BARS and restaurants across Scotland have called on all customers and operators to stick to the new rules on smaller groups or risk their premises being closed down.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association has assured First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that she has their full support on implementing the new regulations which she announced on Thursday.

Spokesperson Paul Waterson said: “We will abide by the rules. It obviously causes us some problems in terms of with three households and eight people before which was a bit more flexible for us obviously and that now changing.

“But we understand why we have got to be very careful at the moment when we’re in this dangerous position of infections going up.”

But he had a strong warning for those who believe they can bend the rules, which say that only two households comprising six people can form a grouping and that masks must be worn by customers in the premises away from tables.

He added: “I would have that message not only for customers but for all operators to abide by these rules and regulations and, of course, the customers have to do their bit and understand that we’re there to enforce this.

“Otherwise I don’t think there’s any doubt that the rules and regulations are going to become stricter and could well lead to another lockdown which is something nobody wants to see.

“It would be absolutely disastrous for our sector.”

Waterson believes that the public is adapting well to the new controlled systems that have been put in place with social distancing for drinking and eating in bars and restaurants. But he again urged vigilance.

He added: “We tend to judge this on the worst cases rather than the majority of customers and operators who do adhere to the rules and regulations.

“But there’s always someone who tries to circumvent the rules in some way.

“It’s up to us to make sure they don’t do that and we’re used to doing that because we’re licensed and we’ve got to enforce rules and regulations every day we’re open.

“It’s in our DNA, if you like, so we’ve got to make sure that the licensing acts which are onerous on us are adhered to and that these new rules are adhered to too.”

Fears have been raised for the safety of bar and restaurant staff being put in the position of telling the public to social distance, stay in their groups and now wear masks when they are not drinking at their tables.

But Waterson was keen to downplay that threat. He said: “I think people are abiding by that though. I think that on occasion, no doubt, it’s got to happen.

“But it’s like the trace and protect situation where you’ve got the ultimate sanction that if you don’t want to give us your name then we’re going to have to ask you to leave.

“That can sometimes escalate no doubt but we don’t have many reports of problems with that.”

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association are well aware of the added challenge of things potentially getting out of hand though with outdoor drinking.

Waterson said: “We saw the problem up in Aberdeen with that with marquees and outdoor areas and I think that was a sort of watershed moment.

“I think a lot of people saw that and saw what the Government had to do and they acted swiftly and I think that showed people that they had to be very careful. And since that the groupings of people have been down.”

The trade, though, believes that more can still be done to ensure that the rules are obeyed.

“I think that we have to look at what the sanctions are against people who aren’t adhering to all the rules.

“Whether it’s at home or outside areas or whatever.

“And I think if we looked at the system of fines for people who weren’t adhering to the rules and regulations and if there were significant fines I think that would help us a lot.

“I think especially we’re all concerned about, you know, students coming back and universities coming back and that age group.

“So I think we’ve got to think about what we do with people who are openly flouting the rules. Whether that’s the operators or the customers or indeed people outside generally.”

And Waterson believes that should it come to it, then premises who are breaking the rules should be dealt with in the most severe way.

He added: “If the licensing boards believe, or other authorities believes, it warrants that then absolutely they should have their licenses suspended.

“Because they’re ruining it for everybody else. And this is the great worry that we have, that somebody does ruin it for everybody.”

The Scottish Government’s new rules will require police to act as a last resort when rules are being flagrantly broken.

They have had their challenges in recent weeks, most noticeably with tracking illegal house parties, while there have been increased gatherings of young people in high streets and reports of overcrowded bars.

STUDENTS returning to universities and colleges for term time this week were also addressed in the First Minister’s new rules.

And new police powers to break up house parties with more than 15 people will also be extended to cover parties in student accommodation from tomorrow.

While the SLA is supporting Nicola Sturgeon’s new measures, they come as a bodyblow to the nightclub industry who learned that they will not be reopening any time soon.

Donald MacLeod, founder of The Garage and Cathouse, is repurposing the nightclubs into bars.

He explained: “We’ll try and save as many staff through doing this. We’ll not make any money, that’s for sure, but we’ll hopefully bring in enough to keep most of the staff on.

“If that doesn’t work and more restrictions come in and we’re shutting down on a whim because, my God, somebody got coronavirus, well ...”

MacLeod remains frustrated that nightclubs are being forced to stay closed while bars are allowed to operate, some of them with music.

He added: “We’re disappointed that not even a small give on background music is to be accepted. It wasn’t even talked about so it has been pushed right off the agenda. Even though the science is there that it can be done.

“It’s sowing confusion. In Edinburgh I was in some place that was playing music while in another they were told that they can’t have amplified noise like they have in football.”

Football and other sports have also been told that they must row back on their plans for getting fans back into their arenas.

The two test Scottish Premiership matches, Ross County v Celtic and Aberdeen v Kilmarnock, will be allowed to have a token number of fans, 300 at each, into their grounds.

But the plug will be pulled after that, at least until next month when the subject will be revisited in light of the Covid numbers.

The SPFL and SFA had pleaded with the First Minister to allow them to progress with their plans to slowly reintroduce spectators back into their grounds.

Music and the arts have also been left in limbo while soft play facilities and indoor contact sports activities for over-12s and adults have also been kept waiting.

Iain Ross, of the Festival City Theatres Trust, bemoaned the fact that the theatres remain empty.

He said: “The decisions they have taken are absolutely correct and we support them 100% but it does make us worry even more about when we are likely to do anything in our theatres again.”

Sectors of society which have been left disappointed in the First Minister’s pronouncement will hold their breath for the next three weeks and hope that the Covid numbers will come down and they can open again.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “The Chief Constable has made it clear that we are asking people to take personal responsibility to do the right thing and remember the purpose of these measures is to aid the collective effort to stay safe, protect others and save lives by preventing the virus from spreading. Our officers will continue to engage with the public, explain the legislation and guidance and encourage compliance. We will use enforcement as a last resort where there is a clear breach of the legislation.”.