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We must clamp down on people travelling to rural areas, says Jamie Stone

By Alan Hendry

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Joyce Campbell of Armadale Farm was appalled when she came across this wild camp in north Sutherland. However, police were soon on the scene and the campers were sent on their way back south.
Joyce Campbell of Armadale Farm was appalled when she came across this wild camp in north Sutherland. However, police were soon on the scene and the campers were sent on their way back south.

North MP Jamie Stone has spoken of his concern about the impact of coronavirus on rural communities.

One measure that would help would be to clamp down on people travelling to rural areas in a bid to escape from Covid-19, he said.

Mr Stone was speaking after the University of St Andrews published new research suggesting that death rates from coronavirus could be between 50 per cent and 80 per cent higher in rural communities.

The research conducted by Professor Hill Kulu found significant geographical differences in projected fatality rates from Covid-19 in the UK, based on age and sex of the population.

Parts of southern Scotland and the Highlands were considered the areas with the biggest concentrations of vulnerable communities and people at high risk.

Professor Kulu said: “If the pandemic is to last long and the virus is to spread to all areas of the UK, remote small towns and rural communities are projected to have 50 per cent to 80 per cent higher death rates than the main cities because of their old population composition.

“Remote location may offer a protection from Covid-19 to some areas, but if the virus is to spread to these communities the effects will be devastating.”

Mr Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “These projections re-emphasise how important it is we protect vulnerable people wherever they are.

“One of the key ways to do that is to clamp down on people heading to rural areas for respite or escape. Communities across the Highlands have watched in horror as people flooded out of cities to second homes or holiday sites.

“We must ensure that when we do start to ease restrictions and come out of lockdown this exodus is not repeated. Each and every one of us has a duty not to spread this disease.”

Earlier, Mr Stone had been told by Nigel Huddleston, the UK Government's under-secretary of state for sport, tourism and heritage, that people travelling to the Highlands – whether to tourist destinations or second homes – will be told to go home or face a fine.

Mr Stone had written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing his concerns over the number of people retreating to the Highlands in an attempt to avoid coronavirus.

Mr Huddleston replied: "The UK Government and Scottish Government have made it clear that people should avoid all non-essential travel.

"This means that people should not visit second homes, self-catered accommodation, campsites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays. People who have recently arrived at a holiday destination or second home should look to return to their primary residence as soon as possible, but only if they can do so safely and in compliance with the social distancing guidance.

"Every citizen is instructed to follow the social distancing rules and the government will enforce them.

"The police will issue fines to anyone who does not comply."

Following on from this, Mr Stone wrote to Scotland's justice minister Humza Yousaf saying: "This is where your responsibility as Scotland’s justice minister becomes crucial. If these people are to be forced to return to their primary homes as soon as possible, then Police Scotland will need to have the clear power to direct them to do so – something they tell me that they do not presently have.

"Therefore on behalf of my constituents, who are rightly fearful of visitors bringing the Covid-19 virus to the Highlands and Islands, I ask you to outline what plans you have to speedily give Police Scotland the powers that they so clearly require."

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