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Coronavirus / Limited family visits on the mainland now possible

NorthLink to resume full service with both passenger ferries on Monday

PEOPLE are now allowed to travel from Shetland to the Scottish mainland and Orkney to meet family members as long as they observe all the various social distancing criteria set out by the Scottish Government as part of phase two of exiting lockdown.

Photo: NorthLink Ferries

NorthLink said on Friday that the full ferry schedule will resume as of Monday to accommodate increased demand while ensuring that social distancing measures can be adhered to.

This follows confirmation that government guidance saying “travelling to and from islands to visit family would be acceptable within the guidance” does include trips on the passenger ferries to Orkney and Aberdeen.

Loganair had already earlier added an early morning flight to its skeleton schedule.

NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett said that the company’s website would be updated to reflect the change.

In a further change to the practice of the previous three months, NorthLink will shift from a ‘booking on the day only’ regime to one where only bookings in advance will be accepted.

Garrett said capacity for critical key workers and health staff will continue to be guaranteed.

He said: “Following the move to Phase 2 of Scotland’s Route Map out of the COVID-19 crisis, we will begin to increase our services from this coming Monday (22 June).

“The Aberdeen to Kirkwall and Lerwick route, served by MV Hjaltland and MV Hrossey, will return to their normal timetable from that date.

“As per the guidance from the Scottish Government, journeys on NorthLink Ferries are restricted to those categories outlined in Phase 2 of the Route Map. This includes key workers and those visiting family.

“You should only travel if you can do so while adhering to the wider Government guidelines, with face coverings worn where required. We have published advice on how to travel safely with NorthLink Ferries on our website.

“Bookings must be made in advance either by phoning our team on 0845 6000 449 or 01856 885500 between 0800 and 2000 GMT or by contacting reservations@northlinkferries.co.uk.”

How travelling to the mainland to visit family can be done without flouting the rules that prohibits people visiting indoors unless to use the toilet, or even staying overnight, has not been explained, with hotels and accommodation closed to the general public due to coronavirus.

In theory, it means islanders could take the overnight ferry south, arrive in Aberdeen early morning, visit family members during the day and return on the boat or the plane at night.

There is also, again in theory, the potential to sleep outdoors then return on the ferry the following night.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon said in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday that ferry capacity would be looked at to allow people to travel to and from islands to meet family.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Travel to islands for leisure and recreation by ferry is not encouraged and tourist facilities, including accommodation, will not be open at this point. Business and freight can continue to use the services.

“Travelling to and from islands to visit family is acceptable, but individuals should consider whether they can do so while acting in line with all other guidance.”

The spokesperson for the government agency continued: “We are acutely aware that supporting island communities to move out of lockdown is a complex issue, and appreciate that many islanders are particularly dependent on sectors that are worst hit by the impact of the public health measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“We are working closely with ferry operators to address the capacity and logistical issues that arise from the need to maintain physical distancing measures for the protection of passengers’ health, and the likely impact on the ability to meet the demand for travel.”

On Thursday Shetland Islands Council confirms that the new guidance allowed people to travel on inter-island ferries to visit family members outdoors.