The latest coronavirus lockdown could cost retailers almost £1 billion in total, it was claimed – after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed shops and many other businesses must remain shut until the middle of February.
In addition to extending the lockdown, with its stay-at-home order to Scots, Ms Sturgeon also confirmed schools and nurseries across Scotland will stay closed to most youngsters until at least the middle of next month.
The announcement came despite Ms Sturgeon saying there were now “some cautious grounds for optimism” – as the total of new Covid-19 infections reported in the last 24 hours fell to its lowest level this year, with 1,165 cases.
Our message to Scotland is to #StayAtHome.
You should now only leave the house for essential reasons like:
✔ Getting food or medicines✔ Any medical need✔ Exercise
By following these rules you’re saving lives.
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) January 4, 2021
As the lockdown was extended, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), which has previously estimated stores are losing out on £135 million of sales a week – said this could seen companies miss out on “almost £950 million”.
SRC director David Lonsdale said: “The extended lockdown is a further blow to non-food stores who have already borne so much during this pandemic.
“It’s incredibly frustrating as retailers in Scotland have invested over £50 million thus far making stores Covid-secure for customers and staff, and SAGE’s advice has said throughout that closing non-essential shops has a minimal impact on the spread of the virus.
“Scottish stores are set to miss out on almost £950 million of lost revenues during the current lockdown period.”
However, Ms Sturgeon warned that the pressure on the NHS from coronavirus is “almost certain” to keep rising.
With the number of patients in hospital rising to its highest yet at 1,989, and with 71 further deaths reported, she stressed that the “pressure on the NHS continues to be very severe” and that Scotland was “still in a very precarious position”.
Around 80% of the NHS Covid surge capacity is already being utilised, the First Minister told MSPs, adding that the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care had “increased by more than 90% since the turn of the year”.
With cases having surged as a result of a new, faster spreading strain of the virus, Ms Sturgeon said that meant the pressure on the NHS is “almost certain to rise for a further period yet”.
And she told Scots that while infection numbers might now be starting to decline, it was still too early to ease the lockdown
The First Minister said: “Any relaxation of lockdown while case numbers, even though they might be declining, nevertheless remain very high, could quickly send the situation into reverse.”
As a result she confirmed that the current lockdown restrictions – including the requirement to people to stay at home apart from all but essential journeys – will now remain in place across mainland Scotland and some island communities until at least the middle of February.
Meanwhile, schools and nurseries, which had been due to reopen to all pupils from February 1, will also remain closed till the same time, apart from for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers.
The situation will be reviewed on February 2, with the First Minister saying she hoped to be able to announce at least a phased return to classrooms then.
But she added: “I also have to be straight with families and say that it is simply too early to be sure about whether and to what extent this will be possible.”
Mainland Scotland was placed into lockdown on January 4 to tackle the rising spread of the new coronavirus strain.
Ms Sturgeon insisted: “The fact is that, for now, these restrictions remain necessary.
“Staying at home is essential to protect the NHS and save lives.”
She insisted that the Scottish Government’s coronavirus vaccination programme was “progressing well and it is picking up pace” – but insisted it was important to “add a note of perspective”.
With vaccination efforts having focused so far on the most vulnerable Scots, such as the elderly and care home residents, Ms Sturgeon said it was “unlikely” that this would have a “significant impact” on overall infection numbers in the immediate future.
With experts also unsure over the extent to which the vaccine prevents the spread of the virus – rather than simply preventing people from suffering serious illness – the First Minister said that efforts to continue to curb the spread of the virus could possibly be needed for “some time to come”.
The First Minister told Scots: “Obviously, I hope this will not entail the strictest form of lockdown for too much longer.
“But some mitigations – for example, physical distancing, hygiene, face coverings, possibly travel limitations – are likely to be necessary for some time yet.”
The First Minister also confirmed a “significant outbreak” of coronavirus means that Barra and Vatersay in the Western Isles will move from Level 3 of restrictions to Level 4 – the highest tier – at midnight on Tuesday.