Pressure is mounting on the Scottish Government to allow household visits in the Highlands over Christmas and New Year.
There is cross-party support in the north for a relaxation of Covid-19 rules, given the low level of outbreaks of the virus in the region.
Ahead of a new announcement today on restrictions, Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson is asking the Scottish Government to reconsider the restrictions on household visits in the Highlands.
At this time, with the exception of those who live in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, those who live in a Level One area may not meet anyone who is not in their household indoors, in their home or in another person’s home.
They can only meet another household indoors in a public place such as a bar, café or restaurant.
Mrs Davidson said: “I understand that the First Minister is taking a cautious approach in deciding the changes to be made to levels tomorrow.
“However, I would continue to urge her to permit household visits in the Highlands as soon as possible.
“The number of positive cases is low and we have been managing any outbreaks very successfully with good test and trace and very good compliance by Highland citizens with protection measures.”
She added: “There are many, many places in the Highlands which are just as isolated as on the islands.
“In many communities it is simply not possible for people to meet in a hospitality setting and this also has a cost for those who are on low incomes or have been financially affected by the pandemic.”
She added: “Household visits are part of Highland way of life and are beneficial for all of our wellbeing.
“We continue to lobby for this change and I hope that the First Minister will take account of the special circumstances in Highland in her decisions tomorrow.”
The council’s Labour leader Jimmy Gray supported a more relaxed stance in the Highlands.
He said: “I think it is genuinely difficult and understand the need for caution however there is clearly a case to allow a degree of responsible socialising in peoples own homes.
“We are now almost nine months into the pandemic and the vast majority of people have behaved incredibly responsibly.
“It is critical that the support of the vast majority is retained and this would stand a much greater chance of success if logical and reasonable steps are taken to allow a small degree or more normal behaviour to prevail.”
Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart, who is also Labour’s shadow public health minister, said: “Certainly our rates of infection are at the lower end of the scale and there certainly is a strong case that within Highland Council areas there should be mixing allowed with certain restrictions.
“That decision will be made tomorrow by the First Minister, based on the R rate and the evidence.
“It would be good news for people of the area, especially those who live on their own. However, the motto should always be eternal vigilance to keep each other safe.”
Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain said: “Whilst covid-19 remains a serious threat, I am encouraged to see that the Highlands has very low rates of infection. If this trend continues and the rules are relaxed, then this would be a real boost to the remote areas of Scotland as we head into Christmas.”
Highland Council Convener and SNP councillor Bill Lobban said: “I remain convinced that the First Minister is doing her level best to protect all of us including our remoter communities from this dreadful pandemic and she continues to have my personal support.”