By Bill Heaney
The Scottish government are stepping up measures to address the risk of transmission of Covid-19 inside people’s homes, and in pubs, cafes and restaurants – including giving the police powers to step in where there is real danger of the virus spreading.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs at Holyrood on Thursday: “We have considered very carefully what further enforcement actions we can take to minimise the risk of transmission in those settings.
“For the indoor hospitality sector, I am grateful to the many pubs, restaurants and cafes that have opened responsibly and which have gone to great lengths to stick to the rules and guidance on ventilation, hygiene, face coverings, contact details and physical distancing. Their efforts are hugely appreciated.
“However, we know that not all hospitality businesses have implemented the guidance effectively, so we intend to strengthen the power of local authorities to act in such circumstances.
She added: “The Scottish Government has powers under the emergency legislation to issue directions in respect of a class of premises—for example, a direction to close all pubs in a particular postcode.
“We intend to give local authorities the power to act in respect of individual specific premises that are breaching guidelines and risking transmission of the virus.
“That power would enable local authorities to close such premises or to impose conditions on their remaining open, where they deem that that is necessary for the purpose of preventing, protecting against or controlling the spread of infection.
“We believe that that is a vital but proportionate step, which will help local authorities to ensure that businesses stick to the guidelines and that action can be taken where those guidelines are being breached.
“The second area that we have been looking at carefully is that of indoor social events such as house parties.
“We know from the reports of our test and protect teams and from evidence from other places in the United Kingdom and, indeed, around the world that such indoor events pose a major, very significant transmission risk.
“Because the virus is so infectious, if it is present at such an event, there is a very high likelihood that most people at the event will get the virus.
“That is why we advise strict limits on indoor gatherings. Right now, our advice is that no more than eight people from a maximum of three different households should be gathering indoors.
“I know that the vast majority of people will be sticking to that. It is not easy to do so and I am very grateful to them for that.
“However, we know that a minority do not do that and that large house parties pose a real and significant risk of causing clusters and outbreaks like some of those that we have recently been dealing with.
“Therefore, for use in cases of flagrant breach and as a last resort, we intend to give the police powers of enforcement to break up and disperse large indoor gatherings.
“We believe that both those new powers are necessary to continue to suppress the virus, minimise the risk of outbreak and keep it under control, which is so necessary.
“We will lay regulations for both measures next week and we intend that they will come into force next Friday, 28 August.”
Meanwhile, at her daily briefing today, one journalist asked if she had heard reports that bullying and vandalism were going on in some schools where pupils had returned to their studies.
It has been alleged that some pupils following the government guidelines such as wearing face masks and using hand sanitizers were being given a bad time by bullies, who had scorned them for doing so.
There had also been instances of hand santizing equipment in schools being vandalised.
Ms Sturgeon said she had received no reports of this, but urged the public to be cautious about believing such reports.