A tide of anger is sweeping holiday areas in Scotland and in the rest of the UK as people flee English cities to “self-isolate in the countryside.”
Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford reported last night (Saturday March 21): “I have been contacted by the Nevis Range Centre in Fort William who tell me that they have had to turn away around 30 camper vans, which had travelled from various parts of the UK, who were intending to use their car park as a refuge.
“I urge everyone to do the right thing; follow the Government advice and please do not travel here. If these warnings are not heeded and people need to be stopped from travelling, then I am afraid that is what will have to happen. Those in camper vans please go home!”
Reports show the same situation is occurring in Cornwall, the Lake District and in rural Wales. Colin Ridyard said on Twitter: “The problem is people are frightened and not listening. We have exactly the same scenario on Anglesey. We need mobilisation of resources along similar lines to the Protect and Survive plans of the 80s to accept refugees from the cities.”
The Isle of Barra Twitter page has a pinned Tweet: “ISLANDS OF BARRA AND VATERSAY ARE CLOSED. Don’t travel here, don’t put unnecessary strain on our medical staff and limited resources. We will open again and be delighted to see you. But in the meantime, we are looking after our community, the thing that makes us so special.”
As it stands at present (Sunday March 22), no Government has the power to ban travel across the UK
The Coronavirus Bill which will receive its second (and likely third) reading in the UK Parliament tomorrow (Monday March 23), gives both UK and Scottish Governments extensive powers to make regulations, including restrictions for the protection of Public Health and on the operation of ports, should that be necessary.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar itself already has current statutory functions and powers in relation to public health but has no powers to prevent or restrict travel, but we all know that it is impossible completely to isolate a community, as we need providers of services to come to the islands to provide what we require by way of food and medical supplies, at a very minimum.
There is a link to the Coronavirus Bill here: Schedules 18 and 19 cover Public Health and Ports: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0122/20122.pdf
It is understood that our island situation and its particular needs are being made clear to Government through the administrative dialogue which is taking place daily, and any further information will be given as soon as it can be. But informed sources say that “it is not likely that Government will put in place measures to restrict travel in one area which do not apply across the whole of Scotland.”
CnES leader Roddie Mackay has told councillors: “ Our response, to date, has been to reinforce proactively the Government’s guidance and – where possible – support people to make adjustments to our social and working lives in order to both delay, and manage, the consequences of illness in the best way possible.
“Our partnership with NHS Western Isles, the use of social media and our resilient approach, is giving us a foundation not only to respond to this now, but to manage the situation for the longer term, if necessary.
“Our officers are doing a great job and it is now necessary for us – as Members – to support them with a consistent and proportionate political message that provides leadership to our community. By working together, we should focus on helping reduce people’s anxieties, whilst encouraging and empowering them to take positive action to protect themselves and others.
“So far, the Comhairle’s use of social media (and other media channels) has been to promote this positive Public Health message. I would urge all Members to work with their communities, consistent with the approach being provided by our statutory services.”
Meanwhile the London-based newspapers Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday sparked widespread outrage with coverage apparently openly encouraging people to travel to remote places, such as the Isle of Jura to enjoy “splendid isolation.”
Michael Russell, MSP reacted to the image below: "Utter crass irresponsibility - my constituents on Jura which has an elderly population, no hospital and very limited facilities are having their lives put at risk by this stupidity. Non-essential travel means exactly that: no tourism no jaunts, no boltholes."
And Brendan O'Hara, the Westminster MP for Argyll and Bute, said: "My inbox is inundated with folk telling of people arriving in Argyll to “escape” the virus. This is hugely irresponsible. Our fragile communities have very limited resources and aren’t equipped to cope with such an influx. Please don’t use our islands or rural areas as a bolthole."