Tourists are being urged to stay at home and not visit some of the remote communities in the Scottish Highlands in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
Scotland’s Tourism Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, was clear, saying: “My advice to everybody is stay where you are. Do not travel to the Highlands and Islands.”
Meanwhile, Judy Murray, mother of tennis stars Andy and Jamie Murray, tweeted a simple message to “those relocating to the countryside” – a picture of a car and trailer with “Go home idiots” and “Covid-19” painted on the side.
Message for those relocating to the countryside. pic.twitter.com/pAHkbrDZqM— judy murray (@JudyMurray) March 22, 2020
The pleas came as the organisation that represents tourism businesses along the A830 road, which connects Fort William with Mallaig, also urged potential visitors to stay away.
The Road To The Isles group includes 100 accommodation and visitor-based businesses on the scenic route, which takes in Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Roshven, Arisaig, Morar, Mallaig and the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rum, Canna and the Knoydart peninsula.
The area already has an ageing population, with just one doctor and ambulance to cover it, and the nearest hospital is 100 miles away.
As Covid-19 affects communities across the country, the organisation said the “vital services” still open there are “struggling to cope with demand”.
A difficult road ahead
Sine MacKellaig-Davis, chairwoman of Road To The Isles Marketing Group, said: “Road To The Isles at this time would normally be marking the opening of the season, coming out of hibernation and preparing to welcome valued visitors from around the country.
“However, Covid-19 has changed all our lives as we know it. We now face a difficult road ahead and have a social responsibility to protect our communities.”.
She added: “For now, we ask you to stay home, care for loved ones and, as soon as it’s safe to do so, the Road to the Isles and its communities and businesses will welcome you.
“Right now, we need to protect all the people that make the Road to the Isles such a unique and special place.”
Putting local communities at risk
Ms Hyslop told BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland that people heading to the Highlands in campervans or to stay in holiday homes could be putting local communities “at risk”.
She said: “If they get ill there they will compromise the health or others that are living in the Highlands and Islands.”
She added that emergency legislation being brought in by Westminster would give both the UK and Scottish Governments “specific powers” to help with this.
But she stressed: “We’re appealing to people to use their common sense for their safety, the safety of their family and indeed of the vital communities.
“They will be welcomed back to the Highlands and Islands at some point in the future, just it is impossible right now.”
Similarly, Scotland Office Minister Douglas Ross said the UK and Scottish Governments had both been “very clear” in issuing the message to people: “Stay at home, don’t risk yourself and others by going to more remote parts of the country where the NHS will be under pressure, the local shops will be under pressure.”
With the emergency legislation being debated at Westminster on Monday, he added: “We shouldn’t need to enforce this, but when this Bill is debated in Parliament the powers will be coming to the Scottish Parliament to deal with this if we have to.”