LEADERS of an English holiday resort have hit back at comments by Nicola Sturgeon telling Scots not to visit their town.

The First Minister has warned people not to visit Blackpool, insisting it is “associated with a large and growing number of Covid cases in Scotland”.

An incident management team has been set up by the Scottish Government to investigate cases originating from Blackpool.

She said: “I need to advise you that trips to Blackpool are now associated with a large and growing number of Covid cases in Scotland.

“Blackpool is being mentioned in Test and Protect conversations far more than any other location outside of Scotland.”

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Ms Sturgeon added: “Blackpool is a place that many Scots love and like to visit, particularly at this time of year.

“Many of us have happy childhood memories of going to see the Blackpool illuminations.”

The First Minister said 342 people who were contacted by Test and Protect in the past week after contracting coronavirus reported travel outside of Scotland, 252 to somewhere else in the UK and 94 to Blackpool.

HeraldScotland: Nicola Sturgeon has told Scots not to travel to BlackpoolNicola Sturgeon has told Scots not to travel to Blackpool

Ms Sturgeon added: “If you were thinking about going to Blackpool and haven’t booked yet then please do not go this year.

“Even more specifically, because we know this is an issue and I want to be very clear about this, do not travel to Blackpool this weekend to watch the Old Firm match in a pub.

“If you do that, you will be putting yourselves and you will be putting other people at risk.”

But Blackpool has defended its Covid-19 safety – with council leaders and business representatives pointing out the Lancashire seaside town, which welcomes more than a million Scottish visitors a year, has lower coronavirus rates than many areas north of the border.

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They say there do not appear to be similar problems with visitors from elsewhere in the UK.

Jane Cole, vice-president of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and managing director of Blackpool Transport, said: “The rate of Covid-19 in Blackpool currently stands at 218 per 100,000, which is one the lowest in the north-west of England and is also lower than parts of Scotland.

“We get 17 million visitors a year to Blackpool and have not seen outbreaks in the rest of the UK from visitors to Blackpool, nor are we experiencing outbreaks within our tourism businesses.

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“Blackpool has stringent Covid secure measures in place.”

She added: “The council visits its hotels, venues and attractions on a regular basis to ensure all are Covid compliant.

“Blackpool was one of the first places in the country to establish a team of 60 Covid stewards.

“Their job is to ensure people are socially distancing, wearing face masks, alleviating pinch points in queues and advising and supporting the public and businesses.”

Ms Cole said people with coronavirus symptoms are advised to stay away from Blackpool.

“As mentioned by the First Minister, evidence suggests that many of these current cases are linked to coach parties and coach travel,” she said.

“We are asking everyone not to travel when they are symptomatic.”

She added: “We are also reminding everyone when visiting Blackpool people should only be coming with those they live with.

“Households should not be mixing at all when in Blackpool.

“Evidence across the country suggests that the virus is spreading most quickly within social groups, which is why it is essential that people act in a Covid-secure way when they are here. ”

Blackpool was placed in the Tier 2 “high” category when new restrictions system came into force in England on Wednesday.

Kirsty Licence, chair of the incident management team looking into cases associated with Blackpool, and led by Public Health Scotland, said: “We are seeing a high number of cases of Covid-19 amongst residents of Scotland who have recently travelled between Scotland and Blackpool. We know Blackpool is a popular destination, especially for holidaymakers from the west of Scotland.

“Many of these cases have travelled using group transport, especially coach, but also private transport, and many are of middle and older ages with increased risk of suffering from very severe Covid-19 illness.”

She added: “Our data shows the numbers of Scottish cases who visited Blackpool shortly before their illnesses substantially exceeds those having visited any other place in the UK. Over the past month, since September 14, when Blackpool was first noted on a case there have been 286 cases in Scotland whose records note recent travel to Blackpool.

“These cases highlight the risk associated with travelling to areas with high rates of infection. People in Scotland should not be travelling to or from the health board areas under local restrictions except for essential reasons. If you have to travel, follow all local guidance and restrictions, both where you live and where you are travelling to.”