Travel restrictions for millions in central Scotland to dramatically tighten from Monday

Simon Johnson
·6 min read
Nicola Sturgeon confirmed people across central Scotland will be told to remain in their local council areas - Getty Images Europe
Nicola Sturgeon confirmed people across central Scotland will be told to remain in their local council areas - Getty Images Europe

Travel restrictions for millions of people in central Scotland are to tighten dramatically from Monday, with residents ordered not to leave their council areas unless essential.

Nicola Sturgeon disclosed that people in Level 3 of her new five-tier system - likely to cover much of central Scotland including Edinburgh and Glasgow - will be advised to stay within their local authority area.

This represents a huge reduction in permitted movement for the residents, who are currently allowed to travel anywhere within their much larger health board areas. There are 14 territorial health boards but 32 councils across Scotland.

Although there will be exemptions for work, education and outdoor exercise, Scottish Government sources said there would be no blanket permission given for visiting family or friends in other council areas.

It is understood that "essential" visits to elderly family members for welfare reasons will be permitted, but "non-essential" trips will not.

The new limit will also mean, for example, that residents elsewhere in the Lothian health board area will be advised against travel into Edinburgh for non-essential shopping or leisure and vice versa.

Business and tourism chiefs reacted with dismay to the change, with the CBI warning the impact on businesses that rely on custom from neighbouring council areas will be "particularly severe."

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the change would be damaging for many firms in Level 2 areas as the majority of their custom "would be likely to come from the Central Belt area."

Pierre Levicky owner of Chez Jules restaurant in Edinburgh alongside Kasia Panisco as they stage a protest by having a meal outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh after a range of new restrictions to combat the rise in coronavirus cases came into place in Scotland - PA
Pierre Levicky owner of Chez Jules restaurant in Edinburgh alongside Kasia Panisco as they stage a protest by having a meal outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh after a range of new restrictions to combat the rise in coronavirus cases came into place in Scotland - PA

Ms Sturgeon will on Thursday announce what level Scotland's local authorities will be placed in initially, ranging from zero to four. They will each be reviewed weekly.

On Tuesday she said it was likely that councils in four health board areas with tougher restrictions - Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley - will be placed in Level 3.

Although she claimed this level was "broadly similar" to the current lockdown in those areas, she did not mention that travel advice would change from residents staying within health board areas to much smaller council areas.

Ms Sturgeon yesterday hinted that North and South Lanarkshire councils will also be placed in Level 3 after they pleaded with her not to put them in the fourth and highest tier, a near full lockdown.

She said "I very much hope" not to put them in Level 4 today (thurs) after a joint letter from the two councils, the local NHS boss and police chief argued the latest evidence there showed "the very steep rise has been halted and that there is an indication that cases are falling to some extent."

But NHS Tayside lobbied her to put Perth and Kinross in Level 3, the same tier as Dundee City despite the latter's Covid-19 rate being approximately three times higher.

The First Minister warned that local authorities with relatively low coronavirus levels could be allocated the same higher level as neighbouring councils with more cases if they share the same health board.

She said this was because residents in both areas rely on the same hospital beds, and hospital capacity will be a factor in her decision over which level is allocated to each council.

A further 1,202 Covid-19 cases were recorded yesterday, 451 of which were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area, 292 in Lanarkshire and 152 in Lothian. Another 28 deaths were also reported.

Ms Sturgeon announced a 16-day 'circuit breaker' shutdown earlier this month that saw pubs and restaurants shut across the Central Belt. Around 3.4 million people, 60 per cent of the population, were ordered to stay within their health board areas.

She extended these restrictions this week and the new tiered system is to replace them next Monday.

But Scottish Government guidance said that in Level 3 councils there should be "no non-essential travel into or out of the Level 3 area."

The limited exceptions also include travel to other local authority areas for weddings and funerals, "shared parenting and transit through restricted areas."

Residents in Level 1 and 2 council areas are permitted to travel across their regions but are ordered to stay out of Level 3 areas unless one of the exemptions apply.

Ms Sturgeon said it was "pretty self-evident" that the travel restrictions would now apply to council instead of health board areas.

Asked if she intended to provide more financial support to firms whose customer bases are being drastically reduced, the First Minister said: "Levels 2 and 3 and definitely Level 4 are only intended to be in place for as short a period of time as possible.

"We don't want any part of the country living in one of these levels for extended periods."

But Tracy Black, the CBI Scotland director, said: "With so many firms already fighting just to keep the lights on, any tightening of travel restrictions will come as a further blow. 

"In areas like Edinburgh and Glasgow, where hospitality, leisure, and tourism are so important to the local economy, the impact will be particularly severe."

Mr Crothall said: "If Tier 3 travel restrictions do not permit travel outside of those areas, there will be a wave of yet more cancellations within businesses that had taken bookings in the lead up to Christmas and indeed over the festive period." 

Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: "Imposing any restrictions to as local an area as possible is preferable. However this should not be applied to travel, as having to keep within local authority borders will likely cause more harm than good.

“Although travel for work, education and exercise is exempt under Tier 3 restrictions there will still be businesses that will be hit hard, including those businesses who rely heavily on tourists, reducing footfall spending in shops, restaurants and other major attractions."

Stuart Mackinnon, external affairs manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said the group had warned MSPs that travel restrictions "could have a range of indirect consequences" and "they could have a profound impact."