NICOLA Sturgeon said she does not expect police to be “routinely patrolling office blocks” as sweeping new enforcement powers come into force to include workplaces flouting social distancing rules.
Businesses that do not take all reasonable measures to enforce those rules could be fined or prosecuted – amid warnings that financial penalties will further damage traders reeling amid the lockdown.
The social distancing rules have been expanded by the Scottish Government, in a bid to suppress the spread of coronavirus and better protect workers.
Police officers and council staff will now be able to enforce social distancing rules in workplaces, where people must remain at least two metres apart.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We have amended regulations introduced three weeks ago to restrict public gatherings and non-essential business activities.
“Some of these amendments strengthen those regulations to formalise what is our already established guidance – for example, all businesses must take all reasonable measures to enforce the rule that workers are at least two metres apart from each other.”
She added: “Police, as a result of these amended regulations, will now be able to enforce that power within workplaces.
“Though, as with the regulations already in place, we envisage that this will be done primarily through dialogue and encouragement. We do not expect police to be routinely patrolling office blocks.”
The Scottish Government’s regulations must be reviewed every three weeks and are kept under review by authorities.
Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell added: “From the outset, we have said these regulations are temporary and will be kept under review. After careful consideration, we have decided that it is necessary for these regulations to continue for the protection of public health.
“We have also made some minor amendments to the regulations to enhance their operation and social distancing for businesses, as well as making it more explicit that services relating to livestock, money, and online holiday bookings can remain open.
“The restrictions are tough and have had an impact on everyone’s lives but they are necessary to protect public health and our NHS, and we will continue to keep them under review.”
Businesses have welcomed the deterrent but warned against further financial hardship for traders.
Colin Borland, the Federation of Small Business’ director of devolved nations, said: “Officials have said to us that this change should have little impact on firms already social-distancing their staff and customers.
“It can’t lead to new fines hitting businesses who are trying their best to keep trading while keeping people safe.”
Scottish Conservative economy spokesperson Maurice Golden added: “Businesses continuing to work through this crisis are doing the public a great service.
“The vast majority of these firms will be responsible and ensuring their employees and customers are kept safe.
“But where that isn’t happening, it’s important the police have the power to act, even if that’s just to serve as a deterrent.”
Local authorities are set to ensure social distancing rules are enforced by businesses.
A spokesperson from Cosla, the umbrella organisation that represents Scottish councils, said: “Councils are aware that the vast majority of businesses will comply with this, and further to this – in addition, we will seek to engage and educate before taking compliance action.”