SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford is among the politicians calling on the public to avoid beauty spots across the north and north-east this Easter.
Fresh warnings have been issued to the public to avoid scenic outdoor locations across the north and north-east ahead of the Easter weekend later this month, with one politician claiming that some members of the public continue to access local beauty spots despite gateways being padlocked to deter visitors from access.
With the weather improving and the upcoming holiday weekend, there are concerns the public could flout the latest government advice and head to popular outdoor locations.
It follows a plea from the First Minister earlier this month for tourists not to “risk lives” by travelling north to flee the coronavirus pandemic, after it emerged the Nevis Range in Fort William had been forced to turn away 30 campervans.
Government advice was updated last week to urge people to “stay local” when out for exercise once daily, rather than travelling by car to popular rural locations.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who represents Ross, Skye and Lochaber, issued a stark warning to anyone wishing to visit the area, saying if they don’t follow government advice then “many more people will become ill and die”.
He added those who had already chosen to visit the area, to visit relatives or to self-isolate, were not welcome, adding they are “selfish, arrogant and reckless”.
He said: “In the Highlands we are renowned for the welcome we provide and, once this terrible virus is no longer a threat to residents, we will be delighted to welcome visitors back to enjoy our wonderful scenery and hospitality.
“But my message to anyone who is considering ignoring the current ‘lockdown’ rules to travel to the Highlands – or anywhere else – for Easter is simple. Don’t!
“For those who have already flouted the emergency legislation and come to the Highlands – whether to visit relatives, self-isolate or whatever – please make no mistake. You are not welcome just now, so please leave. Please go home. Your behaviour is selfish, arrogant and reckless.”
The best way the public can honour and support our NHS staff, by helping to prevent further spread of this virus, is to abide by the rules and stay at home.”
Mr Blackford said the Scottish and Westminster governments have been very clear that all non-essential travel is prohibited and called on people to remain at their main resident for the “sake of the general good”.
He added: “To choose to ignore these instructions is the height of irresponsibility, threatens our communities and puts pressure on the health services in remote and rural areas.
“The need to control the spread of Covid-19 is the greatest challenge facing us all at this time.
“There has been a rapid acceleration in the number of cases reported and it is vital that we all do the right things now so we can reduce the impact of coronavirus and save lives.
“If we don’t, we face the stark reality that many more people will become ill and die.
“The best way the public can honour and support our NHS staff, by helping to prevent further spread of this virus, is to abide by the rules and stay at home.”
In urging the public to stay home this Easter, Douglas Ross, MP for Moray, stressed that the area’s “outstanding scenery and local beauty spots” will still be there once the restrictions have lifted.
He said: “I appreciate that this is a very difficult time for everyone as we follow the scientific and government advice to stay inside.
“This is especially true when there are so many great places to go with outstanding scenery and local beauty spots, but we must continue to follow the advice as it will save lives.
“Easter weekend is a time when we often venture out as families and enjoy the great outdoors, but these places will still be there after the restrictions have been lifted and we can all enjoy them together.
“I understand that several gateways to local beauty spots have been padlocked, but people are parking their cars outside and going in nevertheless, with the excuse that they are so remote they are unlikely to meet anyone and are therefore socially distancing by default.
“I would ask people to exercise common sense and wherever possible to take their exercise from home.
“We are in this together and need to do everything we can to stop this awful virus from spreading further.
“Anyone can get it, and the sooner we are past this, the better. So please, stay at home and save lives.”
Kate Forbes MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said police officers have the powers to issue fines to those who choose to not follow government advice.
She said: “Non-essential travel must stop.
“The police now have enforcement powers to crack down on anybody who isn’t following government guidance on non-essential travel.
“That includes holiday-makers choosing to visit the Highlands.
“The only way we are going to stop this pandemic is by staying at home – so, please, stay at home.”
Restrictions likely to be extended
The measures put in place by the Prime Minister were introduced for three weeks initially, which means it would be Monday April 13 – one day after Easter Sunday – before they could be lifted.
However, this is subject to “constant review” and could be extended further with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries stating it could be at least six months before the UK gets back to normal.
Police Scotland have had high visibility patrols in place right across the country since they were given additional enforcement powers, including hand out fixed penalties to anyone caught flouting the social distancing rules.
Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: “It’s clear that the vast majority of people are complying with the measures. They know the message is to stay at home, and by and large, they’re doing that.
“Where our officers have encountered people outside, they’ve been able to engage with them or educate them on why it’s so important to follow the guidance from our public health experts in order to save lives and protect the NHS.
“There will always be people who refuse to comply, but the low number of penalty notices shows they are in the minority and in those cases we’ve had to use enforcement as a last resort. This is a big change to the way people live their lives and they need to adjust to that.
“There were issues with people driving to some outdoor spaces such as parks and we will address this, working with our partners in local authorities where appropriate.
“We have been given extraordinary powers in an extraordinary situation, powers we would not normally wish to have, but I’d like to thank the public for helping and supporting us.
“We police with the consent of the communities we serve, so a positive relationship with those communities is of huge importance to us.”