AN ORGANISATION representing 900 west coast tourism businesses has told Scottish ministers that ferry services having to keep to two-metre social distancing rules “wipes out any tourism season for 2020” - warning that the “restrictions are completely unsustainable for island life”.

CalMac Ferries Limited has raised concerns with MSPs that when it is safe to relax restrictions and begin to re-open the tourism sector, stating that it could double the number of passengers it can carry if the two-metre social distancing rule is reduced to just one metre.

The company added that “implementing physical distancing of two metres throughout our operations will reduce the capacity of our fleet on average to 17 per cent of normal passenger capacity”.

READ MORE: CalMac Ferries warns it won't be able to cope with 'staycation surge' amid social distancing

Now, Iain Jurgensen chairman of the Argyll & The Isles Tourism Cooperative, has penned a letter to his local MSP Mike Russell and Rural Economy and Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing, raising concerns about the “rapidly escalating situation”.

Mr Ewing is due to give a statement to MSPs today about the impact of Covid-19 on tourism.

Mr Jurgensen has warned that “the massive issues now facing our island communities” due to social distancing rules “in effect wipes out any tourism season for 2020 on each island and leave tourism businesses with no realistic source of income and ability to operate, employ local people and sustain local supply chains”.

He said: “Consistency in actions across the country has been the core government message and yet with these restrictions on ferry travel, islanders themselves cannot enjoy the freedoms that mainlanders have to visit mainland family and friends and in business to know they can open their doors soon and attempt to earn a living.

“The suggested restrictions are completely unsustainable for island life and business resilience. These restrictions are severe and place Scotland’s island communities and tourism enterprises out of kilter with the rest of the country.

READ MORE: Scottish tourism 'at risk of total collapse'

“It will not be financially viable to open most tourism businesses with no tourism customer base and we have ready examples to share of businesses that will be forced to make island staff redundant and that will collapse or go into administration and not survive this pandemic.

“Many of these businesses are not just for tourists – they play a key part in the life and health of locals year-round, are community hubs and support other businesses through local supply chains. The tourism income makes them viable, and without it they will struggle to survive as business entities - with all the serious socio-economic implications this will bring for the individual island economies."

He added: “Many of these businesses have fallen through the cracks in support being made available to date. They are fearful that they will get further into debt and collapse. We cannot overstress the anxiety being experienced as a consequence of these new circumstances.

“The islands are being penalised and we believe unnecessarily. We accept the restrictions reflect social distancing requirements but travel on rail and plane seem to be out of kilter with what is being imposed on ferries. What can be done to make this fair across Scotland?”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: Relaxing two-metre rule would likely need stricter face covering guidance

At her daily briefing, Nicola Sturgeon stressed that there was no scientific evidence to suggest that the two-metre rule can be relaxed.

She added: “I understand the challenges that all businesses are going to face in adapting to the Covid world that we are going to be living in for some time.

“To become operational while not allowing the virus to spread is not going to be easy and we are talking to businesses across all sectors of the economy as we work to put guidance in place for how they do that – clearly, that’s going to be more difficult in some sectors than it will be in others.

“I have had no advice given to me and to the best of my knowledge, although I obviously don’t see all the advice that the UK Government gets, I’ve not seen anything they have had that would advise a change in the two-metre rule right now. On the contrary, most of the advice I see says the two-metre rules should be retained.”