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Highland business leaders, including the North Highland Initiative, call for urgent Covid-19 coronavirus testing for tourism and hospitality sector

By Philip Murray

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David Whiteford, the chairman of the NHI.
David Whiteford, the chairman of the NHI.

URGENT access is needed to Covid-19 testing within the tourism and hospitality sector to help protect staff, visitors and local communities before hotels reopen, leading Highland tourism leaders have warned.

Some of the biggest names in tourism and hospitality in Ross-shire, Sutherland and Caithness, have made the call to the Scottish Government ahead of hotels reopening on July 15.

Coordinated by David Whiteford, chairman of the North Highland Initiative, Highland businesses have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jean Freeman, urging her to grant immediate access to the Inverness UHI Test Centre, which he said is understood to have significant spare capacity.

Business supporters of the letter include Tanja Lister from The Kylesku Hotel in Sutherland and Murray Lamont from Mackays Hotel in Wick.

David Whiteford said: "We welcome the continued support and sectoral guidance provided by the Scottish Government to help reopen tourism and hospitality in the north Highlands in a safe and measured way, but there is now a vital missing link that needs urgent attention and that’s access to Covid-19 testing to help protect our staff, visitors and local communities.

"With only a week until hotels are allowed to reopen on July 15, it’s more important than ever that the Scottish Government acts now whilst there’s still time to put a routine testing programme in place. Whilst businesses are busily putting in place the required new protocols to ensure the ongoing safety of our teams, guests and communities, we believe it would be of enormous benefit to supplement this with access to testing.

"Not only do our teams work in close contact with members of the public, but many of these roles are provided with in live-in accommodation. As these teams return from their homes to re-join businesses for re-opening, it would seem sensible and prudent to ensure that we can demonstrate they are currently clear of the virus.

"Early Covid-19 testing of staff would also mean that the chances of a second wave of the virus taking hold via the hospitality sector would be unlikely as it would be extinguished at an early stage. It would be a great pity if all the good work that has been undertaken by Scottish Government so far to support the hospitality sector in these dire times would be undone by not addressing this missing link."

Tanja Lister from the Kylesku Hotel in Sutherland, added: "Our industry faces very uncertain times. Not only do we feel a great weight of responsibility for the safety of our teams, our guests but also for our communities- where there is already a heightened anxiety about the return of tourism.

"Having the ability to test our teams, especially those in live-in positions, would be an enormous confidence boost and reassurance. Crucially, it would allow us to detect any issues very early on, preventing a local outbreak and also a large second spike which would close our businesses down once more. I'm not sure many would survive this scenario."

Murray Lamont, owner of Mackays Hotel in Wick, said: "To have the facility to have staff tested would be a huge benefit for us and would also provide comfort for our customers and reinforce that the north Highlands is a safe place to visit."

For more information on the North Highland Initiative, visit www.northhighlandinitiative.co.uk.

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