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Highland MPs worried about influx of tourists after Prime Minister's statement

By Scott Maclennan

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Highland MPs have united to express their dismay over a possible wave of tourists to rural areas following Boris Johnson's remark that people “can drive to other destinations”.

Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, warned that now was "not the time" for visitors to come to the Highlands, while SNP MPs Ian Blackford and Drew Hendry were similarly alarmed by the comment from the Prime Minister.

The UK Government has faced criticism over its revised slogan for England, advising the public to "stay alert, control the virus, save lives". Scotland, along with Wales and Northern Ireland, is maintaining its "stay at home" approach.

In his televised address on Monday, the Prime Minister did not specify that measures being relaxed would apply only to England.

He said: “From this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise. You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.”

The concern is that many south of the border will not hear the message from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. She has said: “If you are in Scotland then the law in Scotland applies – and the law says that just now you can only be out of your own home for essential reasons.

"It is not okay to drive into Scotland to beauty spots to visit places and for leisure."

Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.
Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

Mr Stone said: “I do think the vagueness of Boris’s remark is misleading and possibly at worst could encourage an influx of visitors to the Highlands.

“While we would love visitors to come to the Highlands once the epidemic is over, in the meantime my priority is to safeguard the lives and health of my constituents – and that means saying to visitors and potential visitors I am sorry but now is not the time.”

Mr Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) referred to the recent Covid-19 outbreak at a care home on Skye as evidence that the north was extremely vulnerable to the virus.

He said: “First and foremost what everyone should recognise that in Scotland the advice remains the same this week as it was last week, and that is for everybody to stay at home and protect the NHS, with the intention of saving lives.

“That recommendation, that policy, does not change. What has changed this week is that people are permitted to go out more than once a day for legitimate exercise.

“The message to everyone, whether they are in Scotland or elsewhere, is that our tourist areas are not open for business. People should not be coming here until it is safe to do so, and I would be looking to the authorities – in particular the police – to make sure that all the populations of the Highlands and Islands are safe.

“I have to say at atime when we are battling an outbreak of Covid-19 in Skye, when everyone is doing what is necessary to contain the spread of the virus and to support all the families and all the workers caught up in it, this mixed messaging from Boris Johnson quite frankly appals me."

Highland SNP MPs Ian Blackford and Drew Hendry.
Highland SNP MPs Ian Blackford and Drew Hendry.

Mr Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) said: "Our collective responsibility is to remain committed to protecting as many lives as possible and, to do so, lockdown remains in place in Scotland, along with Northern Ireland and Wales.

“In his address, the Prime Minister eased restrictions for people living in England, as is his right, but his speech should not be an invitation for tourists to travel to other parts of the UK. Three out of four nations of the UK continue to operate under 'stay home, save lives' restrictions.

“As such, the Highlands is not yet open for visitors, and we need to ensure that message is heard loud and clear. If people start to come to the Highlands again before it is appropriate to do so, lives will be put at risk.

“We are used to welcoming visitors to our region, that time will come again – but for now, we must urge people to stay away. We cannot afford to see our health system overwhelmed by a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases, as we see in other countries with the easing of lockdown restrictions.

“Times are tough, but we need to work together as a community to get through this. We do not want to see the hard work and sacrifices made over these past weeks lost because we ease restrictions too early.

“As soon as data allows and the 'R' number is reduced to a safer level, the First Minister will ease lockdown. Until then, by staying at home, we save lives."

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