MPs from the Highlands fear that the region may end up swamped with tourists, after Boris Johnson announced that people “can drive to other destinations.”
Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has made it clear that tourists should not visit the Highlands during the pandemic. While SNP MPs Ian Blackford and Drew Hendry also expressed dismay over the Prime Minister’s comments, which could lead to day trippers heading for Scotland.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has relaxed the message in England, where the ‘stay home’ slogan has been ditched for ‘stay alert.’ The move has been widely criticised, and so far all three devolved administrations within the UK have refused to drop the ‘stay home’ message.
Mr Johnson told the public during his televised address to the nation on Sunday, “From this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise. You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.”
Lots of people who live in England will not be under the impression that they can drive to Scotland, because the rules have not been made clear enough south of the border say MPs.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was keen to stress that people should refrain from travelling to Scotland while the Coronavirus crisis is ongoing.
She reminded anyone thinking of travelling north, “If you are in Scotland then the law in Scotland applies – and the law says that just now you can only be out of your own home for essential reasons. It is not okay to drive into Scotland to beauty spots to visit places and for leisure.”
Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone criticised the Prime Minister for not clarifying that the rules would be different in Scotland. He said “I do think the vagueness of Boris’s remark is misleading and possibly at worst could encourage an influx of visitors to the Highlands.
“While we would love visitors to come to the Highlands once the epidemic is over, in the meantime my priority is to safeguard the lives and health of my constituents – and that means saying to visitors and potential visitors I am sorry but now is not the time.”
SNP MP Ian Blackford said that tourists areas were not yet ‘open for business’ and added that the rules in Scotland would remain in place apart from some relaxing of outdoor exercise rules. He said “First and foremost what everyone should recognise that in Scotland the advice remains the same this week as it was last week, and that is for everybody to stay at home and protect the NHS, with the intention of saving lives.
“That recommendation, that policy, does not change. What has changed this week is that people are permitted to go out more than once a day for legitimate exercise.
“The message to everyone, whether they are in Scotland or elsewhere, is that our tourist areas are not open for business. People should not be coming here until it is safe to do so, and I would be looking to the authorities – in particular the police – to make sure that all the populations of the Highlands and Islands are safe.
“I have to say at a time when we are battling an outbreak of Covid-19 in Skye, when everyone is doing what is necessary to contain the spread of the virus and to support all the families and all the workers caught up in it, this mixed messaging from Boris Johnson quite frankly appals me.”
Drew Hendry MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey added, “Our collective responsibility is to remain committed to protecting as many lives as possible and, to do so, lockdown remains in place in Scotland, along with Northern Ireland and Wales.
“In his address, the Prime Minister eased restrictions for people living in England, as is his right, but his speech should not be an invitation for tourists to travel to other parts of the UK. Three out of four nations of the UK continue to operate under ‘stay home, save lives’ restrictions.
“As such, the Highlands is not yet open for visitors, and we need to ensure that message is heard loud and clear. If people start to come to the Highlands again before it is appropriate to do so, lives will be put at risk.
“We are used to welcoming visitors to our region, that time will come again – but for now, we must urge people to stay away. We cannot afford to see our health system overwhelmed by a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases, as we see in other countries with the easing of lockdown restrictions.
“Times are tough, but we need to work together as a community to get through this. We do not want to see the hard work and sacrifices made over these past weeks lost because we ease restrictions too early.
“As soon as data allows and the ‘R’ number is reduced to a safer level, the First Minister will ease lockdown. Until then, by staying at home, we save lives.”