Scotland’s islands will push for further lifting of Covid travel restrictions after learning they will remain in step with the mainland when rules ease later this month.
Confirmation that tourists can return from April 26 was welcomed, following uncertainty over travel from the mainland which island businesses said had cost them millions of pounds in cancelled bookings.
Tourism bodies had called for clarity on the situation, saying that some businesses were unlikely to survive an extension to the ban on visitors.
The Scottish Government had consulted islanders and decided they will remain in Level 3 in line with the mainland, rather than moving to Level 2, which would have meant some travel restrictions.
Businesses have endured tough year
Outer Hebrides Tourism said the news is a key step in life returning to normal.
Chief executive Rob McKinnon said: “In our discussions with the government we stressed the need for clarity and the importance of treating island and mainland businesses equally. Today’s announcement is welcome news on both fronts.
“It will come as a relief to businesses across the islands that have endured a tough twelve months, and more recently been facing a wave of cancellations.”
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the move starts to lift a heavy weight from the shoulders of a sector which has been operating in “crisis mode” for the best part of a year.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar leader Roddie Mackay said: “We are pleased that the confusion of the last few weeks has been cleared up and that the tourism sector now has some clarity and certainty and can plan ahead with confidence.”
But he added: “We will continue to hold discussions on an ongoing basis with Scottish Government and public health in order for a further easing of restrictions, particularly within our islands, as soon as possible. On the available data we should certainly be expecting this to happen soon.”
Islands making fantastic progress against virus
Western Isles SNP candidate Alasdair Allan, said after the latest change, it is hoped to ease restrictions further next month with the islands making “fantastic progress” against the virus.
“I had been pressing the Scottish Government to make a decision on this as, until now, these businesses have been unable to properly plan for the weeks and months ahead.
“There is now clear light at the end of the tunnel if we can stay vigilant and keep to the rules.”
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael said progress toward reopening is welcome.
“It is good that we now have some clarity on isles restrictions, but people will be frustrated that we had to wait so long only to get the same answer as everybody else.
“If it is all the same as the rest of Scotland, then why did they sit on their hands so long? In the meantime, our businesses have suffered from the relative uncertainty compared to the mainland, losing bookings and trade.”
Government should consider impact of restrictions
Steven Coutts, political leader of Shetland Islands Council, said it was apparent the Scottish Government wants Scotland move in ‘lockstep’ through the lockdown levels.
“There appears to be no capacity for regional variation despite the data showing that the pandemic is being experienced differently across Scotland, and there is a difference in the effectiveness of track, trace and isolate in island communities.
“The council’s position remains that Shetland should be in the level that our Covid data supports. The Scottish Government need to consider the proportional impact of these restrictions across the four harms not solely focused on the numbers of new cases of the virus and there should be no additional barriers to travel placed on our islands compared to other areas of Scotland.”