Skye hotel boss hits out at “cheap seat” critics following temporary Covid closure

Portree Hotel boss Campbell Dickson has hit out at the “cheap seat” critics following rumours of an enforced closure at the Skye establishment.

The boss of the Portree Hotel has hit out after rumours that the temporary closure of the Skye establishment earlier this week had been enforced.

Campbell Dickson confirmed that the hotel’s sister businesses the Granary and the Rosedale were also closed as a precaution due to a current test and trace backlog.

The closure came after a Covid-19 outbreak in the Portree area reached more than 20 confirmed cases with several more people in self-isolation this week.

Information from Public Health Scotland recorded 19 positive cases in the seven days between 4th and 10th July. A further seven were recorded in the Skye north-west data zone.

The outbreak is in line with a rise in cases across the country, although due to the vaccination programme deaths and serious illnesses are much lower than when the virus was at its peak.

Only one death, where a positive Covid test had been confirmed within 28 days, has been recorded in the Highland Council area since mid-March.

Nevertheless, the spread of Covid remains a concern for health, business and public services – with several Skye establishments affected this week.

On Sunday (11th July) the management of the Portree Hotel took the decision to close the establishment temporarily due to staff shortages. While the Granary and the Rosedale Hotel were closed from Friday (9th July).

Mr Dickson shared an email from Highland Council environmental health officer Tanya Grosle who stated after her visit: “I can confirm that I am satisfied with the measures that you have taken with Portree Hotel.

“As advised over our call this afternoon to Ellie (Hotel manager), please contact the Health Protection Team who shall carry out Track and Trace measures in relation to positive staff members.”

On Tuesday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced changes to the current regulations on self-isolation that will come into effect on 9th August.

Ms Sturgeon said there would be an end to the blanket requirement for close contacts to self-isolate if they are double vaccinated — if at least two weeks have passed since the second dose — and if they have taken a PCR test that comes back negative. 

Hotel manager Ellie MacPherson has been praised for her handling of the situation.

However, touching on the impact of the current regulations have had, Ms MacPherson said: “I do think it has been a big factor and obviously I understand that with close contacts it’s a thing that has to be done — for the safety of everyone and precautionary measures have to be taken into account.

“But when people are taking daily tests and aren’t showing any symptoms it does have a knock-on effect on businesses, as it has here.

“Hopefully it will change in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner.

“It is very difficult. I really didn’t want to have to close the hotel for what is the third time in the last year and a half.”

Commenting on the stress placed on the hotel management, she said: “It has been a really rough time for hospitality businesses and there is only so much we can do — there has been a lot of pressure.”

“With more people getting vaccinated, hopefully, this surge won’t last and we’ll get through it.”

Responding to suggestions that the hotel’s closure was enforced, Mr Dickson said: “The EHO came in because she had received a complaint, but Tania coming in was the best thing because it confirmed to Ellie that she had done everything right.

“Three weeks ago, Ellie started enforcing tests within the staff and made sure she saw the results, and that was how she found out about one or two positive results. And these people had no symptoms. 

“This has been good, but what bugs me about it is that lots of places weren’t doing that and the minute we had a few people off the word spread that we were riddled with Covid and it would be a danger to come in here. 

“Someone then complained and the rumour was that the EHO had come to shut us down.

“Unfortunately by Ellie doing the right thing, the situation actually looked worse to those on the outside.”

Campbell added: “You have people sitting in the cheap seats saying you should do this, you should do that — which is very easy if there are no financial implications. Equally, no one’s health should be put at risk, but Ellie has been treading what is a fine line well.”

The Free Press has been informed that the Portree Hotel is working towards reopening to the public from Monday 19th July.

Article by Adam Gordon and images by Willie Urquhart.