Visitors 'endangering lives' by travelling to Highlands and Islands
Easier access to your trusted, local news. Subscribe to a digital package and support local news publishing.
Scotland's rural economy and tourism secretary Fergus Ewing has condemned the "reckless and irresponsible behaviour" of visitors from other parts of the UK who have been travelling to the Highlands and Islands in the hope of avoiding the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking after reports that people with second homes and campervans have been arriving in the region in recent days, he said their actions were potentially putting unwanted pressure on NHS services in rural communities and he stressed that only essential travel should be undertaken.
“I am furious at the reckless and irresponsible behaviour of some people travelling to the Highlands and Islands," Mr Ewing said. "This has to stop now. Let me be crystal clear – people should not be travelling to rural and island communities full stop. They are endangering lives. Do not travel.
“Panic-buying will have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of rural shops and potentially puts unwanted pressure on NHS services in our rural communities.
“The Scottish Government’s advice is that essential travel only should be undertaken. We have been in touch with CalMac and industry leaders to discuss what further measures may be required to deal with this issue.”
In a series of impassioned social media posts at the weekend, Sutherland councillor Kirsteen Currie called on the Caravan and Motorhome Club to close its Brora site and not put lives at risk.
Councillor Currie wrote on Twitter: "Residents in Brora in TEARS on the phone to me this morning because you’ve opened your site here. IN THE MIDDLE OF A HOUSING SCHEME OF VULNERABLE ELDERLY PEOPLE.
"We don’t have the resources or the supplies to look after our own residents at the moment – never mind 'holidaymakers'. Your decision to open has put lives in the Highlands at risk.
"Brora and the whole NC500 will be here when this is over – we’ll be ready to welcome everyone back with open arms. Until then – stay home, help your friends and families, and do what you can to soften the blow on our incredible and heroic frontline workers.
"CLOSE YOUR SITES IMMEDIATELY PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE."
In a reply to another Twitter user, the Caravan and Motorhome Club said: "Our community areas are closed including on-site bars and restaurants. The open space areas have extra measures for social distancing."
Meanwhile, anyone considering a road trip on the North Coast 500 is being urged to pay attention to the latest travel advice from the UK Government.
A message on the official NC500 website states: "If you are planning a trip to the North Coast 500 in the next couple of months, please keep up to date with and adhere to the latest travel advice from the UK Government. For the latest information on Covid-19 in Scotland, visit the Scottish Government website.
"We recommend that you keep in touch with your travel and accommodation providers to rearrange your travel plans. The hospitality businesses rely on your custom and we are sure they would appreciate if you could speak with them during these times.
"Why not take this time to plan an even more exciting #NC500Adventure, and be sure to keep an eye on our website and social media channels for lots of inspiring ideas and tips to help you! We’d also love to hear your stories and photos from previous trips on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels.
"We look forward to welcoming you to the North Coast 500 again soon."
The Daily Mail's website MailOnline faced criticism over the weekend for posting an article under the cheerful headline, "Britain's brilliant boltholes: The best places to revel in splendid isolation". It recommended destinations across the UK, including in the Highlands and Islands, and even included tips on things to see and do "if you’re bored".
The report said: "Now that self-isolation and social distancing have (so quickly) become buzzwords, a ‘getaway’ in the UK has taken on new meaning.
"Yes, as ever, you get away from home – but now we are being advised to get away from other people, too. Luckily, the UK has plenty of remote spots to do just that."