HOSPITALITY bosses have accused Nicola Sturgeon of effectively handing businesses a "death sentence" following strict new coronavirus rules. 

The First Minister said pubs, bars and licensed restaurants will be closed across Scotland's Central Belt for 16 days from 6pm on Friday.

Hospitality venues elsewhere in Scotland can remain open, but will not be allowed to serve alcohol inside and must close indoor areas by 6pm.

The new rules came as more than 1,000 coronavirus cases were recorded in Scotland in the last 24 hours.

Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, warned the measures will be catastrophic for the sector. 

He said: “The First Minister has effectively signed a death sentence for many businesses across the Scottish hospitality industry, while the real problem is socialising at home. 

"We have repeatedly implemented the safety measures required by the Government and more to protect our customers and staff. 

"We are part of the solution to combat this virus, not part of the problem.

“This latest blow from the Scottish Government will create fear and anger across our industry. 

"This is not a 'short, sharp shock', rather a crippling stranglehold that will result in many Scottish pubs and restaurants unable to reopen in lockdown areas if this becomes indefinite. 

"While some premises may remain open, banning alcohol indoors will mean that many smaller businesses, family operated and at the heart of local Scottish communities, will not survive past winter and the longer-term impact will be felt for years to come.

“We have repeatedly asked for scientific data from the Scottish Government to validate these escalating restrictions and yet we have been singled out, charged and found guilty without any supporting evidence. 

"Similarly, there is no evidence that alcohol is a transmitter of coronavirus, yet people can eat out in a restaurant but will now be refused the choice of a glass of wine with their meal. 

"We understand that restrictions have to be put in place but decisions must be based on evidence, anything else is disproportionate and unfair.

“We have warned the Government that this approach is catastrophic for an industry which is vital to the fight against Covid-19. 

"As well as the public health risks of shutting down the Scottish hospitality sector, the economic cost will be catastrophic for an industry worth £10.6 billion to the Scottish economy annually and which employs 285,000 people, many of whom are young Scots under 25. 

"Countless jobs will be lost forever if businesses which are already on their knees are forced to close.

“If the hospitality sector is being singled out for specific restrictions then it is only fair that the Government provides sector specific financial compensation and while welcome in principle the £40million funding announced by the Scottish Government, we will need to see more detail on how this will actually work for our sector.”

Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the measures will "sound the death knell for businesses across the hospitality sector, especially pubs and bars". 

She said: “Closures and restrictions will severely tamp down any signs of life in our town centres, particularly in the central belt health board areas, which have already been devastated by offices still remaining closed, cancellation of Christmas markets and other major events."

She added: “A complete and utter lack of consultation with business only serves to compound the blows of these restrictions.

“In the vast majority of cases, the recent growth and spread of the virus is not coming from business-managed environments.

"In most instances, employers are playing an effective and deeply engaged role in the fight against the spread of the virus.

“We simply cannot continue to keep switching the lights of the economy on and off. Where is the plan to show that this action will stop the spread and where is the plan to manage working and living with the risks of this pandemic in the medium term are questions businesses are asking."

Joe Crawford, director for Scotland at the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said: “The First Minister’s announcement banning the serving of alcohol indoors for 16 days across the country - and forcing pubs in five health board areas in the central belt to close altogether – is absolutely devastating news for pubs and breweries.  

“Publicans who have been operating at reduced rates, and who have already invested thousands of pounds of their dwindling reserves making their premises Covid-secure, now face 16 days without any turnover whatsoever.

"Understandably, they feel like pubs have become the scapegoat for the pandemic.

“The £40 million in support for the hospitality sector is welcome and necessary but the devil will be in the detail. 

"Without proper financial compensation now - and longer-term financial support to help deal with reduced trade as a result of restrictions like the curfew - we risk seeing thousands of pubs, clubs and breweries closing for good before Christmas.” 

From Friday at 6pm, all licensed premises - with the exception of hotels for residents - will be required to close indoors and outdoors in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley. 

Takeaways will be permitted.

Cafes that don’t have an alcohol license will be able to stay open until 6pm to support social isolation.

The new measures are intended to be in force from Friday at 6pm to Sunday, October 25, inclusive.

Outside of the five Central Belt health boards, pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will be able to operate indoors from 6am to 6pm, for the service of food and non-alcoholic drinks only.

They can continue to serve alcohol outdoors up to the existing curfew time of 10pm.

Hotel restaurants will be able to operate beyond 6pm, but only for residents and without alcohol.

Ms Sturgeon said there will be an exemption to these rules - in all parts of Scotland - for celebrations associated with specific life events such as weddings that are already booked and funerals.