Motorists criticised for queuing for drive-thru Costa coffee - but did they break any rules?

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has criticised motorists for heading out on non-essential visits to Costa coffee drive throughs during lockdown.

Drivers queued for up to 40 minutes at the Costa drive through at Cameron Toll Shopping Centre in Edinburgh, when it reopened at the weekend.

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Meanwhile, the drive through in Old Trafford, Manchester had to temporarily close after enormous queues formed at the weekend.

A total of 29 branches around the UK also saw massive tailbacks once they reopened the takeaway service.

What did Nicola Sturgeon say?

At her daily Covid-19 press conference, the First Minister asked people to question whether a visit to Costa’s drive throughs counted as an essential journey.

“We really are at the critical stage. This means asking you again to stick rigorously to the current rules. It means asking you to think hard about your own compliance and tightening that if anything now, not easing up on it,” she said.

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“If you have been going out a bit more than you should, please rectify that. Please stay home, except for essential purposes and remember that this stage essential purposes only means food supplies, medicines and daily exercise.

“You should ask yourself if going for a drive through coffee is really an essential journey.”

What has been the response?

Several people have taken to social media to defend the motorists and the coffee chain, including Lothian MSP and Conservative health spokesman, Miles Briggs, who called Sturgeon’s criticism “an overreaction”.

“We need to see a safe way of transitioning to the new norm which she talks about,” Mr Briggs said.

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“Drive through restaurants are probably the safest way of getting food or drink just now.”

Additionally, he pointed out that many of the motorists queuing at Edinburgh’s Cameron Toll drive through could be key workers, due to its proximity to the hospital.

“The fact it’s so close to ERI means it could be people working at the hospital,” Mr Briggs noted.

“She was too quick to condemn a business which is operating quite safely.”

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Another critic of the First Minister's advice was Lib Dem health spokesman and Edinburgh Western MSP, Alex Cole-Hamilton, who said, “I don’t understand why a drive through Costa coffee is any greater risk to infection control than what has already been happening without problem for several weeks in terms of takeaway businesses.

“If you go to Corstorphine on a Friday night you’ll see queues of people patiently waiting for their turn to be served at various fast food outlets in the village.

“A drive through Costa coffee would seem to be safer because you're not in immediate proximity to anyone save the person who’s handing you your drink.”

Did the motorists break any rules?

This has caused people to question if the motorists broke any social distancing rules.

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The current government advice defines ‘essential journeys’ as any of the following:

- Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine.

- One form of exercise a day

- For any medical need

- Providing care or help to a vulnerable person

- Travelling for work purposes

- Visiting or moving your children under existing arrangements for parental access and contact

- Attending the funeral of a close family member or member of your household (or, of a friend if no one from their family is in attendance)

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However, according to Cole-Hamilton, visits to a drive through fall into a “grey area”.

Pointing out the similarity between people collecting takeaway meals and ordering take away coffees, he said, “The question would be is it an essential journey. But it’s not unreasonable if on your way back from the supermarket you stop off and pick up a coffee in the same way you would pick up a takeaway restaurant meal.

“We are asking a lot of the public and if they want a mocha as a treat, as long as they can do it as part of the errands they run which are sanctioned by the state we shouldn’t deny them that little luxury.

“Unnecessary journeys are largely ones which end with people getting out of their cars and freely associating. If you’re picking up a coffee on your way back from the supermarket I don’t think you can blame them for that.”