An island council said it will not impose stricter Covid rules on local ferry travel after Boxing Day – despite moving into a higher level of pandemic restrictions.
Orkney is due to move from Level 1 to Level 3 from December 26 along with Shetland and the Western Isles as part of the latest lockdown guidelines.
Under the guidance, travel on public transport, including ferries, should be for essential purposes only.
But Orkney Islands Council said that with no Covid cases reported for many weeks, it is advising residents to continue to use and book inter-island ferries after Boxing Day as they have under Level 1.
Essential travel rules will still apply for travel to and from the Scottish mainland.
The council has told the Scottish Government of the “bespoke” arrangements which it said will help the health and wellbeing of residents.
Islanders can pre-book travel between the north and south isles and the Orkney mainland up to December 24 and after December 27. No inter-island ferries are operating on Christmas Day or Boxing Day.
OIC chief executive John Mundell said: “With no recent cases of Covid-19 in Orkney – and with strict restrictions on travel in and out of the county due to come into force – we believe this is a proportionate and safe move to make in the interests of equality for all people in our community.
“However, we would ask folk travelling on the ferries to keep themselves and our crews safe by following current health and hygiene advice – in just the same way as they have been over many weeks and months. It is also important that folk continue to watch for any further announcements by the Scottish Government.”
Council leader James Stockan added: “We firmly believe that the ability to travel between the isles and Orkney mainland is essential for the health and wellbeing of our community, particularly over the festive period.
“We have discussed this with the Scottish Government and advised them of our intentions not to further restrict travel by ferry within our community when Orkney moves from Level 1 to Level 3.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the communities secretary has engaged thoroughly with the island authorities since the tightened restrictions were announced.
“Orkney Islands Council is responsible for the operation of the ferries and we expect all operators to adhere to the travel restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, protect communities and avoid overwhelming the NHS.”
Shetland Islands Council said: “From Boxing Day, travel on public transport in Shetland, such as buses, inter-island ferries and flights, should be for essential purposes only.”
A Caledonian MacBrayne spokesman said it is advising people to travel in line with the Scottish Government restrictions.