Scotland’s New Year Covid restrictions led to more young people meeting up indoors, study finds

Younger Scots refused to curtail their social lives and instead met up in private after Nicola Sturgeon closed nightclubs and imposed harsh restrictions on other hospitality venues, a report by the Scottish Government’s own experts suggests.

Hospitality bosses said the new research proved that draconian Covid rules, which included the forced closure of nightclubs over Hogmanay, had backfired because they had crippled businesses while causing a surge in riskier activities such attending house parties.

Ms Sturgeon has insisted her clampdown on the hospitality sector, which was not implemented in England, was necessary because it would reduce how often people met up and therefore slow the spread of the omicron variant.

The research found that while the measures appeared to have succeeded in putting people off visiting hospitality venues, the proportion meeting up indoors had risen significantly after they were imposed.

Meanwhile, the number of 18 to 29-year-olds meeting up with each other increased.

Stephen Montgomery, a pub landlord and spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said the findings vindicated warnings that the restrictions would simply lead to people socialising in other places.

Scottish revellers took their New Year's Eve festivities across the border to England to evade Covid restrictions

Credit: Will Walker

“This report shows in black and white, that the restrictions placed on hospitality have had no effect other than to further cripple a sector which has seen nothing but restrictions and devastation placed upon it for the last 20 months," he said.

“When you put restrictions on hospitality, it just drives people to socialise in uncontrolled environments like people’s homes. People crave atmosphere, and when you take that away from the controlled environment of hospitality, there is only ever going to be one outcome."

The report said that just a quarter of Scots went to a pub or restaurant in the week to January 5, compared to 39 per cent before the measures were introduced.

The proportion who visited another person’s home surged from 47 per cent to 60 per cent, suggesting many simply met up indoors rather than going out.

Meanwhile, while older Scots cut back on the number of people from other households they met, largely because of the closure of some workplaces over the Christmas period, this did not apply to 18 to 29-year-olds.

Adults under 30 “reported a similar level of contacts in the last two weeks,” the Government’s Modelling the Epidemic report found, with a 20 per cent rise in contact between 18 to 29-year-olds in the week to January 5.

Pubs in Scotland have been forced to reintroduce physical distancing and operate with table service only, which has meant limits to capacity, since December 27.

The comparisons relate to the week to December 22, before the changes came into force, with the regular survey not carried out during Christmas week.

9,910 new cases of coronavirus were reported in Scotland on Friday, including positive results registered through lateral flow devices, significantly lower than a peak seen over the New Year.

However, there were 41 new deaths reported, the highest figure since September. While Scottish government modelling has warned there could yet be another surge in cases this month, Humza Yousaf, the Health Secretary, said has that the omicron surge appeared to be “decelerating”.

A ban on large crowds outdoors, for example at rugby and football matches, will be lifted from Monday.

Hospitality restrictions extended until end of month

However, the hospitality restrictions and nightclub closures have been extended until January 24, along with a ban on large crowds at indoor events.

Ms Sturgeon is to confirm whether the measures will be lifted on Tuesday.

Mr Yousaf said: “Hospital admissions, although they continue to increase, there’s definitely a slowing-down of the rate of the increase.

"Certainly, the case numbers themselves, notwithstanding the instability of some of the data because of the recent changes, certainly looks like those numbers are lower than where we were at the peak."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Household mixing always increases over the Christmas and New Year period, which is why we introduced temporary measures to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant by minimising contacts elsewhere, while our booster programme got underway.

“The protections in place across Scotland are designed to balance harm from Covid-19 and the effects on business and other sectors, and our decision making is always based on the latest clinical evidence.

“We are all too aware of the impact that Covid-19 has had – and continues to have – on businesses and the Scottish economy, including hospitality. As the First Minister has set out, we will continue to monitor the data closely and hope to confirm further easing of measures later this month.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *