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Visitors should go home

Sturgeon bars virus fleeing ferry travellers as Highlands swamped

Highlands

Highlands: visitors are heading to the hills

UPDATE: MARCH 23: Nicola Sturgeon has moved to stem a flood of people travelling to the Highlands to avoid coronavirus by barring them taking ferries to the islands and telling all accommodation providers to stop accepting visitors.

The First Minister said all hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and self-catering providers should only be housing staff and essential workers, amid fears local rural hospitals could collapse under the pressure.

She said Scotland’s ferry companies to the islands will now refuse to take “non-essential” travellers, except for those visitors “in the last few days” trying to get back to the mainland.

At the weekend owners of second homes and campervans were asked to stop travelling to the Highlands and Islands to avoid the coronavirus.

Scottish government ministers accused them of being irresponsible and putting pressure on local services.

Fergus Ewing: this has to stop (pic: Terry Murden)

Rural Affairs Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “I am furious at the reckless and irresponsible behaviour of some people travelling to the Highland and Islands. This has to stop now.

“Let me be crystal clear, people should not be travelling to rural and island communities full stop. They are endangering lives. Do not travel.

“Panic buying will have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of rural shops and potentially puts unwanted pressure on NHS services in our rural communities.

“The Scottish Government’s advice is that essential travel only should be undertaken. We have been in touch with CalMac and industry leaders to discuss what further measures may be required to deal with this issue.”

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who is also a Highlands MSP, has taken to Twitter to tell people to stay away and stop making the region their “means of self-isolation”.

So far there have been 373 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Scotland, only eight of them have been in the Highlands, giving residents in the cities a belief that it is a haven.

But in a tweet posted on Friday evening, Ms Forbes, who represents Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said: “If you live elsewhere, please don’t use the Highlands as your means of self-isolation.

“People live here who are trying to follow government guidance and the continuing flow of campervans and other traffic who appear to be escaping the cities is not helping.”

The latest developments come as the UK death toll from the virus has hit 233 after a further 53 people died in England alone. Scotland’s deaths jumped from six to seven, and the number of patients rose by 51.

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