North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland

Tales from the front line: ‘We are trying to do things proactively’

The challenges faced by one Scottish EH team that has bounced between COVID-19 tiers.
17 December 2020 , Katie Coyne

Just as East Lothian EH team was getting to grips with its tier 2 status, the Scottish government announced it was going back into tier 3 to help stop the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the area.

East Lothian’s environmental health and trading standards had been pulling out the stops to visit all their local pubs and bars offering help and advice on how to be COVID-safe, as it only moved from tier 3 to 2 on 24 November.

Scotland has five tiers – from 0 to 4 – and the move down the alert system was significant as it meant pubs, bars and restaurants could resume selling alcohol, which is not allowed in the most restrictive two tiers (3 and 4). This was why the council wanted to assist businesses to help them follow the rules.

But an announcement made earlier this week means East Lothian – alongside Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire – will move back to tier 3 status tomorrow (18 December), re-imposing the 6pm curfew for pubs, cafes and restaurants and the alcohol ban.

EH team manager Andrew Douglas said: “It’s definitely a challenge for businesses and for us as well, because we have to re-familiarise ourselves with what level three was previously. Hopefully the rates of infection will go down.”

On the work helping businesses, he added: “We are trying to do things proactively […] because the difference [between] levels 3 and 2, part of it, is in relation to the sale of alcohol in hospitality businesses.

“So we went on to go and check whether the places that were allowed to open were actually open, and to be a visible presence, but also to go and see if there were any problems that businesses had.”

EH visited around 60 hospitality venues over the weekend (beginning Friday 11 December) and the majority were complying with the rules, and those that didn’t made changes ready for the Saturday night based on EH advice.

One business was served a prohibition notice on its outdoor marquee after the rules and a warning was not followed – wholly or substantially enclosed structures have to be open at least 50%. The business rectified the problem the following day and the area was re-opened.

In tier 3, venues are allowed to serve a drink before, during, and following a meal. Douglas said his department was going to recommend to the Scottish government via an expert technical group that the post-meal drink be scrapped as it was too easy to abuse and difficult to enforce.

Douglas said EH has been very proactive around its hospitality businesses, and produced guidance early on in the lockdown for new food businesses on the council website, which was received as "very good" and so was circulated to all 32 Scottish authorities.

East Lothian EH has also been assisting with Scotland’s national test and protect scheme by helping investigate suspected clusters at schools, nurseries, and venues. Douglas said that originally there was a time lag between positive test results and visited locations being recorded, and when this information was shared with his department, which hindered their efforts.

But in the past few months test and protect has made available to the council a weekly list of positive cases and visited locations to assist his department in this work. However, Douglas said he would still like to be able to access the database directly to be able to access up-to-the minute information – and that he is not alone in that wish.

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