By Alistair Grant

AS restrictions ease and blue skies lighten the lockdown gloom, there's a lingering problem that threatens to scupper any moves to further ease restrictions in the coming weeks.

The next phase of restrictions being eased could well hinge on the nation's toilets and how they conform to coronavirus measures in pubs, restaurants, hotels and cafes as well as beauty spots.

Some business leaders are now urging the Scottish Government to help fund temporary changes to boost hygiene.

It comes as the issue has been highlighted after Nicola Sturgeon eased some restrictions on Friday but told Scots to avoid crowded parks and scenic areas. The First Minister has also advised national parks to keep toilets closed.

But Sam Newall, founder of toilet hire company Honeywagon Co, which is based in Gartocharn, in the Loch Lomond National Park, said people have already been travelling to scenic spots despite lockdown restrictions and the problem is clear.

The 28-year-old said: "There's nowhere for people to use the loo, which is the big issue."

Mr Newall's business caters largely for the events industry, which has been decimated by the coronavirus crisis.

He is now sitting on a large stock of 150 single plastic portable toilets, 12 luxury toilet trailers and 10 disabled units – and wants to use them to ensure hygienic facilities are available around Loch Lomond.

Mr Newall sees his business, and others like it, as well placed to help address social distancing problems when it comes to toilets – not just in beauty spots, but for pubs and restaurants too.

Scotland's four-stage route map out of the coronavirus lockdown could allow restaurants and bars to open outdoor areas as soon as next month.

Willie Macleod, the executive director in Scotland of UK Hospitality, said the issue of toilets is being widely discussed in the industry.

He said businesses will need "absolutely enhanced" cleaning protocols and frequent inspections, and toilets will have to be managed "very carefully".

Queuing systems are being considered, alongside closing off urinals completely.

"I think there may also have to be some sort of controls over people going in and out," Mr Macleod said.

"It may be that you end up with some sort of queuing system that's socially distanced.

"Or if your premises allow it, you might have a one-way route. It's probably quite likely that people are going to have to queue."

He added: "It may even be that in gents toilets you would go as far making the urinals out-of-bounds and making the guys use cubicles."

Mr Macleod said some operators are considering toilet attendants to help handle the changes and there have also been discussions around installing portable toilets in beer gardens.

Emma McClarkin, CEO of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said businesses will need extra financial support.

She said: “Social-distancing presents numerous challenges for pubs and other businesses in the hospitality sector, the use of toilet facilities being only one.

"We’ve been working with the Scottish Government and others in the sector to ensure a robust set of guidance and protocols for businesses to follow are in place, which will be published ahead of any reopening.

"All pubs will need to have a plan to control access to facilities and ensure a more frequent cleaning regime is in place following the official advice.

"Additionally, pubs will need to clearly communicate these new restrictions and protocols to their customers, as consumer confidence will be key in ensuring the sector is able to reopen.

“These extra measures will of course come at a cost at a time when businesses are already struggling.

"Extra financial support from Government is desperately needed to help keep Scotland’s hospitality and tourism sector afloat during this continued period of uncertainty."

She said the current rule around keeping two metres apart will also need to be looked at, as it is unworkable for most pubs.

Mr Newall said his business, and others like it, could make a huge difference.

He said: "If you've got a hotel or a restaurant that's got an outdoor seated area, you could potentially just roof the area [with a marquee], not have it walled, so it's still open.

"You can then distance the tables, as it were. You can have the toilets integrated at the correct spacing.

"It's just being able to have that area utilised in a different way, given the current circumstances, which I think is going to be vital to help businesses kickstart and restart.

"In the beauty spots in the local area, if you've got a cafe or a restaurant, the reality is if you're beholden to [people] using your own loo inside and potentially the queuing systems while trying to serve, it would be impossible to keep that social distancing and keep it safe.

"Whereas, if you can put some infrastructure in there which will then help, it can make a big difference.

"I'd say for business and restaurants and things like that, they're probably going to need to look at investing a little bit in the hire of these goods to be able to make it possible."

But Mr Newall said support from the Scottish Government may be needed in larger areas such as car parks and beauty spots.

He added: "What we normally can facilitate for large outdoor events, we can put infrastructure in place for beauty spots and all these areas which are gong to see a huge influx of people, keeping it as safe as possible.

"It's very difficult because it basically requires someone to push it out.

"I think the bottom line is the Government is going to need to put some sort of funding in place to let this happen, because someone's going to have to pay for it".

The British Toilet Association has said there may need to be a "complete rethink" of public toilets following the coronavirus outbreak.

Urinals could be replaced with individual cubicles, while foot-operated flushes could also be introduced. Self-closing seats, sensor-activated taps and soap dispensers are other options.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As we slowly and cautiously ease lockdown measures, we have been clear we simply don’t want, in this phase, to see large numbers of people at tourist hot spots or local beauty spots.

"Crowds of people – even if they’re trying to socially distance – bring more risk than we judge is acceptable and safe at this point.

“We are aware of these issues, and the Tourism Secretary [Fergus Ewing] has agreed to explore best practice with the National Park Authority as part of wider route map reopening work and is clear that social distancing measures must be adhered to.

“While pubs and restaurants - except for takeaway - must remain closed at this stage, in phase two they can open outdoor spaces with physical distancing and increased hygiene routines, and social distancing measures will remain essential."