A strict new shutdown of pubs, restaurants and cafes is due to be implemented across central Scotland, including Edinburgh, at 6pm tonight (Friday). But the controversial measure, announced by First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday, is already mired in confusion as many businesses declared that they were unsure whether they needed to close or not.
Initially, the restrictions were to cover all licensed premises, although cafes without a licence could stay open until 6pm ‘to support social isolation’. But at lunchtime yesterday, the First Minister introduced an exemption for licensed cafes, indicating that they could stay open providing no alcohol was served.
That has led businesses in the region to begin question how a ‘café’ is defined. Many owners say that they don’t know whether they are allowed to open or not, leading Scottish trade bodies to decry the existing situation as ‘dysfunctional’.
James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said yesterday that the problems could have been avoided if the government had consulted with the industry before introducing the new restrictions.
‘Had we been approached even on Monday we could have worked through this in time for a Wednesday announcement,’ he said. He also labelled as ‘madness’ a decision not to allow licensed restaurants to remain open without selling alcohol.
Speaking early this morning, Mr Leitch addressed the distinction between a restaurant and a cafe:
‘It’s not a neat division, but most institutions know which they are. What we’re trying to do here is curb hospitality in a way that stops households inter-mixing, particularly in the evening, but also sometimes during the day in the central belt. But we want the social isolation exemption, people who use cafes, especially the elderly, single parents, those with kids who can’t have people in their houses right now, we want them to see each other but very, very safely.’