Bleak start as new rules are set to wreck New Year

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Arran was bracing itself for three weeks of tight restrictions again after enjoying the Christmas weekend.

From Monday the message from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is ‘stay at home’ and is hoping that families gathering for Christmas does not spark a spike in the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant of the pandemic.

Already Arran has recorded its highest ever number of confirmed Covid cases, which stand at 19, according to the most recent official figures.

While, it has not been disclosed if Omicron is present on Arran, with the variant now firmly established in Scotland as the dominant strain in nearly 63 per cent of cases, it seems extremely likely it has reached these shores.

Across Scotland Covid cases have increased by more than 50 per cent in the past week with a 161 per cent jump in those aged 20 to 24.

Hospitality hoping for bumper New Year trade also face a Hogmanay hangover with question marks over just what can go ahead. The Auchrannie has already closed its doors to non-residents over the festival season.

Although the main new restrictions are for larger events, the return of table service and one-metre distancing indoors for pubs and restaurants will be a blow. The limit of three households in a group is also reintroduced.

Ahead of the new restrictions businesses on Arran were trying to figure out the best way forward ahead of their introduction on Monday.

There was also concern that the restrictions could be extended beyond the initial three weeks. Planned New Year events were also being reviewed.

There is fresh financial help worth £275m from the Scottish government which draws on additional funding announced by the UK Treasury at the weekend.

But, even though that’s on top of an initial £100m earmarked by Holyrood ministers last week, it is unlikely to be nearly enough to offset the economic damage restrictions will cause.

Arran schools stopped for their holidays on Wednesday and there has been talk about whether they should reopen as planned in January but Ms Sturgeon said this week that re-opening schools as normal after the holidays was ‘a priority’.

Updated guidance has been published for schools and colleges and universities are assessing measures for the new term, she said, with some returning to online learning for the start of the new term.

However, the first minister has said Christmas celebrations over the weekend should go ahead as planned, but on Arran these were thrown into further doubt by storms forecast for the coming days.

On Christmas Day (Saturday) winds gusting up to 40mph are forecast, with the same on Sunday leaving it uncertain if the single Boxing Day ferry will sail, unless the weather improves.

Nationally the new rules mean football matches, and other events where there would have been large crowds, will have to be held behind closed doors.

Indoor events, such as concerts, will be limited to 200 people if they are seated, or 100 for standing, which has led to the cancellation of some shows and pantos. However, the new restrictions do not apply to weddings or funerals.