Scottish Government-owned ferry operator CalMac has announced a delay to proposed price rises amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes as the company confirmed it will cut back services on its Clyde and Hebridean ferry services (CHFS) as passenger numbers dropped 85% in recent days.

Aimed at supporting essential traffic to and from the islands, the new schedule will come into effect this week, dropping sailings by 61%.

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Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “Supply chains to and from our island communities are vitally important so we must continue to support them during this outbreak of coronavirus.

“With that in mind, I am freezing fares on the CHFS network until we are through this challenge.

“This will ensure businesses and hauliers are not placed under any further financial pressure.

“It also means islanders who must travel for work or medical reasons do not face additional costs.”

He added: “It remains the case that people need to avoid all but essential travel by ferry to and from Scotland’s remote and island communities but this fare freeze will help those that have to make journeys at this difficult time.”

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CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond believes the new timetable, in effect from Friday, will better use available crews.

He said: “It is important that we continue to provide ferries that can take vital goods and services to our island communities and transport people who have essential travel needs.

“Community groups and key hauliers have been consulted to ensure that the supply chains can be maintained.”