Large-scale Hogmanay events to be cancelled in Scotland as Sturgeon urges public to stay at home

Scotland’s traditional Hogmanay celebrations are to be cancelled and live sports will be “effectively spectator-free” for three weeks from Boxing Day as part of new Covid-19 restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister also introduced new curbs on hospitality and urged people to “stay at home as much as possible” until at least the first week of January.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said the measures will be “another hammer blow for employers and Scotland’s economy”.

Crowds at outdoor public events 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.

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”, Ms Sturgeon said.

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

For three weeks from January 27, pubs and other venues selling alcohol will be required to offer table service only.

Indoor hospitality and leisure venues will also need to ensure one-metre social distancing between groups of people who are attending together.

Announcing the restrictions, 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.”

The latest coronavirus figures in Scotland show there were nine new deaths and 5,242 positive tests in the last 24 hours.

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.

“Christmas Day will be more normal.

“Most importantly, a rapidly increasing number of adults is now protected by three doses of vaccine.”

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.”

How do Covid restrictions compare across the UK?

While it looks unlikely that Boris Johnson will tighten coronavirus restrictions in England before Christmas, his Scottish and Welsh counterparts have announced new rules for sporting events to curb the spread of Omicron.

Here, the PA news agency looks at how rules in the four UK nations compare.

How have the rules changed in Wales?

From December 26, sporting events will be played behind closed doors to help control the spread of the new Omicron variant which is rising quickly across Wales.

Fans will no longer be allowed to attend either indoor or outdoor sporting events.

A £3 million Spectator Sports Fund will be available to support clubs and sporting venues affected by the new measures to protect public health.

First Minister Mark Drakeford previously announced a mixture of advice for the Christmas period alongside new regulations to follow as part of a “two-phase plan”.

Nightclubs will be closed from December 27 under the new rules, although the Welsh Government has announced a £60 million fund to support any businesses affected by the restrictions.

From the same date, two-metre social distancing will be mandatory in offices, and measures including one-way systems and physical barriers will be introduced in businesses to protect customers and staff.

Regulations will also be changed to include a requirement to work from home wherever possible.

Until December 27, the Welsh Government is encouraging people to follow five steps: getting vaccinated; making sure to have a negative lateral flow test result before going shopping or meeting people; meeting in well-ventilated areas – preferably outdoors; spacing out socialising to allow test days in between; and adhering to social distancing, wearing a face covering and washing hands.

It is also urging people to reduce contact with others over the coming days, especially if Christmas plans include seeing older or more vulnerable people.

Mr Drakeford said restricting the number of households allowed to meet remained a possibility, and hinted at the prospect of further restrictions in hospitality settings after Christmas, such as the “rule of six”.

What about Scotland?

Following news on December 20 that Scotland had recorded its highest test positivity rate since January this year (6,734 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours), First Minister Nicola Sturgeon imposed limits on spectator numbers allowed at sporting events.

Coming into force from Boxing Day for “up to three weeks”, the new rules mean a maximum of 500 people can attend outdoor events where physical distancing of one metre is in place.

Indoor standing events will be limited to 100 spectators, and indoor seated events to 200.

This also means that large-scale traditional Scottish Hogmanay celebrations on December 31 have been called off.

For three weeks from January 27, pubs and other venues selling alcohol will also be required to offer table service only.

By law in Scotland, everyone over the age of 12 must wear face coverings indoors, unless exempt, and the new guidance stresses that masks should be worn inside all businesses.

Ministers at Holyrood have found £100 million for business support, with the First Minister announcing that £66 million will go to hospitality, £8 million to businesses in the food and drink supply chain, £20 million to the culture sector, £3 million to the wedding industry and £3 million to the “worst affected parts of tourism”.

It was also announced that allowing staff to work from home where possible will again become a legal duty on employers.

Care home visits have been limited to two households, while all over-18s can book a booster jab appointment online.

What is the situation in England?

There continues to be uncertainty in England over Covid restrictions after the Cabinet on Monday failed to reach a decision, though Mr Johnson said the Government will “reserve the possibility” of implementing new restrictions.

England currently has the most relaxed rules in the UK, but a recent vote in Parliament saw some measures introduced, including Covid passes for entry into nightclubs and other venues as of December 15.

This applies to indoor events with 500 or more attendees where people are likely to stand or move around, such as music venues, outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees, such as music festivals, and any events with 10,000 or more attendees, whether indoors or outdoors, such as sports stadiums.

Face coverings have also been made compulsory in most indoor public settings, as well as on public transport, and people have been told to work from home if they can.

People aged 18 and over are able to get their third jabs from this week.

England’s guidance is that people should work from home if they can. Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go in to work – but is encouraged to consider taking lateral flow tests regularly.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has offered a £1 billion support package to businesses hit by Covid restrictions, after days of urgent lobbying from MPs, firms and industry officials.

It includes one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the affected sectors in England, which the Treasury expects will be administered by local authorities and to be available in the coming weeks.

The Government also intends to use taxpayers’ cash to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for firms with fewer than 250 employees.

What is Northern Ireland doing?

Following a December 16 meeting to consider the developing Omicron situation, the Executive Office announced that “scenario planning is under way to develop a package of potential measures we could deploy to slow the spread of the virus and when would be the most effective time to deploy them”.

In a joint statement, ministers said: “Those decisions will be underpinned by scientific and medical advice and the Executive will meet again next week to review the data and consider next steps.”

Current advice is that indoor gatherings should have no more than 30 people present, while working from home is also recommended where possible.

A scheme that requires people to prove Covid-free status to gain entry to a range of hospitality venues and large-attendance events will be made mandatory.

Those wishing to access nightclubs, pubs, restaurants and other licensed premises will need to provide proof of vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result, or evidence of a previous Covid-19 infection.

The same rules will apply for entry to large indoor and outdoor events such as concerts and sporting events.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Fraser Bremner / Daily Mail / PA.