legal restrictions, without any legal obligation to adequately compensate the businesses sectors most affected by it.

“The First Minister ended her statement by promising a revised Strategic Framework, setting out options for living with Covid without large-scale restrictions and prohibitions, in the next few weeks. In a world where future variants are a near certainty for at least some time to come and the NHS is years away from having the capacity to cope with big surges in demand, this is going to be a critical document. It remains to be seen whether the First Minister and the general population will interpret ‘living with Covid’ in the same way. Nothing that we heard today gives me any reassurance that she will. I hope that I am very wrong.”

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