Nicola Sturgeon slammed for ‘galling’ mask-free London visit after extending Covid rules

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The First Minister and her husband travelled to London for a memorial service dedicated to the late Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday. Mask-wearing is currently optional in England, and the SNP leader, sat next to her husband, Peter Murrell, opted not to don the face covering as they sat behind Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

But this came as Ms Sturgeon announced that people in Scotland will still be legally required to wear a face mask when on public transport, at hospitality venues, in shops or in other public spaces.

The rules were expected to be scrapped next week, but the SNP leader confirmed they would remain in place until April 18.

Colin Wilkinson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, called the pictures of Ms Sturgeon maskless “particularly galling”.

Mr Wilkinson said: “While face coverings are not required south of the Border as the rules changed at the end of January, surely it would have set an example for the First Minister still to wear hers at the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service given her decision to insist that in licensed hospitality, in shops, on public transport and some indoor settings in Scotland we are required to still wear them until April 18.”

“The lack of use of face coverings is already clearly evident in many settings and this extension of the restrictions will make little difference.

“We have already stated our view that Scotland not falling into line with England will confuse people – particularly visitors from south of the Border.

“It is already confusing people and it is exceptionally unfair for business owners and their staff to have to remind people who are not familiar with our rules that they must wear a face covering.”

After extending the legal requirement for face coverings, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser asked the First Minister why she would forego a mask at the memorial service, “given everything she’s said”.

Ms Sturgeon responded: “I abided by the rules in place there.

“I wore a face covering on the train to and back from London.

“I abide by the rules. I know that the Conservatives perhaps struggle to understand it, but I abide by the rules.”

Mr Fraser, unsatisfied with the First Minister’s reply, tweeted it was “simply extraordinary for @NicolaSturgeon to lecture us in the Chamber on wearing face masks to protect others when she did the opposite yesterday.”

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The move prompted anger from hospitality groups and nightlife-associated industries, which have been hammered by strict Covid guidelines throughout the pandemic.

Scottish Hospitality spokesperson Stephen Montgomery described how in Scotland, more people “are actually telling us they are exempt and we can’t question that”. 

He added: “If it [the mask rules] had been put into guidance instead of regulations at the last review point, we probably would have seen a better quantity of people wearing masks.”

He continued: “We have seen no evidence from the Scottish Government to show that face coverings are effective given the fact we still have the regulations in place.

“It would also cause confusion with domestic holidaymakers who are set to visit Scotland this Easter as the rest of the UK have no restrictions at all.”

The Scottish Government maintaining COVID-19 restrictions when England loosened the rules triggered an incensed reaction from Scottish hospitality businesses in the run-up to the New Year.

After the First Minister announced the restrictions, William Lees-Jones, owner of JW Lees pubs, responded by barring Ms Sturgeon from his premises “for life”.

He said the restrictions would hit the already struggling hospitality sector hardest of all, warning that many businesses could fold for good.

The businessman told Manchester Evening News: “The reshuffling of bookings and New Year, that’s going to send some businesses over the edge.”

An SNP representative has been contacted for comment.

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