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Fury at continued ban on home visiting in Highlands and Moray

Council Leader Margaret Davidson
Council Leader Margaret Davidson

North politicians have hit out as home visits in Highland and Moray remain to be banned, while island communities can mix once more.

Household visits will be allowed for island communities in level one areas – a maximum of six people from two households.

But this will not be allowed on the mainland and islands connected by a bridge, including Skye despite surrounding regions having the same low infection rates.

Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “While this may be welcome news for a small number of households in island communities, the relaxation will only benefit some 300 people or less than 2% of people in Highland.

“I understand that the First Minister is taking a cautious approach however the number of positive cases remains well under 20 per 100,000.

“I do not think that our unique rural context is fully understood. Many places in the Highlands are just as isolated as on any remote island.

“In many communities it is simply not possible for people to meet in a hospitality setting and where this is possible, it carries a cost for those who are on low incomes or have been financially affected by the pandemic.

“Household visits are part of Highland way of life and are not just beneficial for our wellbeing, but essential to our wellbeing. We will continue to lobby for this change and reverse the harms imposed by these continued levels of restrictions.”

The total population of the Highland Council islands is 10,349 of which 10,008 live on the Isle of Skye. Apart from Skye the most populous islands are: Raasay (161), Eigg (83), Muck (27), Rum (22) and Canna (12).

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Edward Mountain said: “I asked the First Minister last week if Highlanders would be permitted to have household gatherings if the region continues to have low infection rates.  The First Minister said she would consider it, but she obviously hasn’t.

“Highlanders have obeyed the rules and done everything that is asked of them to help keep the infection rates low and protect our NHS.

“When the First Minister initially announced the five-tier system, home visits were allowed in Tier One. However, the First Minister is changing the rules as she goes along – this isn’t good enough.”

“I believe the Highlands and Moray should not be treated differently from Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles given all regions are in tier one.”

Highland Council Labour leader Jimmy Gray 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.”

Kate Forbes, the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch and Strathspey, said: “I am pleased to see some relaxation of in-house visiting on our islands.

“There have been low rates on the islands for some time and previously island local authorities have been allowed to visit in domestic settings.

“Applying different rules in one local authority area will always risk confusion which is why it was important to get this right.

“Clearly, Inverness is more aligned with Scotland’s other cities whereas Raasay is similar to smaller islands in Shetland or Orkney. As such these relaxations and flexibilities try to strike the balance.

“We are only a few weeks from Christmas when there will be widespread relaxation of in-house visiting and we want to ensure that prevalence of the virus remains low in the Highlands, allowing for as much of the Highland economy to remain open.”

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