MINISTERS have defended their cautious approach after Scots island communities called on Nicola Sturgeon to intervene to give “urgent clarity” over the easing of lockdown restrictions and when they can reopen to visitors from the mainland.
Argyll and Bute Council leader Robin Currie has told the First Minister in a letter that it is “deeply disappointing” that after two updates on the easing of lockdown restrictions – island communities “remain in the dark” over how this affects them.
Businesses say the Scottish Government’s failure to provide a date for when travel to and from the islands can resume has triggered a “wave of cancellations” from visitors.
Mr Currie has called on the First Minister to give clear information so that islands can plan for the future.
Curbs on mainland travel are due to be end on April 26 but ministers have yet to announce when this will cover the islands, because of fears of increasing their low Covid-19 rates.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We know many businesses and some communities are keen to open as soon as is safe to do so, but that others are more nervous of the impacts of doing so. We want travel to get back to normal as soon as it is safely possible, but as the First Minister has set out we must move very carefully to ensure continued suppression of the virus.
“If we open up too much, too quickly then we risk a resurgence of the virus. We must also do this in a way that carries most support from island residents and communities and will give them confidence and reassurance that it is safe for people to visit our islands and also for islanders to visit the mainland.
“While we are engaging with island authorities, communities and businesses to better understand their views, keeping people safe remains key and we must all continue to follow expert public health advice. As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will apply and follow the four harms process to consider what, if any restrictions might be eased for island authorities.”
Ms Sturgeon minister Nicola Sturgeon last month outlined indicative dates for easing lockdown, saying she hoped all parts of Scotland currently in level four – all of the mainland and some island communities – would move to a “modified level three”.
The the island communities currently under level three restrictions would drop to level two.
Travel within all of mainland Scotland was expected to be permitted from April 26.
But last month she said: “However, if restrictions on socialising and hospitality are relaxed more quickly and significantly on the islands, there may be a need to retain some restrictions on travel to and from the mainland – to protect island communities from the importation of new cases.
“Rather than impose that decision now on our island communities, we intend to discuss it directly with them to determine what arrangements they consider will work best for their circumstances.”
Island hospitality businesses are demanding clarity on the easing of travel restrictions, with up to a third of businesses saying they are ‘unlikely to survive an extension to the ban on visitors’.
Last week, the Scottish Tourism Alliance which represents hundreds of island businesses said its members had already suffered a “wave of cancellations”.
CalMac, which operates ferries to the Hebrides, has said it would continue operating at an average of 35 per cent of normal capacity because of distancing requirements.
Increased sailings under its summer timetable start on April 26, a month later than normal.