ASVA discusses distancing with Deputy National Clinical Director

Whilst we are pleased that indoor attractions are being allowed to re-open on 26 April, ASVA remains very concerned about the impact of 2m physical distancing requirements.  As members will be aware we have been lobbying the Scottish Government on this key issue and calling for distancing restrictions at attractions to be reduced from 2m to 1m, in line with hospitality businesses.

This week our Chair, Susan Morrison, and CEO, Gordon Morrison, were pleased to meet with the Deputy National Clinical Director, Dr John Harden, organised to discuss what mitigating measures need to be put into place to ensure 1m distancing can be safely managed.

The meeting gave ASVA an excellent opportunity to emphasise the economic impact on the sector of 2m distancing – including the vital fact that 1 in 10 attractions will not be able to re-open under 2m distancing restrictions. Stressing the importance of the attractions industry to the recovery of tourism in Scotland, we revealed that 45% of our sector will not be able to trade at an economically viable level for as long as this restriction remains in place.

In addition, Gordon and Susan highlighted to the Deputy National Clinical Director the contribution that attractions make to public health and their importance to community wellbeing and involvement – providing a sense of place, generating civic pride, attracting local groups and families, educating, and hosting community activities.  We also detailed the opportunities that attractions offer to support mental health, providing places for people to visit and enjoy and enriching experiences.

During the meeting, Gordon and Susan discussed the impact of 2m distancing on capacities at attractions, and the inability for individual businesses, as well as the sector as a whole, to recover whilst these restrictions continue.  We also provided information on all the mitigating measures in place at attractions to reduce virus transmission, including timed ticketing, one-way routes, increased staff presence and enhanced cleaning protocols.

They also highlighted the illogical anomalies that currently exist due to the difference in distancing requirements for the hospitality and attractions sectors. Gordon advised Dr Harden that it is difficult to explain to visitors and staff why visitors can enter a café within an attraction and sit 1m apart from other patrons – without wearing a face covering – for a significant period of time but as soon as they leave the café, they have to ensure they remain 2m away from anyone, despite the fact that they are moving about (so there is limited dwell time) and are wearing face coverings.

Dr Harden noted all of the information and insights provided and made it clear that he fully recognised the challenges faced by the attractions industry at present. The Deputy Clinical Director also stressed how impressed he was by the mitigating measures our sector has in place, and he commended attractions for the approach they have taken towards visitor and staff safety.  

In terms of the 1m rule for hospitality, Dr Harden made it clear that this was introduced to allow people to be able to sit at a table together.  He emphasised that households had to remain 1m apart at their tables, and that when they rise from the table, they should put on face coverings and observe normal distancing rules.  The only reason the 1m dispensation was given for hospitality, he pointed out, was because it was unworkable for patrons to be able to sit at a table with 2m distancing.

Dr Harden advised that it was not yet possible to recommend a move from 2m to 1m distancing in attractions as the current data does not support it.  In response to Gordon and Susan asking when the evidence might support this move, he said:  “Test events are being run across the UK at present.  We will review the data and research from these test events and this will inform decision-making about our future easing of restrictions”. 

Dr Harden also noted that 2m restrictions for our sector would be removed as soon as it is safe to do so; he made it clear that he, like everyone else, wants to see things get back to normality as soon as the data allows.  To provide a note of optimism for our sector, he stated that the restriction could be relaxed quickly once the relevant positive data comes in.

Whist it is frustrating that the attractions sector must stay at 2m for the immediate term, the meeting served a purpose as it confirmed to ASVA that the sector cannot do any more in terms of mitigating measures, and we are doing everything that will be required if we are to see the relaxation of distancing restrictions.  The meeting also ensured that our sector is’ front of mind’ for the Scottish Government with regards to decisions on distancing restrictions being eased, and it provided assurances that we should see positive developments in the near future, data permitting.