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Ross-shire publicans fear impact of new coronavirus measures

By Philip Murray

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Sean Kennedy, landlord of the Mallard pub in Dingwall.
Sean Kennedy, landlord of the Mallard pub in Dingwall.

“Disastrous” new coronavirus restrictions are “another nail in the coffin” for the pub trade and wider hospitality industry, Ross-shire business leaders fear.

Dingwall publican Sean Kennedy, who runs the Mallard, and the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) David Richardson are among those to have reacted to the new restrictions – which kick in this evening.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced tough new controls amid soaring infection rates.

And, although the Highlands will not be subject to the toughest of those restrictions – which will see central belt bars shut up completely for more than two weeks – the region’s hospitality and tourism trade will still face strict short-term measures.

In the Highlands these include a ban on alcohol sales indoors, and restrictions on sit-in eatery opening hours, which will have to close at 6pm unless they are a hotel restaurant serving residents. Pubs can still open until 10pm, but will only be allowed to serve alcohol outdoors.

Mr Kennedy was horrified at the new measures, which some critics argue are out of place in a region where coronavirus infection rates are lower than elsewhere.

He said: “Disastrous. When they brought in the 10pm curfew that was yet another nail in the coffin, this is just screwing the nails down.

“From the Mallard’spoint of view, no football, no late nights and tourists going by the end of the month. You can still go into a pub for soft drinks and food but you can get a pint outside, it just doesn’t make much sense.

“It also removes another layer of policing that the pubs were doing their best to make sure people behaved and will push people underground into house parties.

He also questioned whether the restrictions will be lifted on October 26 as planned.

TheMr Richardson, meanwhile, said that although travel is still permitted, the move to even tighter restrictions in the central belt had already led to people living there cancelling Highland holidays.

“Hospitality businesses across Ross-shire will be horrified,” he added.

“With some three months’ trading under their belts since unlocking, squeezing every last penny out of the season has been of
paramount importance to their long-term viability, and now they are seeing what for many will be
the premature ending of the 2020 tourist season. How many businesses will be forced to close as a result?”

Mr Richardson welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement of £40 million worth of support for the hospitality trade to help cover the 16-day duration of the temporary restrictions, but he questioned if it would be enough.

Ross-shire MSPs have given a mixed reaction to the restrictions.

Stressing that coronavirus infections rates are rising everywhere, Dingwall-based SNP MSP Maree Todd said: “I know this is extremely tough, but if we stick with it and stick together, we will get through this.”

Fellow SNP MSP Kate Forbes welcomed that fact that the measures were more “targeted” and that the toughest wouldn’t apply in the Highlands, but added: “This is a difficult time – of that, there is no question.”

But Tory MSP Edward Mountain believed a more calibrated response locally should have been
the default position.

He said: “Dealing with this pandemic should not be about blanket bans, it should be about targeted and scientifically-justified local responses.”

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