BUSINESS leaders have welcomed the lifting of Covid restrictions on large outdoor gatherings as a “much needed boost” to commerce and consumers alike, while urging a similar easing for the hospitality sector.

Nicola Sturgeon today told MSPs the 500-person limit would be lifted from Monday, allowing the return of crowds to football matches and the Six Nations rugby tournament.

However the First Minister said struicter rules on vaccine passports, with timely booster shots helping to define “fully vaccinated”, would also be part of the change. 

Dr Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce,  said: “Thousands of businesses involved in the large supply chain that sits alongside the Scottish events industry have had to endure severe financial losses over what should have been one of the busiest times of the year, creating further uncertainty and holding back growth.

 “Increased Covid-Certification spot checks will however continue to impact on businesses who require additional staff and resources to implement these Covid requirements and the Scottish Government should provide further financial support to businesses to help them off-set the impact of these ongoing economic deterrents.”

However Dr Cameron said businesses in the hospitality, retail and night-time economy would find it “incredibly disappointing” that the rules applying to them would stay for now. 

She said: “The Scottish Government need to support all businesses by removing legal restrictions that limit capacity, depress profitability and makes it difficult for businesses to survive and grow. Business will be encouraged however that these remaining restrictions may finally be lifted from the 24th January.

“As we adjust to ‘living with Covid-19’ and the threat of new variants, it’s essential that the lifting of restrictions keep pace and that testing and vaccines take priority.

“In the meantime, businesses urgently need the financial support promised to them to be delivered as quickly as possible and additional financial support is made available should restrictions remain in place any longer.”

Andrew McRae, of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, added: “Local and independent businesses across Scotland will take comfort from the First Minister’s suggestion that Scotland may have turned a corner in our fight against the virus. 

“The next move must be to ease the restrictions on hospitality firms like small cafés, restaurants, and pubs.

“Businesses will accept trade-offs as we return to more normal trading conditions. But Ministers should remember that covid rules place a disproportionate burden on small operators, especially as they consider the role of vaccine passports.

“The lifting of the toughest covid rules doesn’t mean that Scotland’s small business community will return to full strength overnight.

"Indeed, the trade lost over Christmas and the debt accrued by firms over the length of the pandemic will mean tough business decisions for weeks and months to come.

“That’s why the Scottish Government must put local firms at the heart of their plans for recovery, recognising that Scotland lost 20,000 small businesses since this crisis began.”