Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart has questioned the extent to which the islands have been considered in the formulation of Christmas travel plans, following changes to guidance hours after its publication.
At a session of Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee today, Ms Wishart asked Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell what consideration had been given for extra travel days for people to get to and from the islands. Mr Russell reiterated that travel is between 23 and 27 December for the whole country, before then conceding that guidance published earlier today would now be updated to clarify that people beginning their travel on 27 December by overnight ferry can complete their journey within the rules.
Ms Wishart also sought assurances that the national transport system would not be overwhelmed by potential bottlenecks over the festive period. Mr Russell was unable to guarantee there would be enough capacity.
Commenting, Ms Wishart said:
“It’s been a year of sacrifices and now the balance has to be struck between spending time together with family and friends against the possibility of an increase in the spread of the virus in the New Year. It’s understandable that people will want to use the 5-day window over the festive period to travel to and from Shetland. It should have been made clear from the outset that an overnight ferry journey starting on 27 December would be covered within the rules. It once again seems like the realities of living in the islands have been overlooked.
“The UK government has said anyone travelling to or from Northern Ireland can travel on 22nd and 28th December. That could spread out journeys and make distancing easier. The Scottish Government needs to explain why the same approach has not been adopted to help people get to remote parts of the country.
“While the Scottish Government may be discouraging people from travelling, there must be proper plans in place to help people who choose to travel to do that safely. We have to be realistic about people’s desire to get home over the festive period. Trains, buses and ferries are going to be used and government and operators need to go the extra mile now to ensure that comprehensive safety plans are in place.”