By Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister
There are six changes that we intend to make, and the regulations giving effect to them will, subject to the Parliament’s approval, take effect on Saturday. I am aware that some of the changes will sound technical and relatively minor.
However, we believe that, both individually and collectively, the additional measures, in further reducing the interactions that allow the virus to spread, will help our essential efforts to suppress it. Of course, however technical the changes might sound, I know that all of them involve further restrictions on our essential liberties, so I want to give an assurance again that none of these decisions is arrived at lightly.
I will set out what the changes are. First, we intend to limit the availability and operation of click-and-collect retail services. Only retailers selling essential items will be allowed to offer click and collect. That will include, for example, clothes and footwear, baby equipment, homeware and books. All other click-and-collect services must stop.
More importantly, for click-and-collect services that are allowed, staggered appointments will need to be offered to avoid any potential for queuing, and access inside premises for collection will not be permitted.
The details will be set down in regulations and in guidance. I know that businesses affected by the change will be disappointed and that many have gone to great lengths to make services as safe as possible, but we must reduce, as far as is possible, the reasons that people have right now for leaving home and coming into contact with others. I welcome the actions of those businesses that have voluntarily suspended click and collect and tightened their procedures—for example, in relation to face coverings.
There will be no more queuing for fish and chips and other takeaways.
Secondly, we intend to apply restrictions to takeaway services. Customers will no longer be permitted to go inside to collect takeaway food or coffee. Any outlet wishing to offer takeaway will have to do so from a serving hatch or doorway. That is to reduce the risk of customers coming into contact indoors with each other or with staff.
Thirdly, we intend to change the rules around consumption of alcohol. At the moment, different parts of Scotland have different laws in relation to the consumption of alcohol in outdoor public places. However, from Saturday, it will be against the law in all level 4 areas to drink alcohol outdoors in public. That will mean, for example, that buying a takeaway pint and drinking it outdoors will not be permitted.
Again, I know that that will not be a popular move, but it is intended to underline and support the fact that right now we should be leaving home only for essential purposes. That includes exercise or recreation, but it does not include simple socialising. When you do leave home, you should meet only one person from another household in a group no bigger than two people. I know that that is a hard message and it is absolutely not one that I want to be sending, but it is vital to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
Fourthly, and significantly, we intend to strengthen the obligation on employers to allow their staff to work from home whenever possible. The law already says that we should be leaving home to go to work only if it is work that cannot be done from home. That is a legal obligation that falls on individuals. However, we will now introduce statutory guidance to make it clear to employers that they must support their workers to work from home wherever possible.
For all employers, the basic but vital message is this: if your staff were working from home during the first lockdown last year, they should be working from home now and you should be facilitating that.
Fifthly, we will strengthen the provisions in relation to work inside people’s houses. We have already issued guidance to the effect that in level 4 areas work is only permitted within a private dwelling if it is essential for the upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household. We will now put that guidance into law.
The final change is an amendment to the regulations requiring people to stay at home. I should be clear, however, that this is intended to close an apparent loophole, rather than change the spirit of the law. It will also bring the wording of the stay-at-home regulations in Scotland into line with those in the other nations of the United Kingdom.
Right now, the law states that people can leave home only for an essential purpose. However, having left home for an essential purpose, someone could then stay out of their home to do something that is not essential without breaching the law as it stands. The amendment will make it clear that people must not leave or remain outside the home unless it is for an essential purpose. That change will provide legal clarity to facilitate any necessary enforcement.
Exercise without limit of time, but there’s no picnicking allowed in the parks.
I want to be clear that it does not change the range of essential purposes that currently enable people to leave their house, nor does it put any time limit on how long people can be outdoors for essential exercise, for example, but it does mean that if the police challenge you for being out of the house doing something that is not essential, it will not be a defence to say that you initially left the house to do something that was essential.
I know that none of this makes for enjoyable reading. If it is any comfort, although I do not expect that it will be, it gives me no pleasure to be talking about further restrictions on businesses and on our individual freedoms to come and go as we please. Please know that we would not be doing any of this if we did not believe it to be essential in order to get and keep this potentially deadly virus under control. Case numbers are still so high, and the new variant is so infectious, that we must be as tough and as effective as we possibly can be to stop it spreading. That means taking further steps to stop people from meeting and interacting, indoors and also outdoors. Today’s measures will help us to achieve that. They are a regrettable but necessary means to an end.
I stress again that, although these are dark and difficult times, we have grounds for hope. As I indicated earlier, there are some early signs that the lockdown is beginning to have an effect, so we must stick with it. Vaccination is already protecting a lot of the people who are most vulnerable to the virus, and it will protect more in the weeks and months ahead.
However hopeless the situation makes us all feel at times, the fact is that none of us is powerless in the face of the virus. We cannot guarantee that we will not get it or pass it on—it is, after all, highly infectious—but we can all behave in a way that significantly reduces our risk of getting it or passing it on, so please continue do that.
I stress this point: please stick to the spirit, not just the letter, of the rules. Do not think in terms of the maximum interactions that you can have without breaking the rules. Please think instead about how you minimise your interactions to the bare essentials so as to remove as many opportunities as possible for the virus to spread.
In everything that you do, assume that the virus is there with you—that either you have it or any person you are in contact with has it—and act in a way that prevents it from passing between you. All of that means staying at home except for genuinely essential purposes, and that includes working from home whenever possible. Except for essential purposes, do not have people from other households in your house and do not go into theirs, and please follow the FACTS advice at all times when you are out and about.
All of that is how we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, and it is how we keep the virus under control until the vaccines get to do their work. At this critical and dangerous moment, please stay home, protect the national health service and save lives.