So now we know the threshold at which Nicola Sturgeon pulls the trigger. If the number of daily hospital admissions for Covid-19 exceeds a tenth of the number recorded at the April peak, she will lay waste to the hospitality industry. From Friday, all pubs and licensed restaurants in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley, Lothian and Ayrshire and Arran – where two-thirds of Scots live – will be forced to shut their doors for at least sixteen days. So too will snooker clubs, casinos, bowling alleys and bingo halls.
In the rest of Scotland, pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve food and soft drinks – but not alcohol – until 6pm. Cafés which don’t have an alcohol licence can also stay open until 6pm. Hotel restaurants will be permitted to open beyond 6pm but only for residents and, again, only without alcohol.
Who knows where the Scottish government’s war on drinking ends and its war on Covid-19 begins, but it is not difficult to see an element of Presbyterian zeal in Sturgeon’s latest crackdown. In Scotland, where temperance groups are funded by the state, minimum pricing for alcohol has been in force since 2018 and the SNP had alcohol advertising in its sights before the coronavirus intervened. Several countries, including South Africa and India, took advantage of lockdown to experiment with prohibition in the spring. It would be no great surprise if Sturgeon didn’t view a sixteen day ‘circuit breaker’ as an opportunity to sober the Scots up a bit.
The pub industry is keen to point out that only 5 per cent of Covid infections take place in the hospitality sector, and there is certainly a sense of the trade being made a scapegoat. But Sturgeon had little else left to ban. Scots were already forbidden from mixing at home with people from outside their household. The rule of six applied outside, albeit with an exemption for children aged under 12. The whole UK had – and has – a 10pm ‘curfew’.
Sturgeon is insistent that the new regulations do not amount to a second lockdown, but with only shops and schools left open, it seems awfully close to one – and there are still six months of cold weather to go. Given the prominence in the Scottish media of ‘Zero Covid’ idealists and anti-alcohol academics, Scots shouldn’t get their hopes up about the ‘circuit breaker’ ending on 25 October. Nor should the rest of the UK be complacent. It is easy to imagine Matt Hancock, who increasingly resembles a testy prison warden, licking his lips as Scotland ‘leads the way’.
Scotland has recorded one solitary death from Covid-19 today, just as it did the day before. From Friday, its social life will grind almost to a halt. However else you might describe this strategy, it is not learning to live with the virus. We are in for a long, lonely winter of bankruptcies and unemployment.
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