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Prime Minister Boris Johnson's 'mixed messages' on the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown rules could be dangerous for the north, Highland MPs have warned

By Scott Maclennan

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The SNP's Ian Blackford and Drew Hendry
The SNP's Ian Blackford and Drew Hendry

A FLOOD of tourists heading for rural areas is feared after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people “can drive to other destinations”.

Highland MPs have united to express their dismay that Mr Johnson’s message lacked clarity and could encourage the wrong sort of behaviour.

Despite Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all insisting that they remain with the lockdown, Mr Johnson did not specify the measures that would be relaxed only applied to England.

He said: “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.”

The concern is that people south of the border will not hear First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s almost daily message that people, despite being allowed to exercise more, must still remain at home.

She said: “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 OK to drive into Scotland to beauty spots to visit places and for leisure."

Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP and the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford referred to the recent outbreak of 57 cases and six deaths at a care home on Skye as evidence the north was still extremely vulnerable to the virus.

He said: “First and foremost, 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, to protect the NHS, with the intent 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.

“We cannot beat this virus until there is a vaccine or treatment available and in the meantime until we get the infection rate down. I would say to the Prime Minister he, of course, can take his own actions based on the scientific evidence in London.

“I hope he is correct for all our sakes but I have to say, based on where we are at the moment and based on a higher re-infection rate in Scotland, I have my doubts.”

Far north MP Jamie Stone said now was not the time for visitors to the Highlands: “I do think the vagueness of Boris’s remarks are misleading and possibly at worst could lead to or could encourage an influx of visitors to the Highlands.

“I am very clear that while we would love visitors to come to the Highlands once the epidemic is over, my priority in the meantime 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.”

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP Drew Hendry said: "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 to do so, 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 are 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, the First Minister will ease lockdown. Until then, by staying at home, we save lives."

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