The long and winding road

Nicola Sturgeon

Last month saw the Scottish Government publish its ‘route map’ for how it intends to ease Scotland out of lockdown with Phase One put into action on 28 May. So what lies ahead for local retailers?

by Antony Begley

Coronavirus has changed everything. That much is clear from the last few months but with the recent publication of the Scottish Government’s ‘route map’ out of lockdown and with the implementation of Phase One kicking in on 28 May, it seems we are finally on the long and winding road out of lockdown.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has so far taken a more cautious approach to easing out of lockdown than her Westminster counterpart Boris Johnson and only time will tell which approach was the better.

Sturgeon said: “The lockdown restrictions have been necessary to reduce and mitigate the massive harm caused by the Covid-19 virus, but the lockdown itself causes harm including loneliness and social isolation, deepening inequalities and damage to the economy. That is why I have set out the gradual and incremental phases by which we will aim to ease lockdown matched with careful monitoring of the virus.”

The First Minister predicts that, in some ways, easing lockdown will be more complicated than the full lockdown period. “Trusting each other will be vital,” she says, “as will recognising that every decision we take as individuals will have an impact on our collective wellbeing.”

The most recent data for Scotland show there has been a welcome, sustained decline in new Covid-19 cases, hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths.

There is some evidence that the current R number in Scotland [see panel] is slightly above that elsewhere in the UK and the Scottish Government’s current assessment is that progress, while real, is still fragile – and that room for manoeuvre remains limited.

The ‘Test and Protect’ strategy will now see tests for all those above the age of five with symptoms, with those testing positive and their close contacts asked to self-isolate.

The ‘R’ number and why it matters

The R number is the rate of virus reproduction and conveys the average number of people that would be infected by one individual with the virus. If R is 2, then two people would be infected by one person on average.

So, if R is above 1 it shows that the virus is spreading in the population and if it is below 1, the virus is declining in the population.

R is currently estimated to be between 0.7 and 1.0 in Scotland. At the start of lockdown, the Scottish Government believes it was between 4 and 6.

The route map provides a phased approach to easing restrictions but it does not specify dates for each phase. The phases will be refined over time but a cautious approach is what the Scottish Government says it will take.

Progress will be reviewed and reported every three weeks with announcements made on whether the country is ready to move from one phase to another.

But what impact will the easing of lockdown have on local retailers? A number of studies indicate that the way consumers shop has changed forever with many shoppers stating that they have no intention of returning to the ‘old’ normal. Home delivery is here to stay, that much is clear. But how much of the ‘new’ business will retailers retain, and for how long?

“I reckon that even with easing happening the local retailing sector will still see bigger than normal sales until at least Christmas,” says Graham Watson of Premier Watson’s Grocers in the rural Dumfriesshire village of Moniaive. “Shoppers aren’t going to just rush back to crowded supermarkets overnight because of the health risks. And I think a lot of shoppers have realised the real value of their local store in the last few months. I think a lot of them will want to keep using community stores.”

Ayr Day-Today retailer Ross Macpherson also sees it taking a while before the legacy wears off – and urges retailers to do all that can to proactively retain the new custom. He says: “I think it will be many months before we get back to whatever normal is now. We’ve learned a lot during coronavirus and the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new solutions like home delivery. We started using Snappy Shopper before the crisis but it has just gone through the roof in the last couple of months. We’re doing an extra £10,000 in both my stores and while I don’t think we’ll retain all of that volume post-coronavirus, I think we’ll keep enough of it to have a huge long term positive impact on the business.”

Only time will tell what legacy Covid-19 leaves behind but the opportunity for local retailers to build something lasting and significant out of their heroic role in the worst pandemic in living memory is enormous.

Phase One – An overview

Epidemic Status

  • High risk the virus is not yet contained. Continued risk of overwhelming NHS capacity without many restrictions still in place.

Criteria/ Conditions

  • R is below 1 for at least three weeks and the number of infectious cases is starting to decline.

New activities permitted

  • More outdoor activity permitted and permission to meet up with another household outdoors, in small numbers, including in gardens, but with physical distancing
  • School staff return to schools
  • Increased number of children accessing critical childcare provision
  • Re-opening of childminding services and fully outdoor nursery provision
  • Transition support available to pupils starting P1 and S1 where possible
  • Gradual re-opening of drive through food outlets
  • Household waste recycling centres open

STG July 2021