LAST-GASP talks were held yesterday (Wednesday) to try and prevent East Lothian being put under Tier Three coronavirus restrictions, amid claims it would put jobs and businesses at risk.

Hospitality businesses across the county will hear today (Thursday) if First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will ease tough restrictions which have seen pubs and restaurants close for nearly three weeks.

Councillor Norman Hampshire, East Lothian Council’s depute leader, has warned that the damage to the industry if it goes into Tier Three – which will keep these businesses shut – will be catastrophic.

Mr Hampshire was involved in talks with Depute First Minister John Swinney yesterday as he made the case for moving East Lothian into Tier Two, more in line with its relatively low rate of Covid-19 infections.

He said: “We don’t believe our rural communities should be treated the same as city areas and have made our case.

"We will still be dealing with Covid in a year’s time so we have to get it right now and putting us in Tier Three will put jobs and businesses at risk.”

A leaked memo this week suggested that East Lothian and most of the Central Belt would be placed into Tier Three, despite the rate of infection in the county being lower than many of these other local authorities.

There was, though, another death in East Lothian this week as a result of Covid-19, bringing the number of deaths reported this month in the county to three.

If East Lothian is placed in Tier Three, it could still be moved to Tier Two in future weeks as Scottish Government chiefs have acknowledged that “there are some signs in the data of progress in the east [of the country]”.

Covid-19 rates in East Lothian have not reached the level of cases in neighbouring Midlothian, Edinburgh or West Lothian, but the county could be placed in the same level of risk all the same.

The tier levels for local authority areas will be announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today and come after NHS Lothian was among five health board areas hit with a ‘circuit breaker lockdown’ earlier this month.

The five-level tier system, from zero to four, sees Tier Three areas have a ban on visiting people’s homes, with socialising outdoors limited to six people from two households, and a ban on hospitality venues serving alcohol indoors or outside.

Non-essential travel in or out of the area is not recommended and people are encouraged to avoid public transport.

Schools, shops, hairdressers, beauty salons, libraries and places of worship can remain open and indoor individual exercise only will be permitted. Outdoor exercise will be allowed but not for adult contact sports unless it is professional.

Under Tier Two restrictions, the same socialising rules apply. Hospitality venues can serve alcohol outdoors and indoors with a main meal. Colleges and universities offering blended learning and all sport and exercise is permitted except indoor contact sports for those over 18.

Mr Hampshire met with depute First Minister John Swinney and public health experts on Tuesday evening and was scheduled to have a further talk yesterday afternoon to plead for East Lothian to be put into Tier Two.

Following the initial meeting, he said he had been unconvinced by the data presented, which would see the county kept in Tier Three.

He said: “I am still not convinced that level 3 is right for East Lothian at this time.

"I have looked at the evidence presented to COSLA – cases per 100k and forecasts per 100k, hospital and ICU forecasts. We score the same as Fife and lower than Dumfries and Galloway. Both of these local authorities are at level 2, while it looks like the Scottish Government will keep East Lothian at level 3.

“I know that if that is the decision the Scottish Government makes, over those few weeks more people in East Lothian will lose their jobs, more businesses will fold, and families will be placed in financial hardship.

“Please be assured that my continued dialogue with the Sottish Government will remain positive and I will seek to deliver an outcome which is right for the people of East Lothian.

“I will be working hard with public health and the Scottish Government to understand what we need to do to keep ourselves and others safe, and protect jobs, livelihoods and local businesses.”

The weekly infection rate in East Lothian was yesterday given as 89.6 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 106 for Midlothian, 293.2 for West Lothian and 98 for Edinburgh, all of which have been under the Central Belt shutdown and are expected to be in Tier Three.

In Fife, which was not put into the circuit breaker and is likely to be under the less restrictive Tier Two, the current rate of infection is 87.5.

In Glasgow City, which is currently under the same restrictions as East Lothian, the rate is 322.1, more than three times higher.

There are several areas of concern in the county.

Between October 18 and 24, Gullane and Drem recorded eight positive cases; Prestonpans West and Musselburgh North both recorded six; Musselburgh South seven; and Musselburgh East and Wallyford/Whitecraig each recorded 13.

Iain Gray, East Lothian MSP, said: “It is very disappointing that the Scottish Government seems to be planning to place East Lothian on level three restrictions when our infection rate remains comparatively low.

“This would leave East Lothian with greater restrictions than many council areas with higher rates of infection and persist with the unfairness of lumping us in with other parts of Lothian with much higher levels of Covid.”

Kenny MacAskill, East Lothian MP, agreed, saying: “I hope East Lothian is placed in Tier Two.

“As soon as you move to local authority areas as the basis for a decision then maintaining the county in Tier Three becomes harder, if not impossible, to justify.

“The impact on individuals and the economy is hitting hard.

"Moreover, when other areas adjacent to the main Central Belt are excluded, it again becomes hard to justify.”