Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon admits ‘lack of clarity’ over cafe exemption as pubs close at 6pm for fortnight

  • Video report by ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted there has been a "lack of clarity" over last-minute changes to lockdown restrictions as certain businesses in the country close for a fortnight.

Pubs and licensed restaurants in central belt areas of the country - Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian, and Forth Valley – will be forced to close for all but takeaway service for 16 days from 6pm on Friday.

But Ms Sturgeon revealed on Thursday 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.

A woman reading a book in an outdoor cafe area in The Grassmarket, Edinburgh. Credit: PA

She 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.

In other areas of the country, pubs, bars restaurants and cafes can only operate indoors between 6am and 6pm from Friday and not serve alcohol. However, drinks can be served in outside areas until 10pm.

She said it is important cafes can stay open to counter the isolation felt by people who cannot currently meet others in their homes.

But 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.

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.”

She said a definition of what constitutes a cafe has been published in the Scottish Government regulations, and any venue that is unsure if they qualify as a cafe should shut.

She added: “If a premise is in doubt, they should close, unless an environmental health officer tells them that they think they fall within the definition.”

Earlier, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association posted on Twitter: “Absolutely ridiculous that on the day new regulations come into force we still do not know what licensed premises in the central belt will be allowed to open till 6pm for food only – shambles.

“What is a ‘licensed cafe?’ Find out maybe today!”

The First Minister told the briefing: “Government, all governments, are trying to strike right now almost impossible balances between lives and jobs.

“Speaking for the Scottish Government, we are trying to do that as best we can and as I’ve said all along, we will not always get it perfectly right, but we are trying our best to get through this as well as we can.”

She said she is “desperately sorry” for having to bring in the restrictions, which last until October 25.

Ms Sturgeon added: “We do believe this can have, and will have, a significant impact on transmission.

“I know these are unwelcome and believe me when I say they have been imposed with the greatest reluctance, but I would urge all of you to stick with them.

“The only alternative to restrictions like this just now is a continuing surge in Covid which would take more lives and probably in turn require even tighter restrictions in the weeks and months to come.”

During the briefing, STV journalist Gordon Chree asked: “You might remember some years ago there was a famous court case about whether a Jaffa Cake was a biscuit.

“Do you fear we might be going down a similar legal path now because there are a lot of people in the hospitality industry who say defining what is a cafe and what is a restaurant is very difficult.”

The First Minister mistakenly referred to a Jaffa Cake as a biscuit and was swiftly corrected by ITV News Scotland correspondent Peter Smith.

Further measures impacting the five areas of central Scotland will be imposed from Saturday, including contact sports for adults aged 18 and above being suspended for the next two weeks – apart from for professional sports.

Indoor group exercise activities will no longer be allowed, however gyms can remain open for individual exercise.

Snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling, casinos and bingo halls will also close and no outdoor live events are allowed in these five areas.

The First Minister also confirmed 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 the total number of deaths to 2,544.

There were 1,246 new coronavirus cases recorded in the same period – a record high.

This represents 16.2% of newly-tested individuals, up from 13.5% on Thursday.

Explaining the latest daily virus figures, she said 440 of the new cases are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 306 are in Lanarkshire and 192 are in Lothian.

A total of 37,033 people have now tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up from 35,787 on Thursday.

There are 397 patients in hospital confirmed to have the virus, up by 20 in 24 hours. Of these patients, 33 are in intensive care – up by two.