AFTER the SNP’s Margaret Ferrier had been shamed for travelling to and from Westminster while infected with coronavirus, it was revealed that she had earlier attended Mass in Glasgow while symptomatic.
In what clearly is an attempt to prevent the roving Ms Ferrier from going on a pub crawl whilst contagious, Nicola Sturgeon has summarily shut licensed premises throughout central Scotland.
If that sounds fanciful, it is as plausible as any other reason the SNP First Minister has given for mothballing Scotland’s hospitality industry until at least October 25. Officially, the cause is contained in an ‘evidence paper’ published by the Scottish Government on October 7, which can be read here.
Section 34 onwards provides the ‘justification’ which, in her statement to the Holyrood parliament, Sturgeon paraphrased thus: ‘The R-number seems to have risen above 1 approximately three weeks after the hospitality sector opened up. We know that more than 1/5 of people contacted by ‘Test and Protect’ report having visited a hospitality setting.’
To be clear, this does not mean that more than 20 per cent of transmissions occurred in a hospitality setting; it is simply the case that of those who tested positive, just over one in five had visited such a venue since July.
Put another way, between 75 and 80 per cent of Covid ‘cases’ had not been served food or drink during August and September, despite that period having included Rishi Sunak’s eat-out-to-help-out giveaway. This level of non-attendance at hospitality venues, despite the Chancellor’s generous incentive, is itself testimony to the scale of problem that pubs, restaurants and cafes already faced even before the Governess’s latest crackdown.
Even Sturgeon conceded: ‘It doesn’t mean that is absolutely where they got the virus.’ Nonetheless, without evidence she stretched to justify closing hostelries and indoor recreational venues by asserting: ‘It does show these settings pose a particular risk of transmitting the virus.’
What a kick in the teeth for business owners. The poor saps first jumped through hoops to re-open as ‘Covid-secure’, then last month Scotland’s killjoy-in-chief made the visitor experience even more joyless by forcing customers to mask-up when moving to or from their table or visiting the lavatory.
On which note, while the closing of pubs understandably grabbed the headlines, in her Holyrood address the Governess quietly extended the compelled wearing of masks: ‘We will introduce regulations to extend the mandatory use of face coverings in indoor communal settings – this will include, for example, staff canteens and corridors in workplaces.’
Unlike her punishing of pubs, Sturgeon’s inexpedient imposition of masks will not be an immediate economic Exocet. However, legislating for workers to be muzzled when moving around their office or factory will potentially affect many more people – assuming, that is, she ever approves the re-opening of non-essential workplaces.
Nor has Sturgeon spared the essential workplaces: ‘We are asking shops to return to two-metre physical distancing and asking them to reintroduce the mitigations they put in place earlier in the pandemic – for example, one-way systems in supermarkets.’ And in an ominous catch-all: ‘We will also work across all other sectors to review – and where necessary tighten – the guidance and regulation on their operating practices.’
This massive overreaction is in response to the number of Covid ‘cases’ in Scotland having risen to around 1,000 per day; yet on October 7, the day of Sturgeon’s hammer blow to the hospitality sector, Scotland announced just one new Covid-related death. The number of hospital admissions is still stubbornly low, whilst the weekly death count – the latest being 20 during seven days to October 4 – though sad for the families affected, remains statistically insignificant.
During her announcement, Sturgeon attempted to answer her critics thus: ‘To those who may wonder and ask, understandably, if the measures I set out today go too far, let me be clear about this. If this was a purely one-dimensional decision – if the immediate harm from Covid was all we had to consider – it is quite likely that we would go further.’
In due course Sturgeon surely will go further, as she competes with Westminster to be the more authoritarian. In the meantime, Scotland’s pubs pay the price.