Emergency lockdown in Aberdeen after surge in Covid-19 cases

Nicola Sturgeon has announced an emergency lockdown in Aberdeen, including the closure of all pubs and a ban on non-essential travel over five miles, after a surge in Covid-19 cases in the city.

The first minister said the partial lockdown, which comes into force on Wednesday, came after 54 new Covid-19 cases emerged, linked to an outbreak centred on the Hawthorn bar in Aberdeen, with another 36 infections detected overnight in Grampian.

She said urgent action was essential to prevent a much wider outbreak; 21 bars and pubs in Aberdeen had become linked to the outbreak during the tracing effort underway in the city.

“I know this is deeply, deeply unwelcome news for people in Aberdeen and I’m deeply sorry that we’re in this position,” she said during her daily coronavirus briefing. “We need to take decisive action now in order to prevent a larger outbreak and further harm later on.”

She said the restrictions included the closure of all licensed premises in Aberdeen from 5pm on Wednesday; a ban on non-essential travel more than five miles from home except for those in education or working; and a ban on all meetings indoors between different households.

She said the restrictions, which followed a local lockdown around five towns and villages in south-west Scotland last month, would be in place for at least seven days and would be reviewed next Wednesday.

Sturgeon added that she still hoped Aberdeen’s schools would reopen on 17 August. Any employers whose staff had been previously furloughed during the UK-wide lockdown could be put back on furlough for the duration of this local lockdown.

The cluster, centred on the Hawthorn, came to light last week. The pub has since closed for a deep clean, but anxieties about the outbreak accelerated over the weekend after footage emerged of large groups of mainly younger people drinking in close proximity at an outdoor bar on Union Street, the city’s main shopping street.

Since then another 20 bars and pubs were linked to the outbreak. This showed the outbreak was rapidly accelerating, she said, with cases appearing to double every two days or so, and it suggested drinkers were going on pub crawls.

The lockdown would not affect hotel restaurants that serve those staying at the hotel.

Sturgeon warned last week that the Scottish government would close down pubs and restaurants immediately if new clusters emerged, to prevent any local outbreaks becoming so large it prevented local schools from reopening.

“Our precautionary and careful judgment is that we need to take decisive action now, difficult as that undoubtedly is, in order to try to contain this outbreak and prevent further harm later on,” she said.

“As I said earlier, this is about doing all we can to ensure our children can return to schools next week. Acting now, we judge, gives us the time and the space to protect the ability of our young people to return to education.”

Tracy Black, director of the business organisation CBI Scotland, said: “Aberdeen won’t be the last local area that faces renewed restrictions in the coming months, so the Scottish government must do everything it can to provide clear, timely advice and appropriate support to firms and individuals. That’s a must to maintain public confidence.

“This will be a particular blow to the local hospitality sector, which has now faced a double-whammy of lockdowns, and emphasises the need for government support to evolve in-line with the trajectory of the virus.”

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said the Scottish government and city council had made the right decision but she questioned why John Swinney, the deputy first minister who oversaw the controversial school exam results on Tuesday, was being put in charge of the Aberdeen outbreak.

“There are numerous other ministers capable of leading this response and the choice of Mr Swinney cannot be used to escape scrutiny of the exam results fiasco. He had one job to do and he has spectacularly failed at that, so I wouldn’t put him in charge of anything else,” Baillie said.

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