FORCING nightclubs to close after Christmas “makes a mockery” of policies such as vaccines passports, a business leader has said.
Nightclubs in Scotland will be legally required to stop operating for at least three weeks from December 27 under restrictions designed to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.
They can stay open only if they are run as a bar with one metre physical distancing and table service.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said financial support would be offered “to reduce losses and help these businesses weather what we hope will be a short period until they are able to operate normally again”.
It follows previously announced restrictions on large events due to come into effect from Boxing Day, which will limit outdoor events to 500 people and capacity indoors to 100 to 200 people.
This has led to a raft of concerts and theatre shows, including pantomimes, to be cancelled, with the SPL winter break rescheduled to limit the number of matches being played without spectators.
Pubs and restaurants will also have to reinstate physical distancing and operate as table service-only for three weeks from Boxing Day.
Gavin Stevenson, vice-chair of the Nighttime Industries Association, said nightclubs – which were closed from March 2020 until August 9 this year – are already in a “very precarious financial position”.
He said: “Nightclubs just fundamentally are designed to be large capacity premises and unfortunately they need to have those numbers in to trade viably so we suspect the majority will now choose to close and take advantage of the closure grants.”
Donald Macleod, a nightclub owner and convener Glasgow Licensing Forum, said businesses had no idea how much funding will be available and when, adding: “It really makes a mockery of introducing vaccine passports and lateral flow testing and all the other efforts we’ve put in to make our venues safe.
“It’s not just nightclubs, it’s live music venues, and restaurants are getting hammered, as are pubs.”
In October, Scotland introduced Covid certification for entry into nightclubs, adult entertainment venues, and other large events such as concerts and football matches.
Customers were required to be fully vaccinated, although this was updated to include proof of a negative test earlier this month.
Evidence indicates that the highly transmissible Omicron variant is much more likely to infect double-vaccinated people compared to the previous Delta strain, although lateral flow tests remain accurate in detecting positive cases.
One in five adults aged 18 to 29 has yet to be vaccinated at all, and 71 per cent are double-jabbed.
Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said the “attack rate” of the Omicron variant made “unventilated, crowded, indoor” spaces particularly vulnerable to severe Covid outbreaks.
He said: “We’ve got rooms of 100 people in them – a single index case [arrives], and 50 or 60 people catch the virus…it’s one of the reasons why nightclubs have unfortunately had to be closed down. It’s one of the areas we’re worried about.
“That population tend to be slightly less protected. In the main it’s a younger crowd, so less protected with boosters, and it is an environment that the virus enjoys.”
It comes amid signs that the rapid rise in Omicron infections may have slowed in recent days.
Figures from Public Health Scotland show that the average number of daily cases rose by 38% between December 10 and 15, but this increase slowed to 28% between December 15 and 20.
This could reflect the impact of people complying with Government pleas to cancel parties and cut back on socialising, as well as a doubling in the use of lateral flow tests since November, all potentially curbing opportunities for the virus to be passed on.
However, the test positivity rate has continued to climb over the past seven days to 13.1% – the highest since the peak of the Delta wave in early September.
This suggests that the apparent slowdown in cases may be due to people becoming more reluctant to get tested in the run up to Christmas.
Surveillance by the Office for National Statistics also found an increase in the prevalence of Covid, with an estimated one in 70 people infected in Scotland during the week ending December 16 compared to one in 80 in the week ending December 16.
Asked whether Scotland’s restrictions were going too far in light of a new study showing that the number of people admitted to hospital in Scotland with Omicron had been 70% lower than expected so far – suggesting that the variant may cause milder disease – Prof Leitch stressed that it was also important “not to underreact”.
Modelling used by the scientists from Edinburgh and Strathclyde universities predicted that 47 patients should have been hospitalised by December 19 if Omicron’s severity was equal to Delta, but by December 19 only 15 patients were hospital.
This has since risen to 24, according to Scottish Government data which also indicates that Omicron is now responsible for 73% of Covid cases in Scotland.
Prof Leitch said: “If you get a tsunami of cases – a very short sharp rise that overtakes Delta by a factor of four, five, 10 even – then even that reduction doesn’t help your hospitals because you still get overwhelmed just with sheer weight of numbers…if this is consistent, and maintained, and we manage to reduce the spike from Omicron, this will change things – but not yet.