EMERGENCY powers should be used to stop second home owners flocking to the Highlands to self isolate from the Covid-19 pandemic, the SNP has urged.

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, wants urgent powers being drawn up to enforce social distancing and handing authorities more ability to suppress the spread of the virus, to be expanded in an attempt to stop people trying to out-run the pandemic.

Concerns have been raised from all political corners about people attempting to escape cities to rural parts of Scotland, places that have less resources to deal with an increase in patients, who need specialist and often intensive care facilities.

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Communities have reacted angrily to the influx of visitors, with some even blocking off lay-bys and potential camping areas - warning that their already-under pressure local health services cannot cope with the extra strain.

Last month, a military aircraft was needed to transport a critically-ill coronavirus patient from the Shetland Islands to Aberdeen to receive intensive care treatment.

This led to the Scottish Government announcing that ferries services were now to only be used for islanders, allowing them to continue essential journeys.

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Fears have been raised that some will still attempt to continue with holiday plans if accommodation has been previously booked over the Easter period.

Accommodation proviers have been warned not to accept bookings in a bid to curb the behaviour. 

Mr Blackford, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, said: “With Easter almost upon us it is worth reminding everyone of the emergency powers that restrict non essential travel.

“That means, in short, no tourists should be coming to the Highlands and Islands area. It also means that holiday accommodation cannot be used unless it is the owner’s main residence. The implications of this are clear.”

He added: “If anyone owns a second or holiday home, they should not be using the Highlands to self isolate and powers exist and must be used to stop this behaviour.

“I am getting reports of some holiday homes being occupied and those who do not live in the Highlands beginning to return. My simple message is do not. Stay at home and if you have come to the Highlands, return home. The emergency powers can and will be used to enforce this.

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“Many people might ask why am I insisting on this? It is very simple - it’s about stopping the spread of Covid-19. 

“Anyone coming to the Highlands on non-essential business is putting Highland communities at risk and is threatening the ability of the NHS to do its job and manage the pandemic here. 

“Don’t come to the Highlands. Please stay at home and save lives.”

Mr Blackford has also written to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to request that changes are made to the UK Government’s job retention scheme - in a bid for recognition to be given to geographical areas and different sectors of employment.

He said: “The hospitality and tourism industries are one of the main employers in the Highlands and the seasonal nature of the employment opportunities work to peoples detriment with the implementation of the scheme as it currently stands.
“I am calling for a new grant to help people struggling with household bills. More must be done and we need to get on with doing it.”

He has also written to party leaders urging the UK government and opposition parties to get round the table with utilities companies to ensure households have the support they need as unemployment rises, incomes are reduced, and utility costs and usage increase.

“This is a worrying time for us all - but no one should be left struggling to heat their home or keep in touch with their families during this unprecedented emergency,” Mr Blackford added.

“I am calling for a new grant to help people struggling with household bills. More must be done and we need to get on with doing it.”

Highlands Liberal Democrat MP, Jamie Stone, has called for more resources to be made available to ensure vulnerable people in isolated parts of Scotland are kept informed of Covid-19 advice.

The Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP, said: “In more remote parts of the far north, where information sharing is already difficult, more resources are needed to ensure that vulnerable populations are still able to get the information they need regardless of where they live.

“It is really important to me that the UK Government works well with our local councils to ensure that the message is getting out to my most vulnerable and hardest to reach - constituents.”

Mr Stone had previously warned about the dangers of “selfish tourism” impacting on health services in the Highlands.

He said: “Both the Scottish and UK Govt are going to have to take firm action on selfish tourism that is so worrying local people, many of whom are elderly and on a potential coronavirus danger list.”

Mr Stone has appealed for temporary law changes “ensuring that opportunities for irresponsible visitors to park their mobile homes wherever they please are denied.”