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Coronavirus / ‘No indication’ when a decision will be made on islands Covid restrictions, SIC chief executive says

FRUSTRATION among local businesses and politicians has continued this week in the absence of any announcement from the Scottish Government regarding changes to Covid-19 restrictions from the end of this month.

The government consulted islanders on whether they would prefer greater local freedoms in exchange for continued travel restrictions when the rest of Scotland unlocks on 26 April following first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s mid-March announcement of a roadmap out of lockdown.

But that consultation concluded over a fortnight ago and Shetland Islands Council (SIC) says it remains none the wiser as to whether the islands will be moved into new-look level three restrictions or whether more freedoms, such as household visits and extended opening hours for businesses, might be permitted.

While not expressing a strong preference one way or another, the SIC’s leadership and Beatrice Wishart – Shetland’s Liberal Democrat MSP prior to the election period – have been calling for clarity for weeks.

Shetland Tourism Association chairwoman Emma Miller, meanwhile, said it was “extremely unfair” for isles businesses to face longer uncertainty than mainland counterparts.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News
SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said this week: “We have no indication when there will be a decision on the next steps for the islands in terms of moving into the revised levels or lifting restrictions. We still haven’t seen what is permitted in the revised levels either.

“We were advised by Scottish Government that there would be a minimum of six days’ notice before a change in restrictions to enable businesses and individuals to prepare for the change.

“We have been asking for longer because of the logistical challenges for businesses on islands (i.e. longer lead-in times for ordering stock deliveries or recruitment).”

Assuming no announcement is forthcoming over the weekend, by Monday it will be under a fortnight until the new Covid-19 regime is due to come into force.

A Scottish Government spokesman referred Shetland News to a previous statement on the subject and said that following recent engagement with island authorities, communities and businesses “the levels table with details on travel to and from the islands will be announced as soon as possible”.

In her 16 March statement, Sturgeon said that “if restrictions on socialising and hospitality are relaxed more quickly and significantly on the islands, there may be a need to retain some restrictions on travel to and from the mainland – to protect island communities from the importation of new cases”.

Earlier this week the first minister said her next update on coronavirus restrictions is scheduled for 20 April.