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Transport / Most transport restrictions set to stay in place

NorthLink ferry terminal. Chris Cope/Shetland News

PEOPLE should not expect any major changes to travel restrictions under coronavirus in the immediate future.

That is the message from both internal and external public transport providers following the announcement of the move to ‘Phase 1’ of the lifting of pandemic lockdown that is due to begin if expected signs of improvement in coronavirus rates are confirmed.

The SIC, airline Loganair and the NorthLink ferry service will all continue to operate reduced timetables and restrict travel to those who fall within the “necessary” category.

The Scottish Government rules remain the same: that travel is only allowed for work – where work cannot be done from home – shopping for food and medicine, and leisure or exercise that is limited to five miles from home.

According to SIC executive manager of transport Michael Craigie the council hopes to announce an increase in internal ferry services with changes likely to come in on Monday.

Craigie said that the SIC was “aligning” with Scottish Government policy as it developed and trying to take account of Shetland’s circumstances where needed.

He added: “Phase 1 is just a mild relaxation. We are going to respond to that with the reintroduction of a few constrained services, more around the frequency of service to allow folk more choice.

“But the key message is that this does not allow complete freedom of travel; it is more opportunity for travel.”

Craigie said that council advice to ferry passengers was to wear masks while travelling; this falls short of the mandatory position the

The ferry terminal at Toft, where queues were reported on Monday morning on the the first day of the new ferries timetable.People will be asked to wear masks on ferries.

government has taken on wearing face masks on board busses and trains.

He said: “We all have a personal responsibility to take steps to protect ourselves and others’, adding that the council would be doing its bit with stepped up cleaning of ferries and busses to protect staff and the public.

Craigie continued saying that consultations with the Scottish Government, including foresight of draft guidance, last week had been at short notice but “adequate” for the purpose.

He said that attention would focus on Phases 2 and 3 in the coming weeks, but there was no exact timetable to how things would proceed.

“We have to remember this is something we have not dealt with before in the whole country. The key is that we do not introduce any new risks that would lead to the escalation of Covid-19 again.”

To this end, he said, the council would act in a considered manner and “apply good professional judgement”, but could not be guaranteed to always get things right.

SIC Infrastructure director John Smith said that there would be no massive shift following Tuesday’s announcement, but the council was “doing its best to follow the direction of travel”.

Sectors identified as economic stimuli, like construction, have several major isles projects potentially in the offing. Construction is specified for re-opening in Phases 1 and 2 of the Scottish Government roadmap. The exact terms of this still have to be thrashed out.

This could have some impact on the numbers and timing of workers arriving from south, for instance.

Both Loganair and NorthLink, Shetland’s two external transport providers, will continue to operate to reduced flight and ferry timetables with Loganair continuing one flight per day to and from Aberdeen, except Saturdays, and reduced flights to and from other destinations.

Loganair says contingency plans are being put in place for the strike days.Loganair and NorthLink are both operating to reduced timetables.

Loganair on Monday introduced compulsory wearing of face masks on its flights and other measures to ensure social distancing and “enhanced cleaning” a day ahead of the Scottish Government’s announcement yesterday.

NorthLink is continuing to operate a service of half its normal sailings, with three sailings per week to and from Shetland, and has been turning away passengers who do not meet the “necessary” travel criteria.

Serco’s NorthLink Ferries managing director Stuart Garrett said: “We continue to operate a reduced service for the safety of our passengers, staff and crew and are working closely with Transport Scotland on implementing any future changes.

“These will be guided by the Scottish Government’s phased approach and all associated timelines.”

According to the ferry company, its “necessary travel” requirements are in line with the wider Scottish Government guidance so “NorthLink Ferries hasn’t set specific guidance or circumstances.”

The transport transition plan is intended to address three strands of government strategy, namely: easing of restrictions on daily life and movement; support for economic recovery in the transport sector and the broader economy; and development of the future of transport in Scotland.

The RNLI meanwhile issued “firm safety advice” that people were not to travel further than five miles for leisure activities.

“We are reminding those who are local to beaches/the coast to remember the inherent risks and asking those who are not local, to stay away,” a statement from the lifeboat service said.

The government plans, which prescribe a five-mile-limit leisure travel limit, include allowing outdoor swimming, kayaking and angling.

RNLI lifesaving manager for Scotland Jacob Davies said: “With an unusually warm spring coupled with the easing of lockdown which has seen many of us unable to visit our favourite beaches, we expect many people to be eager to hit the coast.

The NFU has produced this information poster.

“However, just because the lockdown restrictions are being relaxed does not mean our coasts are safe, the dangers that have always been there remain. We ask those who are local to beaches to continue to be aware of the inherent dangers and to avoid taking risks.

“Our strong advice to the Scottish public, who are not local to a beach, is to exercise locally and not to travel to the coast.”

Meanwhile the NFU Scotland has urged people enjoying time in the countryside to continue to do so responsibly.

NFU Scotland head of policy team Gemma Cooper said: “As we enter Phase 1, farmers are asking the public to ensure they act responsibly on farmland when accessing the countryside.

“The job of producing food and drink means that farming activities continue in these difficult times. While the Scottish countryside remains open for people to access and enjoy, care and respect for those living and working in rural areas through these difficult times is requested.”

In particular, NFU Scotland urges that the public does not: cause damage to young arable crops or fields of long grass being grown for silage and hay; disturb farm animals or wildlife; block access to farms and fields.

It also asks people control their dogs and lift dog poo, adhere to signs, close all gates and take litter home.

NFU Scotland has produced a poster for farmers and crofters urging care to be taken by those accessing the countryside.

The farmers’ union also hopes that the reopening of domestic recycling centres in the next few days will “end the blight of irresponsible fly-tipping seen nationwide during lockdown”.