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Coronavirus / Clarity sought on travel ahead of lifting of restrictions

NORTHLINK Ferries says passengers who have had their booking suspended during the coronavirus pandemic will be able to rebook once it is announced that non-essential travel can restart.

The ferry operator added that travel during this time will “likely involve restrictions including physical distancing and continued screening of passengers, with reasons for travel potentially curtailed to support passenger volumes”.

Future ferry travel is likely to involve restrictions including physical distancing and continued screening of passengers. Photo: NorthLink Ferries

Chairman of Shetland’s transport partnership ZetTrans councillor Ryan Thomson, meanwhile, has called on the Scottish Government to ensure ferry routes are opened up at the same pace as the rest of the country.

NorthLink has been cancelling all non-essential bookings up to 26 July, a strategy that may be reviewed in the light of Wednesday’s announcement on the re-opening of tourism.

“There must be recognition that all island communities right across Scotland are unique, however, we need to be guided by science like the rest of the country, and for Shetland to function, we require those essential in and outbound connections,” Thomson said.

“The NorthLink between Aberdeen and Lerwick is our lifeline link.  Those travelling from Lerwick to Aberdeen should be treated no differently to those travelling from Inverness to Glasgow, for example.

“We need to ensure our transport links are available for booking as soon as the restrictions are lifted. Simply put, we are simply looking for equality with the rest of the country.”

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, meanwhile, has sought clarity from the Scottish Government over the process for lifting travel restrictions ahead of a possible reopening of the tourism sector next month.

He urged the government to properly consult island communities and authorities around the lifting of restrictions on ferry and air services ahead of any changes next month.

NorthLink has to date refused travel to 50 passengers attempting to use the ferries for non-essential travel during the lockdown.

Nearly 9,500 bookings have been cancelled, leading to over £3.8 million in refunds being processed.

A revised service was introduced on the boat on 22 March in response to the pandemic.

Serco’s managing director of NorthLink Ferries Stuart Garrett said: “We are currently running an essential lifeline service between the Scottish Mainland and Orkney and Shetland and so it was expected that we would see a steep decline in numbers.

“We’re thanking passengers for their understanding and co-operation at this time and do remind them that by staying at home they are helping to keep themselves and others safe.”