Hogmanay and live sports hit by new Covid restrictions on public events in Scotland

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Scotland’s traditional Hogmanay celebrations are to be cancelled and live sports will be “effectively spectator-free” for three weeks from Boxing Day, as the country introduces new restrictions on public events, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister told MSPs in the Scottish Parliament that crowds at outdoor public events in Scotland will be capped at 500 from Boxing Day for at least three weeks.

Numbers at indoor public events are to be limited to 100 standing or 200 seated, she said.

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The move has been made to cut down transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant and because “large events put an additional burden on emergency services”.

The restrictions do not apply to private events such as weddings.

A number of highly anticipated events will be hit by the restrictions.

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For example Edinburgh's Hogmanay street party has been called off, while the January 2 clash between Scotland's greatest footballing rivals, Celtic and Rangers, will be effectively fan free.

Ms Sturgeon said: “This will of course make sports matches, including football, effectively spectator-free over this three-week period.

“And it will also mean that large-scale Hogmanay celebrations, including that planned here in our capital city, will not proceed.

“I know how disappointing this will be for those looking forward to these events, and for the organisers of them.”

Celtic and Rangers' meeting on January 2 will now effectively be spectator free.

5,242 cases of Covid in Scotland were confirmed over the last 24-hour reporting period - an increase of 811,927.

The government also reported that nine more people who tested positive had died.

Ms Sturgeon told MPs that Omicron is now firmly established as the dominant strain of coronavirus in Scotland. She said 62.9% of cases showed the S-gene dropout indicative of the virus and that it was “spreading rapidly”. Despite the measures, the First Minister insisted this year’s Christmas will be “more normal” than last year’s. “Just a few days before Christmas, I am again urging people to stay at home as much as possible, to slow down a highly infectious new variant,” she said. “But, although it may not feel like it, we are in a much stronger position than last year. “We have had far fewer restrictions in place for much of this year than was the case last year."

Edinburgh's upcoming Hogmanay party will not take place due to restrictions.

Recent funding from the Treasury will give Scotland an extra £175 million to spend on mitigating the effects of the measures, Ms Sturgeon said. The First Minister told MSPs the entirety of this sum would go towards supporting businesses, bringing the total package for business support over the next three weeks to £375 million. Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the “confirmation that yet more restrictions will come into place from Boxing Day will be another hammer blow for employers and Scotland’s economy”. She said: “Businesses across Scotland, who have been doing everything they can to keep their employees and customers safe, will be bitterly disappointed by these further restrictions. “Some businesses and sectors will view this update as the equivalent of receiving a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking, further compounding the downturn in trade they have experienced in the crucial run-up to the festive period.” Andrew McRae, Scotland policy chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said the measures will make trading “drastically more difficult” during what will be a “gruelling winter and spring”. He said: “The social distancing restrictions will mean shops and hospitality firms can serve fewer customers. “And the changes to events, such as sports matches and Hogmanay celebrations, will have a knock-on impact on local economies. “After a disappointing festive trading period, these moves will heap pressure on local firms and the self-employed. “These operators now face tough decisions about whether they open their doors with restrictions in place or stop trading until they’re lifted.”

Speaking shortly before the Scottish government announcement, Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou said: “I don’t like football played behind closed doors. We had a season of it in Japan, I just didn’t enjoy it. It becomes a different game, a different environment for the players.

“My preference is to play with supporters in there, even if it is a reduced capacity. But we have to follow the guidelines and whatever protocols and we as a club have to accept that and get on with it.”