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So, today (Wednesday March 17) the great pandemic question stands before us again: Is this the light at the end of the tunnel…or is it the lights of an on-rushing train?

The latest update last night from NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson states: “We are now at Day 8 with no positive cases of COVID-19 in the Western Isles.

“We had a successful vaccination clinic in Tarbert today with individuals in the 45 & over cohort being amongst those vaccinated.

“Thanks to you all for your contribution to keep us all safe.

But in Shetland, the Shetland News reported: “There have been five new cases of Covid in Shetland over the last 24 hours after the first case in five weeks was confirmed on Monday.

“Figures just published by the Scottish Government show that the total number of cases in the isles has now risen to 219.

“NHS Shetland confirmed that all new cases are linked to the case that was associated to Mossbank Primary School which was first identified on Sunday.

Shetland Consultant in public health Dr Susan Laidlaw said those involved did not have symptoms but were picked up because NHS Shetland was now routinely testing all people identified as contacts of confirmed cases as per new national guidance that was introduced in February.

Yet almost 60% of the Shetland population has already been vaccinated.  

In Orkney they are on the 26th day of a run with no records of a positive case.  

Yesterday afternoon the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon updated the Scottish Parliament with a detailed breakdown of the route map out of lockdown, including target dates proposed for the relaxation of restrictions and potential reopening dates for many sectors and businesses. She stated that islands like Orkney and Shetland which are presently in Level 3, will, if they wish, move faster than the rest of the country towards unlockdown .

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan commented: “Today's announcement gives a lot of cause for optimism as we look to ease out of COVID restrictions over the next few months.”

The Federation of Small Businesses’ Highlands & Islands Development Manager, David Richardson, said: “Overall, Highlands & Islands businesses will be pleasantly surprised at the First Minister’s statement. We know that tourism and hospitality businesses in particular have been desperate for more clarity so that they can start to plan, and now, while the reopening dates certainly aren’t soon enough for many, we know what should happen when if everything goes well.

“However, while the publication of the roadmap is very welcome, many small Highlands & Islands businesses are laden with massive debts and today’s announcement notwithstanding, they remain in crisis.

“Our newest survey has found that around 40% don’t know if they will survive until the end of April and 46% for the next few months.

“So, while the Scottish Government’s new restart grants are very welcome indeed, many of the independent operators on which our communities rely are going to need more financial help to get them to mid-summer and beyond.”

Scottish Summary: 16 March 2021

  • 597 new cases of COVID-19 reported
  • 17,208 new tests for COVID-19 reported results
  • 3.8% of these were positive
  • 7 new reported deaths of people who have tested positive 
  • 440 people were in hospital yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 42 people were in intensive care yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 1,943,507 people have received the first dose of a Covid vaccination
  • 170,892 have received their second dose of a Covid vaccination

Rob Mackinnon, chef executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism said today (Wednesday March 17):  "The First Minister’s speech inevitably did not answer all questions and we will get further detail over the next couple of days and will pass it on as it arrives. If you do have some specific questions, please let us know and we will do our best to get an answer, but the headlines are: 
  • Travel in most of Scotland is due to resume on 26th April.  The Scottish Government is consulting with local communities to confirm whether island travel should also resume on this date.  Each of the island groups is in a different situation, but we have already contacted CnES on your behalf to say that we think we should open to the same timetable as the mainland, given the vaccination programme, the fact we operated last season without incidents and the impact the lockdown has had on the sector
  • The First Minister indicated that restrictions on UK travel are also likely to be lifted from 26th April, though the Government reserves the right to follow a different timetable if necessary
  • All forms of hospitality are scheduled to restart from 26th April. Social distancing will remain in place, along with limits on gatherings and hospitality will have to comply with these rules.  In particular, it may not be possible to take multi-household bookings until a later date, and there will be restrictions on serving food and alcohol (for example guests may have to be served food in their rooms)
  • At the moment, travel can only re-start on Monday 26th April, so self-catering bookings starting on 24th April will have to be shortened or postponed
  • Social distancing will still apply on the ferry.  Calmac’s timetable will increase from 26th April, but we are awaiting details on whether it will ramp up, or will go straight to the full summer timetable on 26th April. This will be dependent on the Government’s consultations on island travel
  • Travel from outside the UK will not be allowed until at least 17th May. Both the UK and Scottish Governments are working to the same date, but both have stressed that this date is far from guaranteed.  The road map works on three-weekly intervals, so if it is put back, it is likely to go back either 3 or 6 weeks.  Therefore overseas bookings in May and possibly June are still subject to uncertainty
  • The speech referenced the possibility of some loosening of regulations on the islands between 5th April and 26th April, which would allow local bookings.  It is not clear whether this will apply to us, as we are currently under the same lockdown regulations as the mainland. We will provide further details as soon as this is clarified.

Summary of the plan for unlockdown…

From Friday 2 April:

The ‘stay at home’ measures will be lifted and initially be replaced with ‘stay local’ for 3 weeks. You shouldn’t travel outside your local authority area unless for an essential reason.

From Monday 5 April:

⚽️Outdoor contact sports for ages 12-17 can resume.

‍🎓 More university and college students to return to campus for in-person teaching.

📲 Non-essential click and collect permitted.

🍃 Retailers such as car showrooms and garden centres can reopen.

✂️ Hairdressers and barbers can reopen.

From Monday 12 April:

🏫 All pupils back in school full-time.

From Monday 26 April:

3️⃣ All of Scotland will move to Level 3.

👪👪 Up to 6 people from 3 different households can meet outdoors.

👪👪 Up to 6 12-17 year olds from 6 different households can meet outdoors.

☕️ Up to 4 people from 2 different households can meet indoors in a public place, such as a cafe or restaurant.

🚗 All travel within mainland Scotland allowed.

 All shops, stores and close contact services can open.

🍴Hospitality venues like pubs, cafes and restaurants can open until 8pm (indoors, no alcohol) and 10pm (outdoors, alcohol allowed).

🔨 Non-essential work in homes permitted.

🏨 Tourist accommodation can open with restrictions in place.

🚙 Driving lessons and tests can resume.

👰‍♀️ Weddings and funerals (including post-funeral events and receptions) can take place with up to 50 people.

💪 Gyms can open for individual exercise.

📚 Indoors attractions and public buildings such as libraries, galleries and museums can open.

🍔 Takeaway food can be collected indoors.

From Monday 17 May:

2️⃣ All of Scotland will move to Level 2.

🏡 Up to 4 people from 2 different households can meet indoors in a private home.

🍺 Hospitality venues like pubs, cafes and restaurants can open until 10:30pm (indoors, alcohol allowed) and 10pm (outdoors, alcohol allowed).

🏈 Outdoors adult contact sport and indoor group exercise can restart.

🎦 Cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades can open.

👥 Face-to-face support services (where not already being provided remotely) can resume.

🎓 Universities and colleges can return to a more blended model of learning.

🎼 Non-professional performance arts can resume outdoors.

From early June:

1️⃣ All of Scotland will move to Level 1.

🏡 Up to 6 people from 3 different households can meet indoors in a private home.

👪👪  Up to 8 people from 3 different households can meet outdoors.

👪👪 Up to 8 12-17 year olds from 8 different households can meet outdoors.

🍺 Hospitality can remain open until 11pm.

⬆️ Attendance at events can increase subject to capacity constraints.

🎾 Indoor non-contact sport can take place.

From late June:

1️⃣ All of Scotland will move to Level 0.

🏢 Phased return of office staff.

⬆️ Further increase of attendance at events, subject to capacity constraints.

All of these relaxations rely on continued progress in suppressing the virus and the vaccination programme.

The routemap will also be slightly different for island communities. The island communities currently in level 3 will have the option to move at that stage to level 2.

However, if restrictions on socialising and hospitality are relaxed more quickly and significantly on the islands, there may be a need to retain some restrictions on travel to and from the mainland - to protect island communities from the importation of new cases.

The Scottish Government will be consulting with island communities over the next few weeks to consider what arrangements will work best for each island group. 

🔗 You can find the full document here:

Dave Till, Chair of SkyeConnect, is pleased the industry now has some clarity and can begin planning for reopening. “This is the sort of detail our sector has been looking for. It enables businesses to make plans and provides the hope of a UK-based tourism season from June. This could make all the difference in terms of our hospitality providers being able to generate enough income from this season to survive. We also warmly welcome the extension of Rates relief and the announcement of restart grants to help businesses get back on their feet.”