BUSINESSES have welcomed the two-metre social distancing rule being cut in half for shops, pubs and restaurants in Scotland – but have raised concerns mandatory face mask requirements at short notice could result in “creating tension with customers”.

Nicola Sturgeon has announced that from the end of next week, as Scotland enters phase three of the four-step routemap out of lockdown, some situations including shops, pubs and public transport will be able to cut the two-metre physical distancing rule in half, as long as measures are put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Beer gardens, opening on Monday, must comply with the two-metre rule.

Mitigation measures for reducing the physical distancing rule to one metre could include improved ventilation, Perspex screens, regulation of customer flow and seating plans.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The exemptions will allow premises and relevant sectors, if they so choose, to operate within a one-metre distance on the condition that agreed mitigations are implemented.

“These will be exceptions. The general rule, in law, will continue to be that businesses and services must take all reasonable measures to ensure that two-metre distancing is maintained.”

She added: “For hospitality and possibly other sectors, mitigation will also include the collection of names and addresses of customers to help with contact tracing when that is necessary.

“We will also insist on clear customer information to help inform the judgements that we all make as individuals about the risks we are prepared to take.”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has welcomed the announcement, but has raised concerns retail traders were not told about face coverings becoming mandatory in shops when they re-opened their doors to customers earlier this week.

The Scottish Government has for some time being urging people entering shops to wear face coverings and the First Minister made a specific plea ahead of street-facing shops re-opening on Monday.

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Andrew McRae, the FSB’s Scotland policy chair, said: “This is another welcome step along the road to freeing us from lockdown and getting the country back to business. “There’s a real need, if we’re to stem the tide of rising job losses and avoid long-term damage, to get as much of the economy up and running as quickly and safely as possible.”

He added: “There is a lot in this announcement, and it is complicated – particularly around the two-metre rule. So, it will be crucial that the businesses who will be in charge of implementing the new rules are given clear guidance on the rules and their practical application.

HeraldScotland: The two-metre rule will remain in place when beer gardens re-open from MondayThe two-metre rule will remain in place when beer gardens re-open from Monday

“That’s especially the case with mandatory face coverings in shops. That will be a big change for small retailers and it would have been easier to prepare if this was flagged ahead of them re-opening on Monday. “Now there’s very limited time to implement this and understandable concern about creating tensions with customers.”

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, added: “Businesses in the hard pressed retail, hospitality and tourism sectors will welcome this flexibility. Being able to reduce distances from two metres to 1 metre will mean more businesses can now start planning to re-open. 

“Whilst this is a step in the right direction, we will need clarity and detail on the mitigations that businesses will be asked to implement. 

"Ultimately, preventing the spread of the virus is everyone's responsibility and we must work together to ensure the mitigations are practical and affordable for businesses. Anything short of that will result in further job losses.”

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) has welcomed the announcement that social distancing measures will be reduced on the understanding that additional practices are introduced by businesses from July 15, when industry can fully reopen.

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Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director, said: “While we acknowledge that outdoor areas will need to maintain two-metre social distancing for the present, this news will further help the rebuilding of the industry and gives Scotland’s pubs and bars the lifeline they need for their survival.

“Without this reduction it is estimated that two-thirds of our pubs and bars would not have been able to open and operate viably, leading to a large number of business closures and mass job losses.

“This announcement, however, does not help an estimated one-third of premises which will still be wondering when they can reopen.”

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The Scottish Conservatives have labelled the relaxation of the two-metre rule for some businesses as a "proportionate balance".

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said: “This is a reasonable approach which will maintain public health while easing the restrictions that would have made it impossible for many hospitality and retail businesses to operate.

“While no-one wants to see the need for social distancing, or indeed other mitigations like face coverings, to last longer than necessary, we believe the measures announced today strike a proportionate balance.

“Businesses now need as much detail as possible on how this will work, and urgently."