Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, has today (Tuesday) pressed the First Minister to clarify how the proposed route-map out of lockdown will be applied to the islands.
In her statement to parliament setting out the proposed timetable for easing of restrictions, the First Minister explained that she hopes the country will move out of level four by the end of April, but gave no indication about what would happen in Orkney and Shetland, already in level three.
Mr McArthur also sought assurances from the First Minister that island businesses would continue to have access to the same financial support as businesses in mainland Scotland until the end of June.
In response, the First Minister confirmed that support will continue for island businesses during this period and that, if mainland Scotland moves to level three at the end of April, then the islands will hopefully be able to move down a level further.
Following the exchange, Mr McArthur commented:
“Today’s route-map is only an indication of how restrictions could be relaxed in the coming weeks and relies on continued suppression of the virus and vaccine roll-out. It does, though, offer some much needed hope that things could start returning to normal soon.
“However, the First Minister’s statement ignored the fact that, unlike the rest of the country, Orkney and Shetland are currently in level three. With new cases remaining relatively low, many islanders would expect this to be reflected in the easing of restrictions going forward.
“I welcome Nicola Sturgeon’s confirmation of this in her response to me and will continue to press this with the Scottish Government over the coming weeks.
“Meantime, I’m also pleased the First Minister was able to assure me that businesses in Orkney will have access to financial support in line with the rest of the country until the end of June. Having previously accepted my argument that island businesses have been impacted every bit as much as their counterparts on the Scottish mainland, it is right that the government continues to honour this commitment, regardless of what happens at the end of April.
“The First Minister also indicated that expanding testing capacity has allowed the government to look at how restrictions might be eased over the coming weeks. On that basis, the refusal to introduce testing at airports and ferry ports becomes even less justifiable. I’ll therefore be raising this during discussions with Ministers on this matter at the end of the week and will be urging them to reconsider their approach.
“Meanwhile, it is important the everyone keeps following the rules both to keep our community safe but also to increase the chances of restrictions being lifted sooner rather than later.”