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Coronavirus / Transport rules to be eased as part of lockdown exit

Face masks should be worn on public transport

EASING of public transport restrictions will be accompanied by social distancing and the wearing of face masks, Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson said today.

Matheson, who also signalled an easing of restrictions on travelling to take exercise, said that the transport system might operate at 10 to 25 per cent of capacity in order to maintain a two metre social distance among passengers.

His Scottish parliamentary colleague, economy secretary Fiona Hyslop, also announced steps for manufacturing and retail as the first of 14 economic sectors whose route map out of coronavirus lockdown will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Scottish transport minister Michael Matheson. Photo: Transport Scotland

Matheson said that increasing the frequency of journeys would help offset the bottleneck on passenger numbers caused by social distancing.

He said that people using public transport would be “expected” to have face coverings except on ferries and for people with a pre-existing medical conditions.

Transport operators should also supply PPE to workers where a risk is assessed.

Matheson told the Scottish Parliament: “The virus is still a worry as if we move too quickly without diligence it could quickly run out of control again.”

He said the transport measures were intrinsically linked to plans for opening schools and economic recovery to be announced later on today (Tuesday).

Matheson said that there would inevitably be instances where the two metre distance would be infringed, because of the nature of transportation, but the advice was a “proportionate and measured way” to minimise the risks.

Employers, where possible should introduce staggered working hours to help ease transport congestion.

He also reiterated that people should not be making unnecessary journeys and that they should stay within range of their communities when taking exercise.

Matheson said that walking, cycling and wheeling remained the favoured way of travelling to work or for exercise.

The announced measures are part of “phase one” of the route map out of coronavirus lockdown, he said.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said that the transport transition plan is a “helpful start” in establishing how public transport will gradually return to normal.

McArthur added: “There is clearly still an absence of the sort of detail that people and businesses will need as they make their own plans over the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, that detail will be forthcoming as we move forward through the phased approach set out by the First Minister last week.

“In terms of our ferry services, the easing of the current restrictions will have to be handled carefully.  It will also have to be done in close collaboration with local authorities and consultation with the island communities directly affected.

“Ferry services remain a lifeline for those who live in island communities such as Orkney.  As decisions about when and how to ease travel restrictions are taken, the safety of passengers, crew and the wider public must continue to be the overriding consideration.”

Hyslop meanwhile told Holyrood that the coronavirus had not just created a public health crisis, but an economic one too.

She said that the Scottish Government was engaging with local authorities to help small tourism businesses who fell outwith the non-domestic rates scheme or were ineligible because of their lack of a business bank account.

“Recovery for some sectors like tourism will be very challenging,” she said.

Cabinet secretary for culture Fiona Hyslop addressing the Viking Congress on Wednesday morning - Photo: Frank Bradford.
Scottish economy secretary Fiona Hyslop.

Hyslop called for the public to help these tourism businesses bounce back. “Grant support will help them bridge that period until they reopen,” she added.

Local authorities she said, were better placed to engage with these small businesses in a way that would help avoid fraud.

Guidance for the construction industry – that has been identified as a kick-starter for the Shetland economy – will be published later this week.

The government was also working closely with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), local authorities and the like to ensure the enforcement of the rules on social distancing in the workplace.