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Group of Highland politicians argue for regional approach to lockdown easing, claiming the far north's lower number of Covid-19 infections mean tourism and other businesses could reopen more swiftly than elsewhere in Scotland

By Ian Duncan

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Should the Highlands come out of lockdown earlier than other parts of Scotland?
Should the Highlands come out of lockdown earlier than other parts of Scotland?

A group of Highland politicians claims the national approach to lockdown no longer makes sense.

Black Isle councillor Gordon Adam has submitted a risk report to the Scottish Government, which has been endorsed by the Highland Lib Dem group.

This includes Councillor Alasdair Christie, depute leader of Highland Council and chairman of the newly-established recovery board, which is looking at how to manage the region out of the crisis.

They say lockdown could be eased more quickly in the Highlands to reflect the relatively low level of infection in the region.

Cllr Adam said: “Think about this – in the Highlands, if you crunch the numbers, fewer than 10 people of economically active age – in other words, under 65 – have died from Covid-19.

“Fewer than 10 people is less than one person per week, yet the whole futures – the economic, social, educational futures – of a whole generation, or generations, of people have been turned upside down.

“So they really do need to think about a regional approach to this, which is what has been done in Ireland.

Cllr Gordon Adam
Cllr Gordon Adam

“It’s increasingly being done in England, but it is not so far on the agenda in Scotland, which is not entirely surprising because the Scottish Government is very centralised.”

In a region that is so heavily reliant on tourism he also queried the way different parts of the industry have been grouped together within the phases of the Scottish Government’s plan for coming out of lockdown.

“I mean, for instance, there is a huge difference between having a caravan park open, or a self-catering establishment, and having a B&B open – the danger of transmission is considerably greater with a B&B, and yet they’re all in phase three,” said Cllr Adam.

“Opening cinemas is also in phase three, but that makes no sense on public health grounds.

“It is infinitely more dangerous to go into a cinema, even with social distancing, than it is to have a self-catering establishment open.”

Also critical of the guidance that advises people still to travel no more than five miles from home, Cllr Adam said that made no sense either in a region as large and as rural as the Highlands.

He added: “Depopulation is what I’m worried about. There is a real danger that if they don’t get the balance of risks right there’s going to be a big problem ahead.”

In the last fortnight there have been just three new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in the Highlands and a recent study by think tank Scotianomics showed the Highlands as among regions facing the lowest risk of coronavirus transmission.

Figures released by the National Records of Scotland yesterday revealed that 113 people have died so far of Covid-19 in the NHS Highland region, up from 111 last week.

Both of those deaths occurred within the smaller Highland Council area, where deaths increased from 47 to 49 over the past week.

Inverness-based economist Tony Mackay said he agreed with the idea of easing lockdown on a more localised basis.

“We have had relatively few coronavirus infections and deaths here in the Highlands,” he said.

“That suggests that allowing local residents to do more, such as using more local shops and restaurants, is not a significant risk.

“However, the easing should not apply to visitors from outwith the region, because they may present higher risks.”

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