Caution urged for return of tourism in Scotland’s Western Isles
A cautious approach is required to reopening the Western Isles, an island chain off the west coast of mainland Scotland, to tourists as lockdown eases, some islanders have warned.
The islands have seen just eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began — the latest just this week, BBC reported.
Health chiefs have credited lockdown restrictions and islanders’ adherence to social distancing measures for there being so few cases.
But with tourism due to resume in the coming weeks, and staycations expected to be popular, some in the isles are urging further caution in the days and weeks ahead.
In the Isle of Harris, weaver Rebecca Hutton’s Harris Tweed business is usually “buzzing” with visitors at this time of the year.
The weaver is among those to feel the effects of COVID-19’S impact on tourism, but she said: “I think we need to be careful moving forward.
“The islands aren’t just a holiday destination, they are our home and our home is made up of communities of people, and a lot of those people are elderly and vulnerable.
“We need to protect them and if that means being careful and cautious about how we open up then that’s what we must do.”
She added: “My own business is going to be undoubtedly affected by this and has been already, but what is a place without its people?”
Other businesses in the isles — as elsewhere — have been badly hit by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gregor Macleod runs a B&B on the west side of Lewis. He said: “We will just have to wait and see what happens.
“Our biggest problem is finances and getting through to the next season. With only two rooms it’s a fine line how much money we could make.
“We’ve to really think about this and see if there’s any other funding that might come out in the meantime.
“We’ve managed to get a grant to keep us going for the next few months and it would be after that is what is really worrying, and I think there are many people in the same boat as we are.”
The economic issues mean many tourism providers are raring to go.
But up till now the health of the island has been protected with coronavirus kept at bay.
NHS Western Isles chief executive Gordon Jamieson said this has been thanks to lockdown restrictions and islanders’ “high level” of compliance to social distancing guidance.
He added: “For us as a small island community and a small island health board then our system is possibly a bit more fragile.
“In terms of if we were to see a sudden increase in cases then it would be quite challenging for the health service to be able to respond.”
With lockdown travel restrictions due to ease, many tourists and others will be preparing to make their way to the isles.
But while a warm welcome will await them, there is also a message of caution — one of the importance of compliance as the islands gradually open up again.