Blackford calls for total shutdown of all Highland holiday accommodation to help tackle virus

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Local MP Ian Blackford, pictured, says tougher action needs taken to halt people flocking to the Highlands during the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Local MP Ian Blackford says he has been inundated with emails from hundreds of angry and worried constituents complaining about the number of tourists and visitors flocking to the Highlands during the current Coronavirus pandemic.

And he says requests to the public not to come to the Highlands are not working and firmer action is now needed.

Emergency powers legislation comes in front of Westminster today [Monday], and Mr Blackford, the SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, says he will be calling on the UK and Scottish Government to take a number of steps.

‘Key to this is to shut down all accommodation providers including hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast accommodation, holiday rental properties and the right for tourist camper vans to come to the Highlands and Islands except for those on essential working engagements that need accommodation,’ he said.

‘All camping and caravan parks need to be shut to tourists, all ski resorts that are currently attracting significant numbers and any tourist destinations need to be closed.’

And Mr Blackford then went on to name and shame a number of companies that are continuing to promote destinations in the Highlands.

‘I need to call out examples of completely unacceptable behaviour,’ said Mr Blackford, highlighting a response from one holiday rental accommodation firm, which apparently told Mr Blackford it was understandable that people would want to arrange private accommodation in more remote locations to distance themselves from larger towns and cities.

And as the latest Government guidance does not prohibit travel in the UK, the company said it was continuing to provide a service for customers and property owners.

Mr Blackford slammed this has the height of irresponsibility: ‘This company are actively encouraging people to come to the Highlands risking the potential spread of Covid-19 that would threaten our communities and put pressure on the health services in remote and rural areas.

‘We are not like a city where you can travel to the next hospital if one is already under pressure. If you live in the north of Skye you will be 135 miles to your nearest general hospital.

‘As there is a lack of an ability to accept responsibility we need to take action to force providers to shut down.

‘My message to tourists is in the Highlands we are renowned for the welcome we provide. Once we have defeated this virus we will of course welcome you back.

‘For those visiting the Highlands just now, please leave. Please go home. For anyone thinking of coming to the Highlands – just don’t.’

Mr Blackford’s online tirade followed an incident on Saturday when he was contacted by the Nevis Range centre in Fort William, after they were forced to turn away around 30 camper vans, which had travelled from various parts of the UK and were apparently intending to use the Nevis Range car park as a ‘refuge’ from the outbreak.

Rural Economy and Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing is also urging people to stop travelling to the region.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing.

Mr 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.’