Island ferry restrictions could stay in place after wider lockdown is lifted

Ferry traffic is restricted to islanders and essential workers

Travel restrictions on island ferries could be lifted at a separate – and potentially later date – than wider lockdown measures, it has been suggested.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said he had urged the Scottish Government to make sure changes come at a time that is “informed by local factors”.

His comments come after the Scottish Government published a new paper setting out very tentative steps towards a gradual easing of the current lockdown restrictions.

Dr Allan said new ways of living – effectively a “new normal” – may have to be in place for some time to come.

Travel to and from the Western Isles is currently restricted to islanders and essential workers only, with CalMac now taking less than one per cent of the passengers they were taking at this time last year.

Dr Allan said that while lockdown restrictions have been difficult– not least for tourism businesses – they had helped to save lives and protect the NHS.

Islanders should prepare for restrictions in “the forseeable future”, said Alasdair Allan

He added: “It is vital that any decision to ease restrictions is based on the best scientific advice possible. However, this is a constantly-changing situation and there may be a need to reapply restrictions after they are lifted.

“It is only when we are sure the virus is under control that we can even start to ease any of the restrictions because the virus will not have gone away.

“The virus is progressing at different rates around different parts of the country. We have thankfully not had any fatalities in the Western Isles and it has been some time since new cases of infection have been reported.

“I am really grateful that so many islanders have been earnestly sticking to the social distancing guidance: this has undoubtedly kept infection rates down and helped ease the burden on the NHS.

 “I know that the talk of lifting lockdown has a lot of people concerned about the prospect of an influx of people from areas of the country heavily affected by Coronavirus.

“I certainly don’t want to see this, and I think we should all be prepared for the travel restrictions to the islands to be in place for the foreseeable future – even if that means restrictions staying in place after lockdown across the rest of the country has been lifted.”

Last week Dr Allan – responding to a proposal for the islands to become ‘testbeds’ for easing lockdown – said there was a case to be made for a regional approach.

However, he warned of obvious dangers if the islands became “subject to an influx of travellers from other areas where the virus has peaked.”

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands Tory MSP Donald Cameron urged local people “not to relax” their vigilance and to maintain social distancing.

He said: “We must remember that vulnerable members of our community are relying on us to maintain strict discipline. Their welfare is priority number one.

“We mustn’t relax now and, by showing solidarity, I am confident that our communities across the Highlands and Islands will come out of this crisis even stronger than before.”