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Coronavirus / Wishart says islanders should not be disadvantaged as lockdown restrictions ease

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

ISLANDERS must not be disadvantaged with easing of lockdown restrictions – especially when travelling south to meet family or friends.

That is the message from Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, who said she has received representations from constituents on the matter.

People are now allowed to use the NorthLink Ferries to or from the Northern Isles to visit family or friends in outdoor spaces.

However, with people currently not allowed to visit inside and accommodation generally unavailable at the moment, Wishart said guidance effectively means that “most islanders would have to arrive [on the mainland] and return the same day”.

Serco NorthLink passenger vessel MV Hrossey at Holmsgarth. Photo: Lerwick Port Authority.Serco NorthLink passenger vessel MV Hrossey at Holmsgarth. Photo: Lerwick Port Authority.

The NorthLink ferries have returned to their usual timetable, meaning it is in theory possible for people to arrive in Aberdeen in the morning following the overnight trip, visit someone and then return on the boat the same evening.

Wishart raised the matter at a recent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 committee, where cabinet secretary Michael Russell conceded that he “can’t see a practical way of resolving” the issue for people from more remote islands.

Russell raised the example of Tiree on the west coast, which due to the current ferry timetable means people are unable to visit and return on the same day.

“That means that, although they are technically free to leave the island to have a socially distant meeting with family or friends – which we advise should be done sparingly – they cannot do so in practice, because they cannot stay away for the night elsewhere,” he said.

All I can say is that I am really keen that my, and your, island constituents have the same rights in coming out of lockdown.

“The first minister made the point in her statement last week that they should have the same developing freedoms in coming out of lockdown as every other citizen. However, it could be and, in some cases is, much more difficult for some people—in particular, those who live on islands that are further away—to exercise that freedom.

“I regret that situation, but I cannot see a practical way to resolve it without changing the regulations, which would then have to change for the whole of Scotland, and we are not ready to do that yet.

“I accept that people regard the current situation as unfair, and I know that it is hurtful, but I cannot see a way around it, given the nature of the regulations. We simply hope that the other regulations will change comparatively soon, and everybody will then be able to take advantage of the opportunity that others have now.

“People who live on islands including Mull, Bute and, to an extent, Islay can take advantage of the change because they get come off the island and come back on the same day.”

Speaking afterwards, Wishart said: “People have rightly contacted me feeling frustrated that they don’t have the same opportunity as people on the mainland have to visit family and friends. Grandparents are especially anxious to see their grandchildren.

“There’s already an inequity issue around single grandparents and grandparent couples seeing their grandchildren as a consequence of the change to lockdown restrictions announced last week.

“Islanders must not be disadvantaged with easing of coronavirus restrictions. The Scottish Government must ensure coronavirus guidance and policy announcements are properly island-proofed to reflect the reality of island life. Otherwise too many questions are left unanswered.

“Islanders and visitors both have legitimate reasons to travel to and from the islands so we must ensure that bookings are taken fairly to manage demand and ensure that all travel is safe.”

Some self-catering accommodation, meanwhile, is expected to re-open from 3 July.

The five-mile guidance for how far people can travel for leisure and recreation is also due to be relaxed on the same day.

If progress against the virus continues, people may also be able to meet indoors from 10 July.