Scotland’s islands have become a no-go zone for tourists in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, as ferry companies were instructed not to carry non-essential travellers.
Nicola Sturgeon announced the move as she repeated warnings from other senior politicians for people to avoid making for remote and rural communities to self-isolate.
The same plea was made by Judy Murray, the mother of tennis stars Andy and Jamie Murray, who tweeted a simple message to “those relocating to the countryside” – a picture of a car and trailer with “Go home idiots” and “Covid-19” painted on the side.
Ms Sturgeon was clear that accommodation providers, such as hotels, guest houses and those who run holiday cottages, should not be accepting bookings from visitors at the moment.
Speaking to those who are “flocking to Scotland’s remote communities”, the First Minister said: “It may well be an understandable human instinct to think we can outrun a virus, but the fact is we can’t. What we do is we risk taking it to the places we go.
“And in our remote and rural communities that means extra pressure on essential services and on health services that are already more distant from people.”
As a result, she stated: “As of now we have advised our ferry companies, who have already suspended bookings, to no longer take non-essential travellers.”
Ms Sturgeon, speaking at a Scottish Government briefing in Edinburgh, said: “Those who do not normally live on the islands and who have travelled there in the last few days will be able to leave to reduce pressure, but from now on ferries will be for those who live on our islands, who have an essential need to travel to and from the mainland and for essential supplies or business. Nothing else.”
She spoke after Scottish Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop stated: “My advice to everybody is stay where you are. Do not travel to the Highlands and Islands.”
Those heading to the Highlands in camper vans or to stay in holiday homes could be putting local communities “at risk”, she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme.
Ms Hyslop warned: “If they get ill there they will compromise the health of others that are living in the Highlands and Islands.”
Emergency legislation being brought in by Westminster in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemnic will give both the UK and Scottish Governments “specific powers” to help with this.
Meanwhile, she stressed: “We’re appealing to people to use their common sense for their safety, the safety of their family and indeed of the vital communities.”
Similarly, Scotland Office Minister Douglas Ross said the UK and Scottish Governments had both been “very clear” in issuing the message to people: “Stay at home, don’t risk yourself and others by going to more remote parts of the country where the NHS will be under pressure, the local shops will be under pressure.”
The pleas came as the organisation that represents tourism businesses along the A830 road, which connects Fort William with Mallaig, also urged potential visitors to stay away.
The Road To The Isles group includes 100 accommodation and visitor-based businesses on the scenic route, which takes in Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Roshven, Arisaig, Morar, Mallaig and the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rum, Canna and the Knoydart peninsula.
The area already has an ageing population, with just one doctor and ambulance to cover it, and the nearest hospital is 100 miles away.
Sine MacKellaig-Davis, chairwoman of Road To The Isles Marketing Group, said: “Covid-19 has changed all our lives as we know it. We now face a difficult road ahead and have a social responsibility to protect our communities.
“For now, we ask you to stay home, care for loved ones and, as soon as it’s safe to do so, the Road To The Isles and its communities and businesses will welcome you.”
“Right now, we need to protect all the people that make the Road To The Isles such a unique and special place.”