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Tourism businesses call for urgent testing of staff as visitors return

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Tourism operators in the north Highlands are seeking urgent access to Covid-19 testing for staff before hotels re-open to visitors next week.

Businesses say routine testing would provide reassurance for workers, tourists and communities and help prevent a second wave outbreak.

The move is being coordinated by David Whiteford, chairman of the North Highland Initiative, which is behind the North Coast 500.

He has urged health secretary Jeane Freeman to grant immediate access to a test centre in Inverness for staff returning from outside the Highlands, while a longer-term testing regime is considered.

Mr Whiteford said: “While businesses are busily putting in place the required new protocols to ensure the ongoing safety of our teams, guests and communities, we believe it would be of enormous benefit to supplement this with access to testing.

“Not only do our teams work in close contact with members of the public, but many of these roles are provided with in live-in accommodation.

“As these teams return from their homes to re-join businesses for re-opening, it would seem sensible and prudent to ensure we can demonstrate they are currently clear of the virus.”

He added: “Early Covid-19 testing of staff would also mean the chances of a second wave of the virus taking hold via the hospitality sector would be unlikely as it would be extinguished at an early stage.

“It would be a great pity if all the good work that has been undertaken by Scottish Government so far to support the hospitality sector in these dire times would be undone by not addressing this missing link.”

Tanja Lister, from the Kylesku Hotel in Sutherland, said: “Not only do we feel a great weight of responsibility for the safety of our teams and our guests, we also feel that responsibility for our communities, where there is already a heightened anxiety about the return of tourism.”

Murray Lamont, owner of Mackays Hotel in Wick, said the facility to have staff tested would provide comfort for customers and reinforce that the north Highlands is safe to visit.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said neither she nor the health secretary had seen the letter from Mr Whiteford but added: “Our testing strategy continues to develop and we will take account of any representations that are made.

“As we saw in Dumfries and Galloway last week, we have the ability to move testing capacity where there are concerns and that included widespread testing of particular workplaces and parts of the community.”

Meanwhile, the leader of Orkney Islands Council has called for relaxation of social distancing rules as tourism restarts.

James Stockan told Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, that social distancing on public transport means capacity is vastly reduced on ferry services, as a Destination Orkney survey showed almost 70% of Orkney tourism businesses plan to reopen this summer.

Mr Stockan said: “If we have to continue to operate within current rules, there is in fact the real risk of tourism actually disadvantaging some of our island groups as locals and tourists ‘compete’ for spaces on the ferry.

“That is something we absolutely need to avoid.”

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