BUSINESS leaders have demanded that domestic travel rules are relaxed by the end of April, after Nicola Sturgeon said by then there will be a “phased but significant re-opening of the economy".

Traders have also called on officials to “continually review” whether Scotland’s cautious route out of the lockdown “can be accelerated” as more people are vaccinated.

The First Minister set out her initial plan for easing the lockdown but Scots have been told they must wait until the middle of next month before more details are announced as to when parts of life are likely to be restored to more normality.

The First Minister told MSPs she hopes that the ‘stay at home’ lockdown order will be lifted by April 5 and all school pupils could return after the Easer holidays on April 19.

From March 15, four people from two households can meet up outside – but travel restrictions are expected to remain in place, meaning family reunions across different local authority areas could be ruled out.

Boris Johnson announced that in England, shops and outdoor hospitality and self-contained accommodation can re-open from April 12. The Prime Minister also announced that from May 17, all remaining holiday accommodation such as hotels can re-open.

In Scotland, the First Minister said she hoped that all areas of Scotland could go into tier 3 of the levelled framework from April 26. Non-essential retail, hospitality, and gyms and hairdressers can reopen in Level 3, though under current rules alcohol cannot be served in pubs.

READ MORE: Coronavirus Scotland: Stay at home lockdown to be lifted by April 5

Hospitality traders in Scotland have warned that Ms Sturgeon’s plan of returning to the tiered system could mean that many businesses may “decide that such restrictive re-opening conditions are simply not worth the time, effort and money involved”.

Paul Waterson, from the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), said: “Brighter days lie ahead – there’s no doubt about that. However, pubs, bars and restaurants have been unable to open since before Christmas – under significant Covid constraints – and large swathes of 2020 were lost to lockdown closures or severely limited trading conditions.

“While it is encouraging that our sector can hopefully reopen from the end of April, we are concerned that a return to the previous tiered system will lead many operators to decide that such restrictive reopening conditions are simply not worth the time, effort and money involved.”

He added: "Hospitality is not a ‘one size fits all’ sector given the breadth of premises that operate within it – pubs, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and so on – and depends on events and functions to survive.

“Of course, we welcome today’s news that the Scottish Government is committed to continuing financial support for those firms suffering as a result of the pandemic, and we also welcome the First Minister’s announcement that she is considering support for businesses facing trading restrictions after they are allowed to reopen.

“However, our response to today’s announcement is one of disappointment for the licensed hospitality industry which has been among the hardest hit by trading restrictions throughout the pandemic, an industry that invested an estimated £80 million on becoming Covid compliant.

“For us, it is now a case of waiting to hear what the First Minister puts on the table in her next announcement in three weeks’ time – until then, we will work with her officials to help the Scottish Government make the best decisions for our industry.”

Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland policy chair, said that “in an ideal world, we’d have had a firmer timetable, but we at least have some indicative, earliest dates being set out”.

He added: “But the gaps between these dates – at three weeks – are lengthy. We now need the detail about what economic activity can resume under the different levels, so that businesses can begin to plan.

“While there is some good news, not least the movement on schools and the progress of the vaccine rollout, another six weeks of a mainland stay-at-home lockdown won’t ease the mounting problems facing businesses across the country. Over half of local firms are worried about their business surviving the next few months and over a third fear for their mental health.

“As winter turns to spring and more people are vaccinated, the Scottish Government must continually review whether this timetable can be accelerated, travel restrictions can be lifted and restrictions on local economies can be eased.”

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, as called for domestic travel restrictions to be relaxed by the end of April.

She said: “We had expected today what the First Minister has said won’t be confirmed until mid-March. And while it does not go as far or as fast as the Prime Minister did towards clarifying when we can get back to business, we will continue to robustly represent business views to Scottish Government to help inform this plan in the coming days and weeks.

“There will be some solace for businesses who can now look forward to the reopening of some trading from April 5 onwards. But for those that have to wait longer to re-open, their level of compensation should be higher. “Come the end of April, we would urge the Scottish Government to relax restrictions on domestic travel as this will be essential for the survival of tourism and hospitality businesses currently reliant on domestic visitors.”

Ms Cameron added: “But time is of the essence. For many thousands of businesses, our debt is increasing, and our cash running out. We would rather the Scottish Government would have applied the same amount of rigour to our roadmap as the UK Government in order to prevent further damage to Scottish businesses and the health and wellbeing of our communities. Otherwise our ability to plan and invest is hamstrung.

“More detail on the roadmap is essential as it will enable both consumers as well as businesses plan for reopening, and we need the Scottish Government to stick to its guns on these dates as much as is possible. It is important that Scotland remains as closely in step with the four nations as is possible. A competitive disadvantage to business communities elsewhere in the UK will only add insult to the injury already caused by the pandemic.”