October holiday blow as Arran is hit by harshest restrictions

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By Hugh Boag

Arran’s beleaguered hospitality sector is to take another battering after new restrictions were announced to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

All pubs and restaurants on the island will have to close by 6pm tonight (Friday) for more than two weeks at the start of what should have been a busy school holiday week for Arran.

And there was concern that the latest blow could be the finally straw which could finish some island businesses which rely on the tourist trade.

Hotels on the island will be able to stay open, but for guests only. Cafes will be able to stay open until 6pm, but neither will be allowed to sell alcohol. But The Douglas Hotel in Brodick has announced it is to close for two weeks and the hotel staff furloughed.

Bosses say it would not be financially viable to stay open for very few guests and general manager Kate Russell said the hotel would now miss out on ‘three huge weekends’ of business before the winter.

Arran has been more hit by the harshest measures because it is part of Ayrshire and Arran, despite not having a single positive case of Covid-19 in more than four months.

It is one of the five health board areas which have been targeted for tougher measures because of concern at the spread of the virus in the central belt. The others are: Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley and Lothian.

People have also been asked not to travel beyond their own health board area in the central belt, if they don’t need to, and are being asked to avoid public transport unless it is absolutely necessary.

People in other parts of Scotland should not travel to these areas if they don’t need to, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, which raises questions over whether people should travel to Arran if they have booked a holiday.

The measures are intended to be in force for 16 days, from Friday 9 October at 6pm to Sunday 25 October inclusive.

Owner of the Pierhead Tavern in Lamlash Jane Howe posted on facebook: ‘Absolutely tragic news for us, Arran has had no cases and yet we are shut down as we are classed as Ayrshire and Arran. I’m in shock – not again, all that wastage.’

In a statement to parliament on Wednesday the first minister said that the action was necessary in order to prevent a resurgence in community transmission of the virus and the potential for a rapid return to the pressures the NHS experienced earlier in the year.

She said an additional £40m in funding will be made available to businesses impacted by new restrictions, and said the Scottish government would work to target the support to businesses most in need.

She also said Scotland would be toughening rules on face coverings she also shops  that they should return to measures used previously such as two-metre social distancing.

Contact sports for people aged 18 and over will be suspended for the next two weeks – with an exception for professional sports.

Indoor group exercise activities will not be allowed – although the current rules will remain in place for under 18s and gyms can remain open for individual exercise.

It comes as Scotland recorded more than 1,000 new confirmed cases of the virus in a single day for the first time – although the country is doing far more testing now than at the height of the pandemic earlier in the year.

VisitArran executive director Sheila Gilmore said: ‘I am for those in our hospitality sector who are most affected by the new guidelines released today. Secondly, I think we all recognise how hard our businesses have worked within the community to ensure everyone’s safely by adhering to everything that has been thrown their way.

‘There were no Covid-19 cases on Arran as at last Friday, yet as part of NHS Ayrshire and Arran area we are penalised with the additional restrictions, due to the sad and worrying rise of cases within the mainland area.  However, at the round table discussion a fortnight ago, Professor Jason Leitch advised that he would not distinguish within local health board areas between those areas where the pandemic is prevalent and those where it is not.  He demonstrated concerns that if that was the case, everyone would flock to the uninfected areas and possibly end up spreading the virus further.’