The Scottish Government has updated its guidance for businesses in Scotland on physical distancing and required business closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This reflects staged changes being introduced whilst Scotland works through Phase 2 of its route map.


The overarching general guidance remains that remote working should be the default position for those who are able to do so. Where that is not possible businesses and organisations are encouraged to manage travel demand through staggered start times and flexible working patterns at work sites. 

Essential services and work premises re-opening

Businesses are advised to consider the return to work guidance issued previously, as well as the indicative dates for changes for the remainder of Phases 2 and 3.  

In Phase 2 of the route map non-essential, indoor non-office-based workplaces can resume, once relevant guidance has been agreed – including factories and warehouses, lab and research facilities – with physical distancing.

However, the guidance states that businesses which are unable to open in accordance with the current position in the Scottish Government's route map, or which are not capable of working in a way which is fully consistent with established physical distancing advice (except in exceptional circumstances critical to lives and safety) should remain closed. There are exceptions for businesses which are considered to be Critical National Infrastructure, or which support essential services. However, the guidance states that these businesses must apply physical distancing requirements and keep open only those premises or parts of premises that are truly critical or essential to the national and international COVID effort.

Business and premises which are open  

The guidance states that businesses that are not specifically required to close should consider 3 key questions: 1) whether what they do is essential or material to the effort against the virus or to the wellbeing of society; 2) whether they are able to open in accordance with the current position in the Scottish Government’s route map; and 3) whether they are able to demonstrate and give confidence to their workforce that they can consistently practice safe physical distancing and comply with all other standard health and safety requirements. If the answer to any of these is no, then the advice is to close on a precautionary basis.  

Employers who have people in their premises must take all reasonable measures to ensure that employees are able to maintain a 2 metre distance from each other. They should also follow NHS Inform and Scottish Government guidance on frequent hand washing.

Work carried out in people’s homes can continue, provided that the tradesperson is well and is not showing coronavirus symptoms and neither they nor any of their household are self-isolating. Similarly, those who work on their own with no personal contact, e.g. gardeners, may do so as long as safety and physical distancing requirements are met. 

Businesses and premises which must close

The guidance also details the extent of the exceptions, or easing of restrictions, for non-essential businesses that the Scottish Government previously advised should remain closed:


Exception to the Guidance that the business must remain closed


Food delivery and takeaway can remain operational and can be a new activity supported by the new permitted development right. This covers the provision of hot or cold food that has been prepared for consumers for collection or delivery to be consumed, reheated or cooked by consumers off the premises

Cafes, including workplace canteens

Food delivery and takeaway can remain operational.

Cafés or canteens at hospitals, care homes or schools; prison and military canteens; services providing food or drink to the homeless.

Where there are no practical alternatives, other workplace canteens can remain open to provide food for their staff and/or provide a space for breaks. However, where possible, staff should be encouraged to bring their own food, and distributors should move to takeaway. Measures should be taken to minimise the number of people in the canteen at any one given time, for example by using a rota.

Public houses

Food delivery and takeaway can remain operational and can be a new activity supported by the new permitted development right. This covers the provision of hot or cold food that has been prepared for consumers for collection or delivery to be consumed, reheated or cooked by consumers off the premises.

Indoor markets

Outdoor markets can re-open once guidance is implemented.

·        market stalls which offer essential retail, such as grocery and food.

·        livestock markets and auctions.

Auction houses

Livestock markets and auctions

Hotels, hostels, B&Bs, campsites and boarding houses for commercial use

Where people live in these as interim abodes whilst their primary residence is unavailable, or they live in them in permanently they may continue to do so.

Critical workers and non-UK residents who are unable to travel to their country of residence during this period can continue to stay in hotels or similar where required.

People who are unable to move into a new home due to the current restrictions can also stay at hotels.

Where hotels, hostels, and B&Bs are providing rooms to support homeless and other vulnerable people such as those who cannot safely stay in their home, through arrangements with local authorities and other public bodies, they may remain open.

Those attending a funeral will be able to use hotels when returning home would be impractical.

Hotels are allowed to host blood donation sessions.

Providers of holiday accommodation that are subject to the requirement to cease carrying on their business can continue to provide information or services online, by telephone or by post.

Accommodation providers can make accommodation provision available for workers, and those people providing voluntary or charitable services, for whom it is essential to travel and require short-term accommodation. This must be in line with physical distancing and public health guidance.


Digital library services and those where orders are taken electronically, by telephone or by post (for example no-contact Home Library Services) may continue.

Libraries in or associated with universities and colleges can open to members of staff or post graduate students who need to access library services which they could not access from the place where they live.

Community centres, youth centres and similar

For the purpose of hosting essential voluntary or public services, such as food banks, homeless services, and blood donation sessions.

Public venues that host blood donation sessions can continue to open temporarily for these services only.

There is a legal requirement on the person responsible for the centre to ensure that reasonable measures are taken to ensure that a distance of two metres is maintained between people on the premises (other than between members of the same household or a carer and the person they are assisting).

Places of worship

Funerals in places of worship, burial grounds and crematoria, where the congregation are members of the deceased’s household or close family. In a case where no members of the deceased’s household or family members are attending, friends can attend. A distance of two metres should be maintained between every household group, as per Public Health Scotland guidelines.

A minister of religion or worship leader may leave their home to travel to their place of worship. A place of worship may broadcast an act of worship, whether over the internet or otherwise.

Places of worship to open for the purposes of prayer or contemplation (alone or with members of the same household).

For the purpose of hosting essential voluntary or public service, such as food banks, homeless services, and blood donation sessions.

Cinemas, theatres and concert halls

Small group performances for the purposes of live streaming could be permissible where physical distancing guidelines are observed and no audience attend the venue.

Blood donation sessions also allowed to be held at these venues.

Fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools or other indoor leisure centres

Leisure centres may stay open for blood donation sessions.

Retail and public premises 

In relation to those retail and public premises which have remained open or are re-opening in accordance with the route map the Guidance details the reasonable measures it expects to be taken to ensure physical distancing. This includes restricting entry to the premises to numbers that ensure that physical distancing can take place, and ensuring queue control consistent with physical distancing advice outside of the premises. 


Businesses are reminded that businesses and venues that breach the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (the "Regulations") will be subject to prohibition notices, and potentially fixed penalties. Local Authorities working with the Health and Safety Executive and with the support of Police Scotland, are empowered to issue prohibition notices to require compliance with the Regulations.

Key Contacts

Lisa McNeill

Lisa McNeill

Managing Associate, Dispute Resolution
Edinburgh, UK

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